A Marker for Music History: The Rendezvous Ballroom

Posted August 07, 2014 by Chris Epting
Rendezvous Ballroom, circa 1930

Today there is a plaque right near the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach that commemorates one of the most important dance halls and music venues in this country's history. The Rendezvous Ballroom was located on the block between Washington and Palm, right near the marker that is set into the ground.

Rendezvous Ballroom, circa 1930s

Rendezvous Ballroom, circa 1930

The Dancing Begins

The venue opened in 1928 and made a splash from day one. Its 12,000-square-foot dance floor could accommodate more than 50 couples. Rebuilt after a fire in 1935, the Rendezvous remained a popular getaway for teenagers that would dance to big bands until all hours. By the late 1930s, the place had become a regular stopping point for some of the biggest bands in the world. Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw –  they all played at the Rendezvous.

Look Magazine even nicknamed the place the “Queen of Swing.” A dance called "The Balboa" (or simply the "Bal") originated at the ballroom, and in 1941, an unknown bandleader named Stan Kenton auditioned his orchestra there. They earned a summer booking and the rest was history.

Stan Kenton and his orchestra play at the Rendezvous

Stan Kenton

Surf (Music)’s Up

But times change and along with it, the music also evolves. In the early 1960s, the Rendezvous became one of the hotspots for a brand-new kind of music that would eventually become what we know today as "Surf." Legendary guitarist Dick Dale and other architects of the sound regularly filled the hall. Thousands of screaming teenagers embraced the new musical movement which, at least at this venue, was cut short when a devastating fire destroyed the building in 1966.

Fire at the Rendezvous, 1966

Fire at the Rendezvous Ballroom, 1966

Must-Try Experiences at Balboa Peninsula

If you venture out along the beautiful and charming historic Balboa Peninsula, make sure you try the Balboa Bar – one of the signature frozen treats of the area. Ride the historic Ferris wheel at the Fun Zone and enjoy the many seaside shops in this classic California seaside village.

But also look for the marker by the pier that identifies the spot where thousands danced for decades, from swing to surf, at one of the most vaunted dance halls that ever existed.

The plaque reads simply:

“Built near this site in 1928, the Rendezvous Ballroom became a showcase for Big Bands, specially during ‘Bal Week.’ For 38 years, the sounds of dance music echoed from this block-long ballroom, which was destroyed by fire in 1966. The music and dancing have ended but the memories linger on.”

The marker was placed in 1986.

Rendezvous Ballroom marker 

Rendezvous Ballroom marker in Newport Beach

Photo courtesy of Chris Jepsen

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