1. Short Summary:
Established 100 years ago in
Newport Bay Investment Company, the Pavilion played a prominent role in
In 1906, it became the
the Pacific Electric Railway connecting the beach with downtown
The Pavilion has since then housed approximately twenty-eight types of activities. Notable examples include a post office, art museum, bowling alley, gambling establishment, speed boat rides and a host of other marine recreational activities.
The Pavilion has been in
operation since its opening on
Today, the Balboa Pavilion
2. Pavilion Historical Facts:
In a letter, dated September 20, 1905, the War Department in Washington granted Newport Bay Investment Company permission to construct and maintain a building for purposes of a “boat-house, bath-house, and pavilion” with 210 feet of water frontage.
The Pavilion was built by a group of promoters. The promoters recognized Balboa’s potential as a seaside and bay recreational area. They formed “Newport Bay Investment Company” in the early 1900s “to formalize their vision.”
constructed by contractor, Chris McNeil. Just five years before,
had built the red sandstone courthouse in
Pavilion could only be reached by boat or, with great difficulty, on a
road. However, construction of this wooden Victorian design
fully completed on
sand spit previously designated as “swamp and overflow”
land (today called the
Later that year, the Balboa ferry service commenced which connected the Balboa peninsula with Corona del Mar.
All of the above helped secure the future of the Pavilion.
The original building consisted of a large 8,000 square foot meeting room on the second story and a simple bathhouse on the first floor where people could change from street attire into outfits called “Bathing Suits.”
Sometime between 1910 and 1920, for a period of five years, the post office operated from the Pavilion. Further, there was a barber shop which employed an infamous barber called “Lucky Tiger Jack.” He was so named by the locals because he was always drinking his Lucky Tiger hair tonic.
according to Phil Tozer, the only way to
Shortly thereafter, yearly Fourth of July bathing beauty parades brought large gatherings of people to Balboa. The contestants would parade around Balboa and return in front of the Pavilion for contest judging.
In the early 1920’s, bathing suit rentals were a thriving business. Also popular were boat rentals and sight-seeing excursions. The Pavilion continues to offer these same two activities today.
In 1923, the Pavilion underwent remodeling making it more suitable for dancing.
By 1928, sport fishing boats began operating out of the Pavilion.
ushered in the Big
Band era. On weekends at the Pavilion, you could listen to Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and the Dorseys.
Phil Harris and his band played regularly on weekdays. The dance
called the "Balboa," with variations sometimes knicknamed the
“Balboa Hop” and/or the “Balboa Shuffle”
originated at the Balboa Pavilion
and swept across the
Photographs - Courtesy of Joel Plys
Admission to the dances was free, but couples who used the roped off dance floor had to pay for the privilege to dance. Ticket hoppers posted at several locations sold nickel tickets. Each time a dancing couple stepped on the dance floor, they would give up a ticket. After the completion of each music number, the dance floor was quickly cleared by opening up the ropes. Then the ropes were put back, and dancers would again have to use another ticket to dance. Due to the structural weakness in the building back in those days, the “jitterbug” was prohibited.
The popularity of dancing at the Pavilion lead to the building of the much larger Rendezvous Ballroom a few blocks away. With the opening the the larger, nearby, waterfront Rendezvous Ballroom which attracted the big name bands and larger dance crowds, the Pavilion’s dance era declined. Nevertheless, the Pavilion owners still staged walkathons and dance marathons to attract Depression era crowds.
During this same time frame, gambling was legal. The Pavilion had several upstairs and downstairs card rooms were patrons could play blackjack, penny roulette and other card games.
1930s, speedboat rides, which defied all
sensible boating rules,
thrilled inlanders with roaring trips up the bay, out into the
Also, during the 1930s, a 45-foot boat called the “Magic Isle” provided sightseeing trips. At night, this same boat would leave the Pavilion with a huge, blazing searchlight and cruise the coast. Frequently, flying fish could be seen with the searchlight jumping out of the water.
World War II,
Today, only two sport fishing landings with less than ten boats survived, one of which is Davey’s Locker which, since 1965, has been operating out of the Balboa Pavilion.
In 1942, the Pavilion's owners leased the upstairs of the building to a gentleman who built and operated a ten lane bowling alley! Pinsetters hand set the pins. Pinsetters were paid ten cents per game. He also operated an archery range and had five pool tables.
Because the Pavilion is anchored on a narrow strip of sandy waterfront, most of the building was supported on wooden pilings which extend over the bay. In 1947, the wooden pilings deteriorated to the dangerous point and the building began to collapse into the bay.
In 1947 or 1948, the Gronsky family purchased the Balboa Pavilion primarily to operate a sport fishing landing and to continue leasing the upstairs.
However, rumors circulated that the Pavilion, which was run down and in disrepair, would be leveled and transformed into a boat yard. But according to Art Gronsky, “We assured everybody we would keep the Pavilion and make it better. When we reopened it in 1949, it was quite an event for Balboa.”
Because the building was in such poor condition, the Gronsky’s obtained the building at a very low price. To rectify the deteriorating twenty-six original wooden pilings, eight large, concrete pilings were installed, a Hurculean task. Workers pushed wheel-barrels full of concrete across scaffoldings to install new concrete pilings. The result was a newly fortified, element-resistant city landmark. Additionally, the lower walls of the building were also rebuilt to be structurally sound.
In 1949, the Gronsky reopened the building.
At first, the Gronskys did not own their own fishing boats. But they allowed other boat owners to run their boats out of the Pavilion on a percentage basis. The Gronskys converted the Pavilion’s only boat, the “Crescent,” into a bait carrier and hauled bait the Pavilion fishing boats and the other eight fishing landings in the bay.
boats had to
obtain their bait from bait tanks at the Pavilion, the only harbor bait
provider at that time. During the height of the Albacore season,
lined up a quarter of a mile, clear back to
The Gronsky’s continued speed boat rides. Their boat was the “Leading Lady.” However, a speed limit was imposed in the bay. Therefore, the “speed” part of the ride had to wait until they exited the bay and entered the ocean.
to Art Gronsky, the bowling alley,
continued but, due to suspiciously low monthly percentage checks
less than $20.00, the Gronskys switched to
rate rental. This caused the business owner not to renegotiate
lease. According to Gronsky, the owner chopped each bowling lane into three pieces, slide
them out of the side of the building and into a truck and, he heard,
reinstalled them somewhere in
By 1949, a
shop and the
In 1954, Gronsky
instituted a shell museum upstairs. Gronsky
purchased one of the world’s most extensive private shell
collections from the
estate of Fred Aldrich, who had lived on
the Gronskys sold the Balboa Pavilion to Ducommun
Realty Company of
Bill Ficker, an architect who worked on
the year long
renovation, “They did it because they loved the Pavilion and they
was a landmark worth being preserved.”
through 1970, the
upstairs of the Pavilion housed the
“I called Mr. Ducommon at his home in Portuguese Bend at 7’oclock in the morning and I guess he couldn’t believe what he heard – some women he didn’t know wanted to use his building for their art museum, for free”
“The building was in pretty flaky condition,” according to Ms. Winckler. We agreed to make a few improvements on the second floor – a heater for winter, vents for summer, and restrooms.
the big day came, and on
In 1963, Ducommun
added 1500 lights to the buildings exterior at the suggestion of a
restaurant lessee. Even today, the Pavilion continues to light up
night with its 1500 glowing light bulbs. These lights, along with
the Cupula on top of the building,
incidentally serve as a
navigation beacon for night boat travelers.
In 1968, the Pavilion was named a California State Historic Landmark. The Pavilion is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which is the highest honor a historic building can receive.
The Balboa Pavillion is state historical landmark #959 and national historic landmark #84000914.
Alan Ducommun admits: “I think when I bought it, I was leading with my heart instead of my business head.” After ten years of ownership but not financial success, he was ready to sell the Pavilion.
In 1969, Davey’s
Locker Inc., a sport fishing operation, under the business leadership
president, Phil Tozer, purchased the
to provide a permanent terminal for the expansion of its
In 1981, the Balboa Pavilion was designated as a California Point of Historic Interest.
In short, a
long succession of owners have sought to preserve its basic
retain the Pavilion’s beautiful Victorian lines as well as its
example of the turn-of-the-century waterfront pavilions and continues
to be the
The Balboa Pavilion “is the city landmark,” according to Ficker. “Every painter has painted it and every photographer has photographed it. It is the grand dame of focal points.”
3. Pavilion Presently:
used as a marine recreation facility, with sport fishing boats, a giant
passenger catamaran to
4. Other Nearby Historic Sights:
Fun Zone (1936 to present). The Balboa Fun Zone was
Abbott's Landing where Mr. Abbott brought soil from the mainland and
Car Ferry (1919 to present): Transporting vehicles
Pier (1906 to present): Located on
© 2005 Balboa Pavilion Co. Inc.