PRESERVING THE “LOCAL COLOR” OF BALBOA ISLAND

The Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society hosted another splendid evening of entertainment, education and colorful connections with our Speaker’s Series event on June 14th. The theme of the gathering was Local Color and the three speakers were colorful, indeed. Maxwell Phillips, Randy Seton and John Scudder each shared tales of their life and times on Balboa Island through the decades, revealing bits and pieces of Island history that evoked sighs and chuckles of delight from the audience.

This event was the largest yet, with close to 100 in attendance. The Museum’s courtyard was comfortably packed with sociable Islanders, eager to share their enthusiasm for preserving the past and for creating new memories for the next generation. Conrad Baumgartner served as moderator for the panel and the program, adding some of his own stories to the mix.

25The stories could easily fill a book or two!

Here are a few highlights. Maxwell kicked off the evening. “To a lot of you here I’m a newcomer. I came in 1960, and the reason I came here is Balboa Island was our nirvana; it was our Shangri-La as teenagers growing up in Los Angeles. We were so excited coming here during Bal Week. At that point in time, when surfing began, we would go out to the Rendezvous Ballroom – Dick Dale and the Deltones – it was just a magic land.” Max went on to tell great stories about living on the Island through the years, starting his business on Marine Avenue, and how he came to sell Reyn Spooner shirts. “I was selling traditional clothes -coats, slacks and stuff like that – and I walked  out the door and saw everybody here was wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirts. Why am I trying to sell coats and ties to guys that want to wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts? I want to wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts! So I went and changed the image of my store.”

Randy told the story of how his parents met during World War II in Sorrento and eventually married, lived in Los Angeles and moved to Balboa Island where they bought a restaurant (Norton’s Cape Cod House) which became, and still is, Amelia’s Ristorante. Randy’s stories covered a wide range of subjects, from being a kid building forts in a vacant lot (yes, there were vacant lots on Balboa Island!) from left-over Christmas trees, to playing pranks on visitors. “…living on the Island, Marine Avenue – we owned it. It was our backyard, and this is where all the kids came with their cars. And we’d jump in windows of cars full of girls. And all the tourist guys would say, ‘Hey man, where’s the party?’ And we’d go, ‘Oh, 116 Agate or 118 Agate,’ and that’s where the church used to be down there!” He mentioned many of the former businesses that were on the Island, some that well-known and others that most did not remember. “Does anybody remember… Ognir Rrats? This was a bikini store on Main Street [owned] by a famous surfer and his lovely wife, Mike and Sherry Haley, and it was Ringo Starr spelled backwards!”

4John brought poster-sized photographs to illustrate his stories. Beginning with a photo of a very young child he said, “This is a picture of me. I’m sitting in front of my house, the house I lived in for over 20 years. This is before I learned to drive! This house was built in 1930 by my mother’s parents. They used to summer here over on the peninsula, and then in 1930 they decided to buy this lot on the end of Garnet & North Bay. The lot cost about $2,300.” He showed another photo of a beautiful woman in her bathing suit lying on the sand – his lovely mother. He proudly shared that she was an excellent swimmer and then displayed a trophy she had been awarded. “This is the Oscar of swimming and this reads, ‘First Annual Balboa Island Swim, Rendezvous Ballroom Award, August 14, 1938, 2nd Place.’” He and a friend decided to replicate her swim around the Island and dove off of the public pier on Emerald. “…we didn’t stop until we touched the other side of the pier. We swam through the churned-up cold water of the ferry channel, which took us by surprise. We changed strokes a lot and it took about 3. hours. It was something I didn’t yearn to do again!”

After a lively question and answer session, everyone enjoyed mingling and having refreshments, while admiring the Museum’s newest exhibits, greeting friends and neighbors and forging new connections. Who knew that History could be so fun?

Stay tuned for information about our next Speaker’s Event to take place in September.

By Diane Bock & Ellen Goodman