BALBOA BEACH Rendezvous Ballroom
From 1948 till 1951 the Kustoms Los Angles Car Club would cruise down to Balboa Beach for Easter Ballweek. Free Custom Car show on the parking lot, and the guys dancing at the Rendezvous Ballroom.
In the later part of the 1940’ George Barris started to organize special events for his friends at the Kustoms Los Angeles Club. Around Easter George would rent a parking lot across the street from a Associated service staion for a week. The parking lot was across the street from the famous Randezvous Ballroom in Balboa. Around this time all the kids had vacation and everybody was in for a good party, including the guys and their girl friends from the Kustoms Los Angeles Club. Most of them would gather at the Barris Shop, first the Compton Ave, Later the one in Bell, and in 1950 the one on Atlantic Blvd. They would then drive in convoy to the Balboa Peninsula.
Along the way people would park their cars just to be able to watch all these beautiful speed boat stanced Customs float by. When they reached Balbo they would parade the cars on the streets of Balboa, cruising up and down to ejoy the huge crowds. Some people remember that there were some aoo to even 150 Custom Cars and Hot Rods to take part of this event. Later all the Kustoms Los Angeles members parked their car in the parking lot that George had rented. And they would stay there for the week. Drawing many visitiors who would walk up and down the parking lot looking at the wonderful cars in the free parking lot show. While the main event took place around Easter, the venue was so attractive for the guys in the club that special trips to Balboa for the weekend were organised several times a year.
While some of the guys came for the party, drinking bears and having a good time, others came for the dance events at the Rendezvous Ballroom, and of course to chase the girls. According to those who have been to this event it was very spectacular, so its amazing that not more photos have surfaced from these special events. Its almost like it was a no camera zone during these Easter weeks. I hope that with some more coverage here on the Custom Car Chronicle we will be able to gather some more material our readers remember more about this event, have heard more stories, or even have seen some photos from the Barris Parking Lot, or the guy cruising the streets of Balboa.
The July, 1953 issue sped four pages on the Balboa Easter activities. However the article did not mention the Barris rented parking lot, nor did it show any photos taken of the Kustoms Los Angeles parked there. The article included an set free from the background photo of the Hirohata Mercury, but it is hard to tell if the photo was actually taken at Balboa Beach, or used from somewhere else. The RC article is the only article we have found featuring the spectacular Balboa Easter event.
From the R&C article shows a number of cars at the Associated Gas Station. Hot Rods, Stock and the one in the middle next to the gas pumps looks to be a padded topped with panoramic rear window late ’40’s Custom.
The Rendezvous Ballroom was a large dance hall built in 1928, located on the beach of Balboa Peninsula in Southern California, United States. The 1920s were the heyday of public dancing to the music of popular bands and orchestras, and large ballrooms were built in most urban areas, and even on Catalina Island, 26 miles off the California coast.
No expense was spared in the construction of the ballroom, which was a city block long, and half a block wide. It featured reinforced concrete walls, a “floating” hard wood floor and a tile roof. After a fire in 1935 the ballroom was rebuilt with an arched roof supported by sectional girders of wood in a cross pattern, the same as used in the nearby blimp hangers for the Marine Corps.
The Rendezvous Ballroom caught fire again in 1966, and was never rebuilt. The site now has beachfront condominiums.
I have collected some of the stories that have been told about the trips to Balboa beach, trying to sketch the event as best as possible without any photos taken from these events.
From Jesse Lopez
Founding members of the 1948 KUSTOMS LOS ANGELES club; George Barris coined the phrase “Kustoms”, Kustoms stood by itself; Sam Barris, Nick Matranga, Bill Ortega, Oren and Loren Breeland, Oren’s mom took care of the boys, Gordo, Fuzzy, Don Nassar, Carl Abajian, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Buzzy. Jack “Fat Boy” Stewart, Paul “Snooky” Janich, Dick “Peep” Jackson, Hershel “Junior” Conway, Bill Taylor were a few years younger and came later, a different era. “Bob Hirohata’s nickname was “Walrus”. He came later, but I was pretty tight with him, he sort of idolized me, very proper Japanese, polite and smart. The guys would all greet me ‘Esele!’”
It was the history making of hot rods and customs. In 1948-51 the whole gang, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Bill DeCarr, Dick Carter, Carl Abajian, George and Sam Barris, Nick Matranga, Jack Stewart and Jesse would getaway in their customs on the holidays to Crestline and Lake Arrowhead by Big Bear Mountain. “Hundreds would watch us drive up in the ’40 Mercs, ’41 Fords, ’41 Merc, ’41 Buick, ’42 Ford coupe, and ’42 Cad. They’d be waiting for us. It was a spectacle!” They would also caravan to the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom. Together with other custom guys they would caravan in their cars to Balboa Beach and gather in the parking lot that George had rented near by the swingin’ “Rendezvous Ballroom”. These impromptu shows of some of the most fantastic, iconic, and beautiful customs would attract huge crowds. The guys would have a whale of a time drinking, dancing, and chasing skirts. Apparently they did this at least three or four times a year. By 1951 it was off to Korea, and it was all over. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if somebody had photos of any of these gatherings?
“I wouldn’t dance, I watched my car. George would dance the jitterbug though. He could really slap leather. We’d get there late, like ten p.m. We were busy working on our cars all day, and Balboa was an hour out to get there. Looking sharp in our aviator jackets, Kirk Douglas spotted us one night. He was just getting started and he looked so familiar. He was friendly. He wore elevator shoes. If I could get someone to watch the car I’d go into the big ballroom. George always went in.”
The Trade Winds in Inglewood also had jitterbug contests on Tuesday nights. All the guys would go to see Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Prima, the same crowd as the Balboa. “My friend Pete Werrlein shined Mickey Cohen’s shoes. Later Pete got the rights to Mickey’s story.” Pegged pants rolled twice and thick crepe wedged shoes were the So Cal style. Sacramento boys wore their pants pegged and straight down, so the So Cal boys did that too. All the fads; flat top and peroxide hair, t-shirts (undergarments weren’t acceptable in public), pegged Levi’s, tiny waistlines, started as So Cal beach style. (courtesy of Michelle M. Yiatras)
From Nick Matranga
The clubs didn’t exist after we got back from the Korean War, no meetings because there was no more real custom cars. George might have given some plaques away, but they didn’t run ‘Kustom’s’. Formed the club when George had the plaques made for us guys who had the cars, from 1948 to the early 50’s.
Don Henchman, Bob Ruble, Richard Carter, Johnny Zaro, Al Andril, Oren Breeland, Bill Ortega, Paul Janich, Shorty Brown, Harold Larson, Carl Abajian, Jack Stewart, Vard Martin, Les Callahan, Nick, Sam, George, and myself. They voted me in as President.
We’d meet and go to Balboa, Crestline, or the Big Bear Mountains. We weren’t kids anymore, we were young men with responsibilities. We’d just plan get-togethers. No official club. Dick Fowler was a squirrel, just weird, he never fit into our clique, he belonged to Fox Florence gang. Not a nice-looking car. Dick Fowler ’38 Ford coupe was a very early Sam and George Barris effort, about 1946-47, when they first came down from San Francisco/Sacramento. I knew him pretty good, he hung out at the Barris shop even before I got there because he lived by the shop. It wasn’t a real custom, not a nice chop, just changed the Packard grill, and kept it kinda black.
From Jack Stewart
There were always a bunch of custom guys hanging out at the Barris shop. Saturday nights were especially famous at the shop. And after working on their cars and talking custom cars, the guys went out to have a good time at a dance, drive-in or party. “We’d get there late, like ten P.M., because we worked late at the shop and Balboa was an hour out to get there. Looking sharp in our aviator jackets with pegged pants rolled twice, and thick crepe wedged shoes was the So Cal style.”
In 1950 George Barris rushes to get Jack Stewart’s 1941 Ford ready for a couple of coats of white primer so that Jack can drive his car to the Balboa Easter Event. Most of Jack’s restyling was done by the Ayala’s But Jack had his friend George Barris do the fine tuning.
Jack’s good friend Doug Anderson (AKA Dog Face) owned a Barris-built 1939 Ford convertible with a padded top. Jack Gordkil, who helped Jack on his car, owned a chopped 1938 Ford coupe, and another 1938 Ford coupe with Packard grille was owned by another friend, Dick Fowler. This last car has been recovered and is going to be restored as well. Jack also hung out a lot with Bill DeCarr, who built his own 1941 Mercury coupe with fade away fenders in his spare time at the Barris’ Compton Avenue shop. And with Johnny Zaro, who first had his 1940 Mercury and later his 1941 Ford, which was customized similar to Jack’s car, except Johnny’s was a convertible.
With these and other guys, they would get together with their custom Mercurys, Fords and Cadillacs for the holidays and drive together to places like Crestline and Lake Arrowhead, by Big Bear Mountain. They also caravanned to the legendary Balboa Beach Rendezvous Ballroom. “When driving together, people would stop their cars, step out at the roadside, and watch us drive by. Sometimes, hundreds of people where watching us drive by. It must have been a wonderful sight with our rumbling speed boat stance cars floating by.”
This photo of Johnny Zaro’s ’41 Ford with Johnny polishing his car, Jack Stewart leaning on the fender and George Barris kneeling in front of the car was not actually taken at the balboa event. But it sure looks like it could have been. guys drinking a bear, having a good time, getting the cars all ready for the show and then go out for a dance till the morning.
Jack and George loved to go out, dans and have a few drinks. Jack drank, but not to much, he was never into that. But George drank a bit more, although never a drunk. The used to drive up with all the guys from the LA Kustoms club to go to a dans. They where all driving along, but the closer they cae to the dans the more pretty girls they saw on the streets. They would pop open the doors with the poppers, and in went the girls. Later when they would arrive at the dans the angry boy friends would wait for them. And there was an occasional fight over the girls. But in the end they just all wanted to have a dance and a good time. There was a lot of girl chasing, but the car Jack got from George Barris after the 41 Ford was much more a girl magnet than his Ford. The fact that it was a convertible played a roll in that, but also the fact that Jack modified the front seet so that he could lift it up and slide it back so it would touch the back seat. This way there was a huge amount of space in the front, and although the girls always say that Jack was really bad… but please don’t quit. Jack made out a lot in that car, he kept it for a few years, then bought his MG.
From Jeff Neppl
Jeff owns a 1950 Mercury Custom that was very much styled after the cars built by Sam Barris and the Ayala’s in 1950-51. His car is the last Mercury that Dick Dean would chop. Besides owning this stunning Custom Jeff is a die-hard early Custom Car enthusiast. Living in So California he tires to drive his Mercury as much as possible and loves to cruise to the Custom Car historic places. Photo locations used for the magazine articles from the 50’s, Vintage show locations, and places his Custom Car hero’s visited often, like in this case Balboa Beach. Every year around Easter Jeff tries to make it out to Balboa and day dreams about the good old days. Thinking about the stories his hero’ have shared with him. Guys like Jerry Quesnel, Jack Stewart and others. “Ballweek is what it was called and it was HUGE”.
“Balboa is my favorite beach to go to and everytime I’m down there I just think of all the kustoms that used to cruise around there.”
Jeff Neppl loves to cruise his perfect 1950 Mercury to the historic Custom Car locations in and around Los Angles. Here Jeff parked his Merc in front of what used to be the Rendezvous Ballroom building. After it was destroyed in a fire in 1966 the location was used for condo’s and apartments, but the building was named the Rendezvous.
Jeff talked to Jack Stewart about Ballweek; “He was telling me about his ’41 and told me a lot about Balboa. It wasn’t really a cars how, they would just go down there to dance and party for easter. George would rent a parking lot and they would park all the KUSTOMS there and it would kind of turn into a show. Jack said him and George were some of the best dancers there.”
Jeff Neppl standing next to the plaque at the exact location of the Rendezvous Ballroom used to be. This is where Jack Stewart and the Barris gang would caravan all the Customs to from Lynwood every easter to go dancing at the Ballroom. This was Jack’s favorite place to cruise, from what he told Jeff. Jeff’s wearing his new Jack Stewart shirt. Always thinking about custom history!
Aerial view from the 1940’s shows the Rendezvous Ballroom building in blue, the huge parking lot right on the beach, the Kustom Los Angeles parking lot George Barris rented in green, and the Associated Service station that we can see in the R&C article in red next to the parking lot.
A closer view of the Associated Service station, the parking lot George Barris rented, now filled with car in front of the “Blue Room” building, and a corner of the Rendezvous Ballroom on the lower right. (Photo from the mid 1940’s, thanks Jeff.)
Interesting photo from the early 1950’s shows the Ballroom in the far left top with a sign for the upcoming Easter event. Just behind the large building on the left is the parking lot George Barris rented (not visable in this photo) and behind the palm trees on the corner of the street is the Associated service station.
If you have any stories of your own about the Rendezvous Ballroom, or about the Kustoms Los Angeles, or the special club meetings and trips they made together, and you would like to share them with us. Then please email Rik Hoving here at the Custom Custom Car Chronicle so that we can add them to this article, or share it elsewhere on the site. Thank you.