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Village Inn like an 'extended living room' for locals

September 28, 1999

Veronica Duran

It was a sad day in the community when owners of The Village Inn on

Balboa Island closed their doors about a year ago to give the place a

face lift.

But after investing nearly $700,000 to rebuild the interior of the

resaturant/lounge, owner Lance Wagner officially reopened the doors

Monday to loyal customers. He made sure everything from floor to ceiling

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was remodeled, giving it a Las Vegas lounge look.

In a setting where many locals enjoyed dancing, relaxing and catching

up with friends, those who attended a private party last week to

celebrate the reopening said The Village Inn means a lot to them.

"It's the reason why I moved to the island," said Sharon Antle, a

two-year Balboa Island resident. "I call this my family room. I can come

here to see my friends."

Owned by the Hershey family from 1920 through 1990, the restaurant was

known by many names before becoming the Village Inn. About 1937, the

Hershey family leased their little restaurant to brothers Art, Bert and

Vaux White, who called it The Park Avenue Cafe. Shortly after a remodel,

the name was changed to the White's Cafe.

Former regulars living outside the area returned with island residents

to attend the party and reminisce about a time when famous actors and

even cartoonists strolled into the bar to drink -- and then think up

something funny to draw.

"People like Johnney Weismuller, Broderick Crawford, Dick Shaw, Virgil

Partch and Jack Dempsey used to come in here," said Bob Yardley, who

owned the restaurant from 1975 to 1995, and is now part-owner of the

business.

Yardley, who grew up on the island in the 1930s and '40s, remembers

when Harold Sehslin -- a police officer admired for his high school

football skills -- would hang out at the restaurant and everyone made a

big deal of it.

"He was the best football player around," said Jim Jennings, who lives

across the street from Village Inn and is one of Yardley's close friends.

The memory of good-looking teachers strolling into the bar remains

vivid in Dick Higbie's mind. Higbie, who has known Yardley for many

years, remembers going into the bar when teachers went there for

entertainment.

"I used to come here in the '50s to meet the school teachers, who were

in their 20s, and hang out with friends," Higbie said.

Although many can recall the good times at the restaurant, they don't

seem to remember how it looked. Damienne Wagner, the owner's mother, said

before the restaurant underwent renovation it didn't have much ambience.

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