The Harbor Column


November 20, 2000

San Diego has its Hotel del Coronado, San Francisco has its Golden

Gate Bridge, New York has a building the size of an empire, and the

French adore their Eiffel Tower.

It made me wonder -- What do we have? We don't have a hotel known as

the meeting place that destroyed a monarchy. No huge skyscrapers,

although there seems to be many officials who would approve of that. Our

bridges are too low for large yachts and freighters; there are no tall


towers. In fact, do we even have anything that would qualify as a

historic monument? Yes, we do.

The Balboa Pavilion was built in 1905. Originally designed as the

terminal for the Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway, it also stood

as a navigation beacon for ships. The Victorian cupola adorned with 1,400

white lights could be seen for miles out at sea. The structure is

recorded in the National Registry of Historical Places and holds a

California landmark designation.

In addition to being the beach drop-off spot for the Red Car line, the

facility was designed as a bathhouse for "stylish" beachgoers. Other

features followed, including a general store (which still exists), a

bowling alley and a famous dance hall. Count Basie, Stan Kenton and Benny

Goodman were just a few of the sounds that could be heard on any given

Saturday night.

The Pavilion also became the birthplace of a national dance craze that

swept the country, known as the "Balboa Hop." The Holiday Parade of

Lights boat parade began in 1908, and the Pavilion was always the center

of the activity. In 1932, the Pavilion hosted the first surfing contest

held in the U.S., as Hawaii at that time was not yet a state. Surfing's

Duke Kahanamoku was a frequent visitor, as were Hollywood's social elite.

In the 1960s, the facility expanded to include whale-watching,

sportfishing out of Davey's Locker and became the home of the Catalina

Flyer. The general store is still there and maintains its early 1900s

charm. Kayaks and other small-boat rentals are also available through the


The Tale of the Whale Restaurant and Spouter Saloon bar has hosted

everyone from royalty to reprobates. Celebrities such as John Wayne,

Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, James Cagney, Tony Curtis, Clayton Morse,

Jayne Mansfield and others could frequently be seen in the restaurant and

bar. The banquet facility can host receptions of of up to 500 guests and

has held more Newport Harbor High School proms and reunions than anyone

can remember.

I love the majestic look of the Balboa Pavilion, and I'm thankful we

have such a structure radiating its turn-of-the-century charm and

elegance. But we live in Newport Beach, a place where historical

significance is sometimes overlooked.

Is it possible it could be torn down and replaced by a hotel? Nah.

It's a registered landmark and, besides, legions of people would protest

and uphold our right to maintain structures and organizations of

historical significance.

* TERRANCE PHILLIPS is the Daily Pilot's boating writer. You can reach

him via e-mail at

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