AMARILLO NATATORIUM [THE NAT]
AMARILLO NATATORIUM [THE NAT]. The Amarillo Natatorium, a celebrated club and landmark located at 2705 W. 6th Avenue in Amarillo, opened in July 1922. Originally designed by local architect Guy Carlander, the facility was constructed to surround an open-air community swimming pool that measured 36 feet by 101 feet. With the popularity of the pool, the facility was enclosed the following year to provide year-round use.
In 1926 J. D. Tucker purchased the Natatorium, which was commonly called “The Nat.” He covered the swimming pool with 10,000 square feet of maple flooring to create a dance floor and stage for his new dance palace, and the venue became a popular ballroom. A second story was added and possibly housed gambling rooms at some point. Amarillo businessman Harry Badger bought The Nat in the early 1930s and renamed it The Nat Dine and Dance Palace. He built the castle-like façade on the structure and added an entrance to the dance hall area to pull in patrons from Route 66, the major highway for a growing number of motorists. Badger also added a dining area—The Nat Café.
Heralded for its fine dance floor and other upscale amenities, The Nat was a notable venue during the big band era and hosted such luminaries as the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, the Dorsey Brothers, and Harry James. Reportedly, at its peak, more than forty employees worked at The Nat.
Dr. William Maddox purchased The Nat in the 1940s, and it remained a favored musical club along Route 66, as well as a hangout for servicemen stationed at Amarillo Air Force Base. During the 1950s the establishment evolved with changing musical tastes and offered performances by Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and Roy Orbison. The Nat closed as a public dance hall in the 1960s but was still occasionally used for concerts and community events.
It was listed as part of the U.S. Route 66-Sixth Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. A historical marker honoring the Amarillo Natatorium was erected in 1996. The building was renovated for use as an antiques mall but closed again to the public in the early 2000s. The Nat has occasionally hosted concerts for such artists as Joe Ely, the Dixie Chicks, and Cooder Graw and remains a popular tourist attraction along Route 66. Legends of ghost stories and hauntings also surround its storied past, and The Nat has been the site of paranormal investigations.
Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. “Texas Legends: Haunted Natatorium in Amarillo,” Legends of America: A Travel Site for the Nostalgic & Historic Minded (http://www.legendsofamerica.com/tx-amarillonat.html), accessed May 19, 2011. That Ain’t Real: The Natatorium (http://thataintreal.com/sightings/index.php?option=com_sobi2&sobi2Task=sobi2Details&catid=1&sobi2Id=27&Itemid=27), accessed May 19, 2011. Dan K. Utley and Cynthia J. Beeman, History Ahead: Stories beyond the Texas Roadside Markers (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2010).