The Bee States Ballroom
For our “What If…” episode that includes three sports-related stories, we were looking for an interesting old gym where we could shoot the host segments that tie everything together. The Bee States Ballroom quickly became the obvious choice!
It’s located in the middle of tiny Bee, Nebraska, population 171, about 10 miles northeast of Seward. It’s part reception hall, part gym. Sometimes called the Bee Dome or Bee Astrodome because of its unique domed ceiling. Folks were actually starting to set-up for the annual Bee Barn Dance the day we were shooting; youth basketball tournaments take over for a bunch of days in January and February.
It was built in the late 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project. They held a “grand opening” ceremony with the exterior complete in 1939, selling more than 2000 tickets which paid for completion of the interior. Nebraska Governor Robert LeRoy Cochran was among the officials who spoke at the dedication ceremony in 1940.
Bee resident Vladimir Sobotka designed and built the building. He’s kind of a “What If…” story on his own. Born in 1895 in Dwight, Nebraska, to immigrants from Moravia, his family moved to Bee in 1908. Family financial issues ended his formal education after 10th grade, but that didn’t stop him from:
- Organizing the first Bee Fire Department at 15, serving as chief for 30 years.
- Buying building and architecture books at age 18 to learn both these skills.
- Designing and building stores, schools, and an auditorium by the age of 24.
His work includes structures throughout Nebraska.
Sobotka called the Bee States Ballroom, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, his “pride and joy.”
"What If..." is a Nebraska Public Media series about innovation and creativity in Nebraska. Check out all our episodes, stories and resources for educators HERE.