The Tower stirs fond memories

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, March 26, 2011

Over 40 years ago, the Tower in downtown Austin was the place to go for music and friends. - Photo submitted

Forty years after it closed, people still talk about the Tower.

Though it was only open in Austin for about 15 years, the Tower left a lasting impact on the generation that grew up dancing, listening to music and meeting with friends at the teen hang-out.

“It was a wonderful, wonderful experience,” said Donna Nybo, whose father, Clarence, owned the Tower.

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The Tower was a popular teen hang out after school and especially after a football or basketball game.

While music and dancing were the biggest attractions, many students would go there to do their homework.

“It was a wonderful time,” Donna said.

Nybo said she and her family practically grew up going to and working at the Tower.

“My sister and I just about lived up there,” she said.

The Tower offered more than music including Coke, hamburgers and fries. - Photo submitted

Most Austin High School graduates from the time have fond memories involved the Tower. Many young men and women met future spouses at the hotspot.

In fact, people commonly ask Donna about Austin’s former hangout when she’s out and about around town.

“People are always asking for things from the Tower,” she said.

Nybo has been glad to answer the call. For the last decade, she’s been collecting and compiling memorabilia from the Tower, including old photos, brochures, advertisements and more. Since a class decided to honor her father at a reunion, many of the items have been on display at high school reunions.

The Tower wasn’t just recognized around Austin; it received national recognition. GQ Scene, which was published by Esquire subsidiary Gentleman’s Quarterly, named The Tower one of the top teen dating spots in the country. In a review of coffee shops, ice cream parlors, teen night clubs and other venues that spanned 34 states, the Tower was the only southern Minnesota spot mentioned.

The Tower was located above the old Thoroughbred Carpet, but the building was torn down as part of the project for the new jail and justice center.

For a time, dances were offered to live and recorded music from 7:30 to 11:45 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays and on Wednesdays during school from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. The Tower was also open on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m., primarily for high school juniors and seniors.

When it opened, admission was 50 cents. For 45 cents, you could get a 10-ounce coke, hamburger and French fries.

“It was affordable at that time,” Donna said.

The Tower was a venue for local bands like the Bigbeats, the Saints and Thundertree. At the same time, the Tower was able to attract nationally known acts with their hits: the Hollywood Argailles with “Alley Oop,” The Fendermen with “Mule Skinner,” and the Castaways with “Liar Liar.”

The place was rocking even when there wasn’t a band playing, as the jukebox would take center stage for dancing. Donna noted it was often her father filling the machine with quarters to keep the music playing.

“If the band didn’t show, you didn’t have grumpy people,” she said. “You just played the jukebox. People would have just as good as a time.”

Dancers developed their own unique style of dancing called “The Tower Trot” where a circle would shuffle counter clockwise while other dancers were free to dance in the middle of the group.

Before the Tower Trot could begin, students had to be sure to pass an inspection when coming. Clarence was known for strict discipline at the Tower. He checked customers’ breath to ensure they hadn’t been drinking, and he even sent some people home to change if their attire was deemed inappropriate.

In an article, Clarence talked of the Tower’s wholesome atmosphere where the youth was always watched over. The venue was known for strict supervision. Parents were always welcomed.

“I hope parents will take the time to see how we operate and see how well-behaved their kids are,” he said in the article.

If you didn’t follow Clarence’s rule, a suspension could follow. A three-month suspension was earned for “suspicion of drinking, unbecoming conduct, profane language, fighting elsewhere when the difference starts at The Tower, or misuse of Tower facilities or property.” A permanent suspension came from fighting on the grounds, insubordination onto Tower personnel, bringing intoxicating beverages on the premises, theft, or a second offense of any of the three month suspension rules.

“He’d worked hard to make it the best place to go,” Donna said.

However, Donna noted her father treated the teens with the utmost respect as long as they obeyed the rules and kept the venue safe.

“My dad treated them like young adults,” she said.

“He just wanted to see you have a good time and be happy.”

Clarence always tried to ensure the Tower was in tiptop shape, and he was always working to ensure the facility was well cared for.

“Everything had to be absolutely spotless. My dad was a perfectionist,” Donna said.

“There was quite a bit of work involved in it,” she added.

By the early 1970s, Donna said her father was beginning to worry about whether he’d be able to keep the venue safe. Plus, increasing costs were making it more difficult to turn a profit.

Donna said her father often worried about an accident or something happening at the Tower, which is one of the reasons he eventually decided to close.

“It was hard for him because he loved being up there,” Donna said.