The dentist's disco

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The sign outside an abandoned building on Second Street in the Old Illmo section of Scott City says "Viking Post 168." From the outside there's nothing special about the brick building with mirrored windows that members of a fraternal organization once called home. But like all old buildings, it has a story to tell.

It's about the life and death of disco in a small town.

The place was once home to Doc's Disco, the center of the disco culture in Southeast Missouri according to those who remember the night spot's heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Doc's was started by Dr. Steven Roth, a prominent Scott City dentist who died of a heart attack in 2003. He brought the disco to life and made it one of the coolest places to get down in the area, said his sister, Peggy Brooks.

"It was something he just wanted to do," she said. "He designed it and planned it, and all the family sort of helped out in construction. It was one of the biggest things ever around here, it's the type of thing you might have seen in New York City."

The new building was planned and constructed in grand disco style. The 8,000-square-foot space was filled with mirrors, more than 9,000 of them. Lights were installed inside the glass floor for the optimal disco-dancing experience.

Those lights could make 350,000 different patterns.

Mirrored glass was everywhere -- on the walls, the railing and the poles. All those mirrors were complemented by a healthy supply of plants. Eifert said one corner of Doc's looked like a jungle.

Those who came to party through the night dressed in the height of disco fashion, Eifert said. "You didn't think you were in Illmo," he said.

It wasn't just young people who enjoyed Doc's. Established professionals in middle age frequented the place, Brooks said.

Roth started the disco while in his early 30s, after finishing dental school at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. At school he worked as a waiter to earn spending money. When he returned to Scott City, Roth wanted to put his love of disco and the things he picked up about the restaurant business to good use.

"That planted the seed, and he just couldn't wait to start a business in Old Illmo, his hometown," said his father, Raymond Roth.

The building that became Doc's used to be known for a cafe that operated from the 1940s to the 1960s. Steven Roth bought the building, salvaged its outside walls and added onto the front, opening Doc's in 1979.

Kim Eifert of Scott City remembers going to Doc's when the place opened. He said it was nearly impossible to find a parking spot. That is, unless a person could get there early and take advantage of Doc's valet parking.

"People came from everywhere, like St. Louis," Eifert said. "Sometimes they had to turn people away. It was standing room only, upstairs and downstairs."

A typical weekend night at Doc's started with dinner. Those who went say it was a fine eating establishment that was particularly famous for its steaks. Lunch patrons also raved about the Monte Cristo sandwich.

"The steak man had a reputation around the country," said Raymond Roth.

The kitchen stopped serving around 9:30 p.m. The light show started about 10 p.m., and dancers filled the mirrored floor and stayed there until the early morning hours.

But the good times didn't last long. Doc's closed around 1980. Raymond Roth said it was due to the high price of gasoline. Much of the out-of-town clientele who kept the place going simply stopped coming.

"He certainly had the civic pride, but the town and the area just weren't ready for something that big," Raymond Roth said.

Doc's today seems like it's decorated for disco's funeral. Lights of multiple colors hang suspended in a starburst pattern over what used to be the dance floor. Off to the side sits an old DJ box, and the mirrors remain attached to the poles.

Artist and businessman Paul Schock and Scott City building inspector Rob Hodo recently purchased the building. They plan to renovate the building and rent it to a business. Schock, who has invested heavily in the redevelopment of Scott City, said they don't want to see another building lost in the Old Illmo district.

Raymond Roth said his son shared that sentiment.

"He was really fired up about bringing Old Illmo back," he said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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