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Good Old Days:

Bay Club gala rings in New Year with class

December 30, 2007|By Sue Thoensen

Men in tuxedos, women in evening dresses, music, celebrities and a sense of elegance.

It was New Year’s Eve at the Balboa Bay Club, the only place to be in its glory days of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Former governor of the board Jack Wright never missed a New Year’s Eve celebration at the club, and remembers pre-cocktail parties in the ’70s on someone’s yacht or in an apartment with Ed McMahon, who provided the evening’s entertainment.

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“Ed would come to the party, then he’d change clothes to perform. He did a stand-up comedy show, he’d sing, and tell jokes,” Wright said.

Joey Bishop and John Wayne, also former governors, would be mingling with guests on the terrace or in the lobby, because Wright said the First Cabin restaurant would be packed.

There was no Ritz-Carlton, Montage or St. Regis back then. Restaurants and hotels didn’t come into vogue until the ’80s. The private Bay Club was very much in keeping with the “Hollywood mode,” said current president Henry Schielein.

“The club had a wonderful reputation and was a great place for celebrities who could party there without being bothered,” he said.

Wright made sure he bought his tickets for the New Year’s Eve gala as soon as they went on sale, usually a month before the event. Being on the board, Wright got first crack at buying tickets, but said he knew people who stood in line the night before the sale — or paid people to stand in line for them — to guarantee they had a seat in the grand ballroom.

People paid a premium for the tickets — $45 per person in 1975 — and when tickets sold out, there was a waiting list, Wright said.

Planning for the event was almost as much fun as the actual evening for Wright, his wife, Nancy, and their friends.

A month or so before, the Wrights and two or three other couples headed to Beverly Hills so the women could choose their dresses. Sometimes, they opted to have one made, and on New Year’s Eve they arrived at the Bay Club dressed in floor-length gowns and furs.

Members of the Board of Governors would form a reception line in the lobby to greet arriving guests, and when it was time for dinner, there were people playing xylophones to announce the doors were open for dinner.

It was a classy evening, Wright said, from the big band music to the huge centerpieces on the table.

A countdown to midnight, a champagne toast, balloons and the playing of “Auld Lang Syne” also made for an intimate and nostalgic evening.

That certainly didn’t end when the clock struck 12, Wright said. The partying went on until the wee hours of the morning.

“There was a sense of camaraderie because you knew everybody,” even though the Bay Club had 3,000 members, Wright said.

People wished each other well and really meant it.

“There was a spirit of looking ahead to the New Year,” Wright said.


SUE THOENSEN may be reached at (714) 966-4627 or at sue.thoensen@latimes.com.

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