Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Balboa Pharmacy Library


Before I answer you, let me ask you  a few questions first.

Which town did Gilligan, Skipper, Tina Louise and the rest take off from? What town did Dick Dale and his Del-Tones, in the summer of 1961, first launch their reverb-crazy surf instrumental sound? Where did Van Dyke Parks first witness crowds of surfers pack in the Rendezvous Ballroom to see the Beach Boys one night? Answer: He witnessed this standing in front of the Prison of Socrates folk club, across the street in Balboa. 

And what would you say if I told you that one segment of the Pet Sounds/Wall-of-Sound musicians started life as members of the Stan Kenton Orchestra? And that their concerts at the Rendezvous in Balboa are where kustom kar designer Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and his pals would head to in the late 1940s to shake a leg and meet girls? 

Lastly, what locale in the head-spinning summer of 1963 did Sports Illustrated choose to depict on its cover as the center of "The Beach Explosion in Southern California"? You guessed it... Balboa!

And for those unaware, Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula are a pair of townships in the Newport Beach area of Orange County, where a bevy of cool pop Modernist discoveries have sat dormant for years, waiting to be re-discovered. Consider this blog your invitation.

Let me back up for just a second. Let me tell you how all this came to me. Here's a quotation from Dumb Angel co-editor Domenic Priore:

"So listen, man... Paul Johnson (who played his song "Mr. Moto" at the Rendezvous with his band, the Belairs) once told me this... are you ready? Paul Johnson said to me, 'You know Domenic, this whole California Myth thing... it's really neat and compelling and all. But the truth is always more bizarre and interesting than the myth.'"

The Balboa Fun Zone during the 1960s.
Thus started the day I traveled with Priore down Orange County's Pacific Coast Highway selling new copies of Dumb Angel #4: All Summer Long, the magazine Priore and I recently published together. We headed down there with the intent of reminding the natives of Balboa about their groovy, locally-derived music scene. Little did we know, they had a whole library of folkloric literature just waiting for us.

Before you, behold the locally-produced library of Balboa history we found when we got there:

Old Balboa Island Stories from 1907 to the Millennium by Jim Jennings (No Publisher)
  • This is an old man's personal history of daily life in Balboa. However, he tells it with a sense of wisdom and inherent coolness from simply living through this quieter era that it is to reading what listening to an Arthur Lyman album would be like. Unconsciously hip.

Tales of Balboa by Jim Fournier (No Publisher)
  • An encyclopedia of important people and places in Balboa's history, told by the town historian. Sort of a miniature version of Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County (University of California Press)

The Newport/Balboa Map
  • General Newport Beach, Balboa and Corona del Mar area map, including illustrations of key locations and a list of phone numbers for local businesses.

Newport Beach: A California Postcard History by Jeff Delaney (Arcadia Publishing)
  • Postcard shots of Newport/Balboa/Corona del Mar from 1900 on.

Newport Beach: Images of America by Pamela Lee Gray (Arcadia Publishing)
  • Archival photo paste-up book about Newport and Balboa's history. Besides a host of deserted beach shots from the Victorian Era, there are four previously-unseen photos of the Rendezvous Ballroom from the Stan Kenton period through to Dick Dale, and ultimately to when it burned down in 1966.

Newport Beach by Gayle Baker, PhD (HarborTown Histories)
  • A linear account of how the Newport/Balboa towns developed during the early 1920s. Baker offers the best re-telling of the Rendezvous Ballroom origins and another unseen photo of the structure to boot. I would consider this to be the most literary of all the Balboa books thus far.
The Wedge DVD
  • Documentary of the 'Dirty ol' Wedge'... the spot with the most intense body-surfing experience in the Greater Los Angeles area.

Dirty Feet DVD
  • 1965 feature film about Balboa folk singer Tim Morgon, shot on location at the Prison of Socrates coffee-house. To watch this movie is to be transported to a way of life that no longer exists, with shots of Morgon's cool girlfriend Vicki passing out flyers to surf dwellers near the Balboa Pier and rowdy folk music enthusiasts tearing up the joint by movie's end.
We are proud that Dumb Angel #4: All Summer Long has joined these fine books and films in the Balboa Pharmacy Library. Special thanks to Mike and Tom of the Balboa Pharmacy for keepin' it real.

The Balboa Pharmacy on Main Street.

The complete collection of albums and singles on the Fink Records label (all of which were local-artist albums released out of Balboa's Prison of Socrates coffee house).
  • Artists include Tim Morgon ("Dirty Feet" b/w "Mike Fink") and Phil and the Flakes ("Chrome Reversed Rails" b/w "Blower Scoop," 1965).
--blog written by Brian Chidester

(NOTE: More detail about Balboa can be viewed and discussed at Sponto Gallery, in Venice, on July 19, 2006. Dumb Angel will host a screening of the Dirty Feet film, plus a slide show of all the long-gone beach coffee-houses in the Greater L.A. area during the '50s and '60s. (Indeed, Sponto Gallery was one of them — The Venice West CafĂ©). Members of the Dirty Feet cast, as well as the director, Ted Nikas, will be on-hand to answer questions about the film.)

1950s postcard of Main Street, featuring the Balboa Pharmacy to the left and the Balboa Pavilion in the center.


Dirty Feet Soundtrack — Tim Morgon, Susan Renaker, John & the Bazooki Band (Fink Records LP 1007)

No one album so perfectly sums up the general good feeling of Balboa than this 1965 soundtrack to the rare indie film Dirty Feet, starring folk singer Tim Morgon and his sidekick Vicki Arthur. Morgon contributes two vocal numbers, the anthemic "Dirty Feet" and the hootenanny sing-a-long "Mike Fink." What lies between these tunes captures faithfully that rare environment between Balboa's Island, Pavilion and Pier. The "Prison of Socrates" instrumental cut is traditional Greek folk music, which sets the stage for musical references that informed the Middle Eastern exoticism of many surf instrumentals. The moody "Gamblin' Man" breaks stride with what is, otherwise, essentially a folk album... it being a breezy surf instrumental inflection on the night-tides and the moon. 

"Camping Song" sounds like surfboards sliding through the pilings... it works as happy music for anywhere. The Grecian formula-flavored "Odessey" rolls along with its combination of Amerian rock 'n' roll and European flair and can be DJ'd along with any other Bosstella number you may prefer (not as frantic as the soundtrack to The Day the Fish Came Out, but on the way there). Next up, the instrumental backing track to Tim's vocal number "Dirty Feet" works as somber 12-string guitar "walking music." Susan Renaker's "Summertime Wine" sounds like an ode to Joan Baez, with a strong falsetto vocal landing somewhere between "Kum-Baya" and an exotica siren. (NOTE: "Summertime Wine" is the title of a book that Tim Morgon is reading during the opening credits of Dirty Feet, his feet set on a bamboo table with empty bottles.) 

Vickie Arthur (left) and folk singer Tim Morgon (right) in a still from the film Dirty Feet.

"Angel's Camp" could refer to the Sunset Strip-esque Pop and Op shop at 614 N. Doheny Drive back then or someplace in the San Gabriel mountains. Either way, it's killer surf. "Cotton Candy" mind checks the prime dietary capital of the Balboa Fun Zone, and is a romantic surfer's mood number. It's followed by a slowed-down version of "Odyssey" and a chugging folk instrumental rendering of "Mike Fink." The "Dirty Feet" theme is reprised vocally by Morgon in a profound, slowed-down version to close the LP. Generally speaking, the Dirty Feet soundtrack employs the same placid moodiness found in the Mar-Kets' "Balboa Blue" single, only spread across an entire album. Though the whole affair might seem like a mind-altering trip to some lost astral plane, when you watch the film and walk around the town of Balboa, you get a sense that it is all really real and that this type of music poured into the streets on any given 1964 night.--review by Domenic Priore

Teens hang outside the Prison of Socrates coffeehouse in Balboa, c. 1962.


Dirty feet, dirty feet . . .
Say that youth and life are much too sweet,
To be bound or confined.
Shoes are things that steal my peace of mind.

I want to feel the good earth under me,
The warmth of the sand beneath my toes.
Even mud squish when it rains,
It's my life and I don't care who knows.

Let me be foot loose and free,
Then with music every step will sound . . .
Though I walk with my head in the clouds,
My feet will be on solid ground.

Dirty feet, dirty feet . . .
Tell of summertime that was too fleet.
Soon enough, I will be,
Saying 'fare thee well' to liberty.

But now I must run barefoot through grass,
And find what waits over the hill.
Skipping puddles in the rain,
There's part of me that's a kid still.

I am sure as can be,
Lots of folks would find life more complete . . .
If they took off their shoes for a while,
And ran around in dirty feet.

Happy dirty feet!

— "Dirty Feet," by Tim Morgon, 1964


From Christopher Peake's column "Take a Walk on the WARPED side," in his 1984-1986 'zine 45-45

Phil and the Flakes "Chrome Reversed Rails" b/w "Blower Scoop" (Fink 1010)

A long-time favorite, it's the label copy that gets your attention right off (see photo copy). This demented surfer (P. Pearlman is the writer's name for both sides) is putting on a joke; it can only be. Top side starts out with what gives the listener the impression is going to be a good Surf instrumental tune, but then we get a two-part vocal group coming in and adding more to the intro, and then Phil comes on with his opening line; "When I go surfin', my baby loves me so, she loves my chrome rails, how they gleam and they glow; . . . It's my chrome reverse rails, woe-oh, that stuck my baby on me; . . . shoo-be-do-wah-pa-do-wah" (it's just gotta be heard)!! All this is going on with the two-part female "vocal backup" now doing it up to a true "warp level 13," with one part singing in unison with Phil on his lines, and one part which resembles (for lack of better likeness coming to mind), doing some Turkish harem-trip kind of high warbling part!? The lyrics remain just as cool throughout, until the mid-break, which sports some of the hottest Surf-guitar playing ever laid down!! "Blower Scoop" is right in the same groove (with another super Surf-guitar break), but the lyrics maybe get evermore far out there (if that's possible). We know you don't believe us . . . (editor's note: . . . so check out the incredible Surf comp Wax 'Em Down for a good repress of the flip).

--Christopher Peake, 1985

Balboa nature-boy, Phil Pearlman... of the Flakes.
"It seems that Phil and his pals were cruisin' to drag and get in a quarter mile showdown with a rod equipped with a blower scoop. Well, just as the scooped coupe is about to pass, Phil's buddy throws his ICE CREAM CONE into the oncoming supercharger and puts the kibosh on the guy's mill! This genius platter is on Fink Records, who obviously felt proud enough of Beardo Weirdo Phil to put his hairy mug on the label.”--Deke Dickerson and Johnny Bartlett, from the liner notes of Wax 'Em Down, 1995.

Phil and the Flakes were a house band in 1965/1966 at Sid's Blue Beet, on the North end of the Balboa peninsula, near the Newport Beach pier.
Listen to "Chrome Reversed Rails" at

The Balboa Fun Zone, the beach and the Balboa Pavilion in the back.


Old postcard of the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, where the Stan Kenton Orchestra was houseband during the 1940s and '50s... and where Dick Dale and his Del-Tones took over during the early '60s.
The two most important live recordings from the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa can be heard on these records:

The Kenton Era — Stan Kenton (Capitol EOX 569). The opening eight numbers from this definitive early-'50s release were recorded live at the Rendezvous from July through September of 1941. The selections include "Artistry In Rhythm," "Two Moods," "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good," "Lamento Gitano," "Reed Rapture," "La Cumparsita," "St. James Infirmary" and "Arkansas Traveler". "With the college and high school crowd that colonized the little resort town on weekends, holidays and vacations," wrote Bud Freeman, "the young Kenton was an immediate success. Red Dorris, tenor saxist and vocalist, became a local idol within a few weeks. Howard Rumsey, who played amplified bass with spastic abandon, was known by his first name to every Jazz enthusiast in the area." Rumsey later held sway with his Lighthouse All-Stars at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. The Kenton band would nourish, through the '40s and '50s, the school of musicians later referred to in Jazz circles as West Coast Cool.--Domenic Priore

Surfer's Choice — Dick Dale and his Del-Tones. Released in early 1963, this collection is crucial to any Surf music collection. Most, if not all of the tracks were recorded live at the Rendezvous, including the insane "Surf Beat" (lots of great audience noise that pushes the actual content of the record), "Sloop John B.," "Let's Go Trippin'," "Surfin' Drums" (a takeoff on Bo Diddley's "Hush Your Mouth"), "Mr. Peppermint Man" and the expanded guitar workout "Miserlou Twist". Some of the Del-Tone 45s ("Jungle Fever," notably) also feature the Rendezvous in rapture.--Domenic Priore

Balboa Blues — A lounge piano album featuring the barroom keyboard masters from the Stuft Shirt, Berkshire’s and the Reuben E. Lee restaurants. Side-one opens with a cool cocktail take on “Satin Doll,” ending with a night/tide version of “Girl from Ipanema.” Side-two starts out with some standard Broadway fare, including “Hello Dolly,” sprung from the Reuben E. Lee (a riverboat/restaurant out to sea). Best of all, the piano lounge players are boarded on Balboa’s Ferry Boat (with a grand piano) for the album cover.--Brian Chidester
Groovy photo booth leftover from the late '60s still at the Balboa Fun Zone today.
"Henry Mancini keeps a boat here." (from the liner notes to Balboa Blues, Mark 56 Records, mid-'60s.)

"Balboa Memories" b/w "Long Way Home" by the Breakers (Marsh 206)
What you have here is a Cascades-esque trip through the teenage hot-spots and inherent romanticism of Balboa, circa 1963. The Breakers slide effortlessly through a swirl of vocal harmonies and lyrics which suggest the whole city of Balboa was once akin to the P.O.P. theme park in Venice (with mentions of the Fun Zone, Bay Arcade, Ferry Boat and the Jolly Roger). The backing track is mid-tempo and Modern, bringing images of mini-yachts, cotton candy and sea shells to mind. Their world must have seemed perfect.--Brian Chidester

"Those Memories of You" by the Bobby Fuller 4
Written by Jim Pewter, his original 1964 demo appeared on Surfin' Roots in 1977. Pewter produced another cool version with Dick Dale for GNP-Crescendo in 1975.--Domenic Priore

(NOTE: Ace local photos of Balboa from a resident can be viewed and purchased at

The sign at the entry to the Balboa Peninsula once you drive your car off the Balboa Ferry from the island side.


Dear Dumb Angel Readers... 
I thought I should share this with you. Brian Chidester and I went to Orange County on a Monday afternoon in January, and it was just empty... "off season" for these beach towns. We did our sales thing, but the sky had this forever sunset that was just amazing. Catalina was fully visible over the Dana Point/Laguna Beach area and just as the sun was dipping outta sight, we crossed from Balboa Island to Balboa Peninsula on the Ferry, looking west . Without cueing it, we just happened to be listening to "Busy Doin' Nothin'" and "Diamond Head" from the Beach Boys 1968 Friends album while on the Ferry boat, floating on the water, in the car. Outtasight!!! To hear those steel guitars and percussion emulating volcanoes... true Brian Wilson exotica music on a slow boat. Here's Chidester's e-mail to me the day after. I think you'll appreciate the sentiment in it.--Domenic Priore
Brian Chidester: “I'm still riding high from that trip yesterday. I was just so overwhelmed by how amazing Southern California once was in the days when beach houses and mini-yachts looked the way "Let Him Run Wild" sounded. Crossing that empty street on Balboa Blvd. to walk into the pharmacy, I had the most odd feeling. It was as though the wind was whipping some salt-air comfort over me, whistling the tunes of Tim Morgon out of the Prison of Socrates and Dick Dale playing "Greenback Dollar" from the Rendezvous. Such a cool day."

The Wet Seal, c. 1965. Long-gone Balboa fashion shop.