FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Ron Calaway was 18 when he first visited the Rockwood Club in 1963. After years of dormancy, he was able to revisit one of his favorite Fayetteville spots in an open house event Sunday.
“I just saw it really deteriorating, I guess, and then this group of investors wanted to come in and undertake this,” said Calaway, who said he lives less than a minute away from the club’s location on W. 24th Street. “It would be scary to me to try and do something like this, but I am really, really pleased. I hope they are very, very successful.”
The Rockwood Club boasted 20th-century superstars like Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Ronnie Hawkins, who owned and operated the venue during its heyday. Current owner Mark Risk said he was inspired to invest in the building when he learned of its history concerning early rock ‘n’ roll.
“I had gotten it listed, and then I started learning more about the story, and the story is incredible,” Risk said. “We are right now planning an event center and a museum.”
Risk hired Cal Canfield as the project’s architect, and he said he’s planning on the restoration to open a 400-person event center that can be used for concerts and receptions.
“Mark wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do, if he wanted to actually have a venue with a bar or a museum or both, so it kind of began to take shape as we started talking about it,” Canfield said. “It’s actually still kind of taking shape.”
Money will play a major part in how quickly and efficiently the Rockwood Club is restored. In it’s current state, the overhaul of the building’s electrical system, plumbing, indoor features and outdoor rock walls will require a multi-million dollar investment. Risk said he’s thought about that factor throughout the process.
“We have to balance two things: one is the heritage, but we also have to make some money,” Risk said. “Museums aren’t really the most profitable things unless you have big donors, which we haven’t found yet.”
Risk said he hoped the club would be ready for a Thanksgiving opening this year, which would coincide with “The Last Waltz”, The Band’s last concert in which Hawkins performed. Instead, he and Canfield said they’re looking toward a late-2020 opening.
“It’s an old building, there’re lots of things that have to be done to it, and we’ve gotta come up with our final plans and figure things out,” Risk said. “There’s repairs needed. This was built in 1947. Most of this probably needs to come out and start over.”
Despite the long road ahead, former patrons like Calaway were all too happy to step into the old building and see one of their old haunts, even if a lot of what they saw will be restored.
“This is one of those places it’ll be good to go back to,” Calaway said. “There have been plenty of spots I’ve been to, but this was my favorite. I met a lot of old sweethearts here when I was back in my college days.”