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The Balboa Pavilion: A Marine Recreational Facility that is Rich in History

Located in Newport Beach, the Balboa Pavilion is one of the last surviving turn-of-the-century waterfront recreational pavilions in the state of California. Established on July 1, 9016, the Pavilion is the oldest standing building in the city. Originally developed along with the Balboa Pier in an effort to attract land buyers to the area, the Pavilion remains a popular marine recreational facility while also serving as the city’s most famous landmark.

The History of the Balboa Pavilion

In an effort to turn around the land that had been previously designated as “swamp and overflow” land, the Newport Bay Investment Company was granted permission by the War Department in Washington, D.C. to construct the Balboa Pavilion as a “boat-house, bath-house, and pavilion” on September 20, 1905. The then went on to build the Pavilion on the Newport Harbor side of the sand spit while the Balboa Pier was built on the adjacent ocean side of the sand spit. Today, this area is collectively known as the Balboa Peninsula.

The 65-foot Victorian-style Pavilion, which was designed by Los Angeles freelance architect Fred R. Dorn, was completed on July 1, 1906. Three days later, a Red Car Line extension to central Balboa near to the Pavilion was completed after only 10 days of construction. People then began to flock to the area, with many deciding to purchase a lot.

During the 1930s Big Band era, the Pavilion featured a number of prominent bands on the weekends. Among these were Benny Goodman, Count Basie and the Dorsey Brothers. Phil Harris and his band also regularly played at the Pavilion during the week. It was here that the dance step called the Balboa originated and swept across the nation. The Pavilion also had several card rooms where patrons would gamble. Speed boat rides that involved racing two 35-foot boats from underneath the Pavilion into the Pacific Ocean were also offered at the Pavilion until the alter 1930s.

Following World War II, Newport Harbor became the center of sport fishing activity. The state itself had more than 100 boats and 9 landings devoted to the sport, one of which operated out of the Pavilion. Today, there are only two sport fishing landings in the state with less than 10 boats, one of which still operates out of the Balboa Pavilion.

The Balboa Pavilion Today

Over the years, the upstairs portion of the Pavilion served many purposes. In the original building, the second story was a meeting room while the first story was a bathhouse where people could change into rented bathing suites. In 1942, the upstairs was rented out by a businessman who used it to operate a ten-lane bowling alley. In 1954, it was transformed into a shell museum displaying 2.5 million shells. The collection was later donated to Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. Today, the upstairs serves as a ballroom used for banquets, conferences and receptions. The Pavilion also serves as the transportation terminal for the Catalina Flyer to Catalina Island.

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