Balboa Pavilion

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The Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach, Orange County, California, is a state and national historic landmark building. Established on July 1, 1906, the Balboa Pavilion played a prominent role in the development of Newport Beach by attracting real estate buyers to an area formerly designated as “swamp and overflow” land.

The Balboa Pavilion is one of California's last surviving waterfront recreational pavilions from the turn of the century. The Pavilion continues to serve the public today as a marine recreational facility and is Newport Beach’s most famous landmark.

Balboa Pavilion as seen from Newport Bay
Balboa Pavilion as seen from Newport Bay


Detailed History

On September 20, 1905, the War Department in Washington D.C. granted a group of promoters, called the “Newport Bay Investment Company,” permission to construct the Pavilion as a “boat-house, bath-house, and pavilion.”

The promoters built the pavilion on the harbor side of the sand spit and its sister project, the Balboa Pier, on the adjacent ocean side of the sand spit, which is today called the Balboa Peninsula. These two structures were built to attract lot purchasers to this area of Newport Beach called Balboa.

On July 1, 1906, the Victorian style building was fully completed to coincide with the completion of the Pacific Electric Railway Red Car Line extension to central Balboa near the Balboa Pavilion on July 4, 1906.

The Balboa Pavilion in 1906
The Balboa Pavilion in 1906

With the extension of the Red Car line, People began to flock to Balboa and some purchased lots, and, thus, the Newport Investment Company’s plan worked.

The original building had a second story meeting room and a first story bathhouse. In the bathhouse, people could change from street attire into rented “bathing suits.” Soon, yearly Fourth of July bathing beauty parades brought large gatherings of people to Balboa.

The 1930s ushered in the Big Band era. On weekends the Pavilion featured such prominent bands such as Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and the Dorsey Brothers. Phil Harris and his band played regularly on weekdays. The dance step called the "Balboa" originated at the Balboa Pavilion and swept across the United States.

The Pavilion had several upstairs and downstairs card rooms where patrons would gamble.

Until the later 1930s, the Pavilion offered speed boat rides. Two speedy 35-foot boats would take off full speed from underneath the Balboa Pavilion with sirens blaring and race out of the bay and into the Pacific Ocean.

Right after World War II, Newport Harbor was the center of sport fishing activity in southern California with over 100 boats and 9 landings, one of which operated out of the Pavillion. Today, only two sport fishing landings with less than ten boats survived, one of which still operates out of the Balboa Pavilion.

In 1942, the Pavilion's owners leased the upstairs of the building to a gentleman who built and operated a ten lane bowling alley! Pinsetters hand set the pins.

Because the Pavilion is anchored on a narrow strip of sandy waterfront, about 90% of the building was supported on wooden pilings which extend over the bay. In 1947, the wooden pilings deteriorated, and the building began to collapse into the bay.

In 1947 or 1948, the Gronsky family purchased the deteriorated Balboa Pavilion a very low price and replaced the deteriorating original wooden pilings with large, concrete pilings. The result was a newly fortified, element-resistant city landmark.

In the later 1940’s and early 1950’s the Balboa Pavillion housed a “Skil-O-Quiz” bingo parlor which gave prizes rather than cash. But bingo was deemed too wicked, was outlawed, and the sheriff closed the establishment down.

In 1954, Gronsky instituted a shell museum upstairs. The museum displayed over 2.5 million shells. Eventually, the shell fish collection was donated to Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

In 1961, the Gronskys sold the Balboa Pavilion to Ducommun Realty Company of Los Angeles. Edmond G. “Alan” Ducommun’s “mission” was to restore the building to its original 1906 look, and he generously invested an estimated one million dollars into the property.

In 1963, Ducommun added 1500 lights to the buildings exterior which remain on the building today. These lights, along with the Cupula on top of the building, additionally serve as a navigation beacon for night boat travelers.

In 1969, Davey’s Locker Inc., a sport fishing operation, purchased the Balboa Pavilion to provide a permanent terminal for the expansion of its Catalina Island passenger service. It’s president, Phil Tozer, undertook to and did refurbish the building’s interior to reflect the early 1900s architecture.

On May 20, 1980, the Balboa Pavilion Company branched off from Davey’s Locker and took over ownership of the Pavilion.

Pavilion Today

Currently, the Balboa Pavilion is used as a marine recreation facility, with sport fishing boats, a Catalina Island transportation terminal, harbor sightseeing cruises, small boat (skiff) rentals, whale watching, a restaurant and upstairs ballroom for banquets, receptions and conferences.

The supply of fish in the bay and the fishing boats, bait tanks, and a high roof draws a variety of marine birds out of their flocks to make the Pavilion their home in a small, mini-ecosystem. Sea lions also frequent the docks.

Other Nearby Historic Sights


Balboa Pavilion 400 Main Street Newport Beach, CA 92661 (949) 675-1905

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