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DAYS:The New Year's Rendezvous

THE GOOD OLD

Rendezvous Ballroom was once a popular spot for revelry in Newport.

December 31, 2006|By Jessie Brunner

It's New Year's Eve in Newport Beach, and Dolores Perlin, hair piled high on her head, is carefully slipping into a soft pink dress with shiny, gold shoulder straps in preparation for dancing the night away.

She's 17, finally old enough to date, and like many others she is heading to the Rendezvous Ballroom. With a dollar in her hand to cover the entrance fee, she envisions strutting on the dance floor with a variety of partners, many of them servicemen from local military bases.

That was New Year's Eve 1946, and as most Newport Beach locals know, the Rendezvous has since burned down, but it remains in the hearts of many of the area's older residents as the place to ring in the New Year.

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"The Rendezvous Ballroom was the focus of New Year's Eve activity in Balboa," Perlin said. "Everyone wanted to go there."

The block-long dance hall could hold about 3,000 people, and the crowds flocked to fill it to capacity, especially on New Year's Eve, with the draw of big-band lineups that included Nat King Cole, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. Even though there was no alcohol served at the Rendezvous, a 64-foot-long soda fountain kept partygoers refreshed.

Although the Newport Beach area was relatively quiet in winter, people at the ballroom partied like it was summertime again, said Christopher Trela, author of "Newport Beach Centennial: Celebrating a Century."

Woody Hadley remembers reveling at the ballroom on many a New Year's Eve with his wife of 66 years, Berenice Hadley. They waltzed, fox-trotted and danced the Balboa, a step said to have originated at the Rendezvous. Dancers paused only long enough for the orchestra to play "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight.

"It was a wonderful place to go," 89-year-old Berenice Hadley said. "We just had fun dancin'."

Certainly, youngsters heading to and from the ballroom often made stops along the way. Some would visit the Balboa Pavilion for a quick dance, a game of pool or a round of bowling (at the time, the upper level of the pavilion housed a 10-lane bowling alley).

Another popular stopover on New Year's Eve was Christian's Hut, right at the water's edge on Newport Harbor. Opened in the late 1930s, the Tiki-style bar and restaurant offered a variety of meats cooked in an outdoor pit, and you could get a champagne cocktail for less than 50 cents. Drinking and driving was not a concern because you could walk everywhere.

Costa Mesa resident Don Crocker remembers spending time at the eatery, where he once worked as a dishwasher, on New Year's Eve. Like Perlin, he donned special clothes for the holiday — "something that made you shine" — celebrating it in much the same way as people do nowadays.

"It was mostly dinner, dance and drink back then," the 70-year-old said. "Pretty much the same as today, but the pace was slower."

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