Amarillo Natatorium

Once a pool palace, then a dance palace, ‘The Nat’ is now a notoriously haunted stop on Route 66

Amarillo Nataorium’s Paranormal Claims

History of Amarillo Natatorium (the Nat)

On the historic Route 66 through Amarillo, Texas, stands an eye-catching roadside curiosity. With roof trim reminiscent of a medieval castle and signs advertising a warehouse-sized antique store, the old Amarillo Natatorium, or The Nat, might look like another simple tourist trap. But hidden amongst the rows of antiques and behind the newer coats of paint, exists a long and varied history that remains palpable to those willing to look for it.

The now-famous sign calling out The Nat (Amarillo Natatorium)

Once a swimming hall, then a hopping dance club, The Nat has seen major changes that would have required other buildings to be razed, but the Amarillo Natatorium still thrives today. And while there are a few clues about the building’s past leftover, none of those clues are likely as memorable as the ghosts that are said to inhabit the antique mall.

The Amarillo Natatorium's imposed exterior

The change of the space

For as far back as recorded history can remember, Texas has been hot. And for as long as people have lived there, they’ve devised their own special ways to beat the heat and find comfort. For some enterprising entrepreneurs, beating the heat has meant big business, and, in Amarillo, one such enterprise opened in the scorching July of 1922: The Amarillo Natatorium Company, a massive indoor swimming pool, over one hundred feet long and thirty-six feet wide.

The new pool soon proved popular enough to keep open year-round, becoming completely enclosed the following year to allow for winter time use. But, despite the Amarillo Natatorium’s popularity, its life as a swimming center was unfortunately short-lived. The building was bought by J.D. Tucker in 1926, who had a much different purpose in mind for the space.

A new purpose

Tucker covered up the pool with a 10,000 square foot maple dance floor by filling it with a crisscross system of support beams and flooring. With the addition of a stage and a bit of extra lighting, a new purpose bloomed within the Amarillo Natatorium. Though the pool was gone, the ‘Nat’ name remained, this time advertised to the city as The Nat Ballroom.

For opening night, dancing was free, and music was provided by El Hoover and his orchestra. The new dance hall proved highly popular, and throngs of dancers gladly paid the five cent fee to return for more evenings of music and fun. A second floor space was added not long after, with stories indicating that gambling may have taken place up there.

The Nat proved so popular that not even the thick of The Great Depression could shutter it completely. In the mid-1930s, the club was sold to Harry Badger, who changed the name slightly to The Nat Dine and Dance Palace. He added a café-style eatery, the castle-like façade still seen today, as well as an additional entrance right on Route 66.

The Nat’s Reputation

As the Depression faded away and World War II began, The Nat remained a lively jig joint, particularly with newly enlisted airmen at the nearby Amarillo Army Airfield. The Nat’s positive reputation soon attracted big names to its stage, including Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, and the Dorsey Brothers.

And Yet, The Amarillo Natatorium’s Hall Had To Close

Throughout the 1950s, the club adapted to changing music tastes, turning away from the orchestras and big bands in favor of up-and-coming rock and rollers like Buddy Holly and Little Richard. But, as much of the crowds in the post-war era came from Route 66 travelers, the advent of the Interstate Highway System soon spelled doom for the popular ballroom. A steady stream of through traffic was a thing of the past, and soon The Nat would be too. The dance hall closed for good in the 1960s.

A New Life

Though it was used sparingly for community events and the occasional concert, The Nat’s glory days seemed permanently gone, some feeling it only a matter of time before the building disappeared completely. But, the fate of The Nat wasn’t quite so gloomy.

In recent years, the former pool house-turned-ballroom has gained a new lease on life as a wide open marketplace of antiques, handmade crafts, and other unique items. While not the hopping music and entertainment center it once was, the Amarillo Natatorium still greets thousands of visitors each year, all of whom hope to find something interesting amongst the eclectic collection in the market. But, along with antiques and artwork, visitors might find more than they bargained for in the form of spirits looking for a place to dance, or perhaps a cool spot to swim.

Amarillo Natatorium’s Biggest Paranormal Claim

One of the ghosts most often reported at the Amarillo Natatorium is the apparition of a young woman wearing a white dress. While she has mostly been spotted meandering through the building, others have seen her with a red spot on her bodice, apparently screaming in pain. While the source of this woman’s spirit is unknown, many have said they’ve encountered her while perusing the antique selection.

Another common claim of paranormal activity stems from a regular cold spot at the top of the stairs. While it isn’t said to always be there, the stairwell cold spot has been one of the most regularly encountered oddities throughout the antique mall’s operation.

More Paranormal Reports

Workers at the antique mall have sometimes said objects will move or disappear without explanation only to reappear in strange places, as if the ghosts in the building were trying to trick them or play a prank. At other points, whole pieces of furniture have reportedly been moved around the building with no clear explanation as to how or why.

Workers have also reported strange sounds throughout the building that they have yet to find the source of. The sounds tend to vary, though some who have heard them say they sound like notes from a variety of musical instruments or singing.

Is the Amarillo Natatorium Haunted?

The Amarillo Natatorium has been visited by paranormal investigators previously, and in one instance in 1996, the team tasked with investigating had strange electrical disturbances with their cameras, and upon reviewing their audio captured unexplained sounds of a drum solo.

So, while there is still much mystery remaining about the supposed haunted activity at the Amarillo Natatorium, it seems that the dances of past decades proved lively enough to outlive the dancers themselves. And now, though it is filled to the brim with antiques and crafts, the dances still continue and occasionally leak back out into the realm of the living.