New Ulm, MN
Over the years George's Bar and Ballroom has hosted parties, concerts, fun nights out, laughter, and enough stories and memories to last a few lifetimes. Opened in 1947 by George Neuwirth "George's Greater Amusement Center," or George's Bar and Ballroom as it came to be known, featured a ballroom, eight bowling alleys, and "the longest bar in the Northwest." At over 32,000 square feet the sprawling complex could hold 3,000 patrons and had 164 booths in the dining area.
With such a robust space George's quickly became a destination for New Ulm's vibrant music scene as well as touring bands of the day. Playing off the wealth local music and the town's German heritage George's became a focal point as New Ulm established itself as one of the premiere destinations for Polka music.
Whether it was for big band, polka, or rock n roll the crowds at George's always came to dance and socialize. From young couples just beginning to date to long established partnerships built on shared interest George's created fond memories for all who came to be entertained. With the ballroom as the main attraction the bar and bowling alleys closed in the 1960s. The ballroom continued to host concerts, weddings, and parties until the venue closed in 1991.
Following Neuwirth's death in 1995 the building became vacant and fell into disrepair. Despite boarded up entrances George's iconic sign and art deco architecture loom large over downtown New Ulm. With their iconic imagery come a flood of memories for generations of people who lived out their glory years inside. As the building remains vacant and continues to deteriorate George's has become a controversial symbol for New Ulm. Some residents desire that the building will be restored to it's former glory so that it may once again become a focal point of culture and entertainment for the town. This desire is driven by a nostalgia for the grandeur of a bygone era. Others cite the economic, environmental, and aesthetic burden that the empty complex is placing on New Ulm as a reason to demolish the structure.
Opposing views over the future of George's Bar and Ballroom speak to the complex's impactful history on the lives of so many. The building and its sign are aesthetic and social signifiers that have become defining features of the built environment in New Ulm, deeply entwined with the town's character and history. In this way, losing George's feels like losing a crucial part of New Ulm's identity. On the other hand, the demolition and replacement would play into New Ulm's ability to constantly reinvent itself. Regardless of what happens to George's, the ballroom's legacy will live on as a contributor to the history and fabric of New Ulm's resilient spirit.