by Lee Van Slyke
‘Effie & Cowger’ celebrating 49’er days.The founder of San Clemente envisioned an active social life in the village, as well as the benefits of the outdoor life. To this end Ole Hanson donated the Social Club, the Beach Club and Las Palmas School to the new city. And San Clementeans have been partying ever since.
The first lots were sold on December 6, 1925, and by 1927 the city had an active Men’s Club. Its members were employees of the developers, owners of the new businesses sprouting up in town, and other full-time residents - mostly retired couples who had just moved in. Few people commuted to work elsewhere in 1927, so villagers who saw one another at work during the day partied together at night.
The first big fund-raiser in town was the “Womanless Wedding” held in December 1927. Members of the Men’s Club played all the roles in the “ceremony”, including bride and bridesmaids. This was the first event of its kind in San Clemente, raising money which the Men’s Club used to buy Christmas presents for every child in the village. With no toy stores and few general merchandise stores in South Orange County, volunteers from the Men’s Club spent two days in Los Angeles shopping for those presents.
Grand openings were great excuses for parties back then. The town’s newspaper, El Heraldo, noted (12.2.1927), “Last Saturday … the doors of the new Hotel San Clemente were opened to the public
After the program in the lobby was completed Mr. Lynch had the announcement made that a dance was in progress at the clubhouse to which they were all invited.”
By the end of 1927, the Social Club, which also has been known over the years as the Clubhouse or the Community Center, was the site of a Saturday night dance every week. Under the headline “Dances Will Be Held On Every Saturday Eve”, El Heraldo reported that the Men’s Club would put on “a Saturday evening community dance” with “charges …only sufficient to pay the expenses of the night.”
These dances continued for an entire generation. At some point, according to Bonna Haven and Lois Divel, they switched to Friday nights. Many a young couple met at the “Friday Night Dance” in San Clemente. A really big day in 1940 included a swim with friends at the Beach Club, a double feature at the San Clemente Theater (now known as the Miramar) and the Friday Night Dance at the Clubhouse.
The biggest fund-raiser put on by the Men’s Club became known as the “49’er Days” and continued under that name for many years.
The social scene in the 1950s was led by the Elks, who had built their lodge a few blocks from the Casino on El Camino Real, and the Moose, who were using the Casino (now the home of the Chi Institute) as their lodge. Dancing was as popular in the 1950s as it had been in the 1930s and 1940s, and with the same audience, the generation that was born into the Roaring Twenties, coped with the Great Depression and the Long Beach earthquake and fought the Second World War. By the 1950s they were the Elks and the Moose, the Rotarians and the Kiwanis, the San Clemente Women’s Club and Junior Women’s Club, and they all loved to dance.
The music of the 1930s and 1940s was “lounge music”. In the 1960s and later, Jerry Velasco, who had signed with Lionel Hampton’s band in 1947, performed in the most popular lounge at the Alan Hale and Martin Milner enjoyed celebrity golf tournaments.San Clemente Inn. The lounge scene at the Inn began in earnest when Peter Berger and fellow Elks persuaded the Hollywood Hackers to bring Celebrity Golf to San Clemente. A group of about 80 golf lovers from the entertainment industry, they played celebrity tournaments about once a month and San Clemente was an annual stop.
Most of the celebrities stayed at the San Clemente Inn (this was, of course, before time-sharing). They’d hit the lounge on Saturday and Sunday. Jerry Velasco stayed at the Inn and played for fun on a few Sunday evenings for, as Jerry says, “Every actor thinks himself a singer.” This became a regular gig, accompanying such stars as Alan Hale and Martin Milner.
With the opening of the Western White House in 1970, the administration set up press headquarters in the San Clemente Inn. Reporters, Secret Service agents and minor dignitaries joined the celebrities staying at the San Clemente Inn and the lounge was busy every night. There was now “no room at the Inn”, so in 1972 Jerry moved to San Clemente and played at the Inn five or six nights a week.
Sebastian’s/West offered Broadway musicals and legitimate theater to San Clemente beginning in 1974. Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller, Martha Raye, Caesar Romero and Vera Miles were among the many Broadway stars who graced the dinner theater during more than a decade.
Rock & roll, on the other hand, nearly bypassed San Clemente. In the late 1970s, teens danced to live music, including that of stars like Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne, at The Four Muses on El Camino Real. Later, the Miramar Theater offered an occasional concert. Most fans of rock & roll had to be content enjoying surfing and surf music at the beach and at home, while others drove to central Orange County or even Los Angeles to catch a concert.
The biggest parties in town after the Big Band era have been fund-raising dances hosted by local service clubs and groups. The “big two” are the Fiesta, a summertime street festival for the Chamber of Commerce; and the Ocean Festival, celebrating our lifeguards as “The Greatest Show on Surf!”
San Clementeans still love to dance. From Mardi Gras (February 25, San Clemente Rotary Club) and St. Patrick’s Day (March 12, Exchange Club), Dixieland Jazz Festival (May 12-13, San Clemente Rotary Club), Fiesta (August, Chamber of Commerce) to the Oktoberfest (October, Sunrise Rotary Club), the beat goes on for party-goers of all ages all year long. b
It wasn’t always pretty... The first big fund-raiser in town was the “Womanless Wedding” held in December 1927. Members of the Men’s Club played all the roles in the “ceremony”, including bride and bridesmaids.