Memories of Huntington Beach nightclub echo in new marker

Numerous musical acts graced Golden Bear's stage in Huntington Beach, where a commemorative plaque now stands

It has been almost 30 years since the famed Golden Bear nightclub in Huntington Beach was torn down, but now loyal fans have something to look at while reminiscing.

More than 100 people gathered at the Pierside Pavilion this week to see the city unveil a commemorative plaque honoring the venue, which hosted innumerable musical acts, including icons such as the Doors, Dizzy Gillespie, the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt, Blondie, the Ramones, Neil Young, Van Halen, Eric Burdon, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Peter Gabriel. Comedians Robin Williams and Steve Martin also performed at the nightclub.

Former Golden Bear employees and faithful patrons caught up with each other as they looked at old concert posters and ticket stubs.

"Apparently the club had some soul and it lived on long after its demise," said Kevin Kirby, general manager of the Golden Bear from 1976 to 1986.

The venue opened in 1923 as a cafe off Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach. It moved to 306 Pacific Coast Highway in 1929.

After founder Harry Bakre died in 1957, the building was vacant for years. But in 1963, under new owner Delbert Kauffman, the establishment was converted into a folk music club that presented acts such as Hoyt Axton, Buffalo Springfield and Bob Dylan.

The club continued through two more ownership changes before it was shut down and demolished in 1986 because of plans to redevelop the area, Kirby said. Today, the site is home to Huntington Surf and Sport and other businesses and offices.

"It was more than a nightclub," said Roy Zartman, the Golden Bear's sound engineer. "It was really a launching pad for a lot of people who played there."

The Golden Bear was not large, holding up to 300 people at a time. By comparison, the House of Blues in Anaheim holds 1,700 guests and the Observatory in Santa Ana, formerly the Galaxy Concert Theatre, holds about 550 people.

"It's small, and that's what made it," Kirby said. "The audience is right there in the artist's face and they got to see the crowd, as opposed to looking at some lights. There's this interchange between the artist and the audience. They just kind of fed off each other."

The idea to create a commemorative plaque came from then-City Council members Matthew Harper and Joe Carchio, who brought up the topic in March.

"It's something that you have to honor," Carchio said Monday. "There's certain things in the city that are so important to you that you can't let it slip through your hands, and this is one of them."

Also in attendance Monday was Carole Babiracki-Kirby, Kevin Kirby's wife and a co-owner of the Golden Bear from 1974 to 1986. She was swarmed by former employees and regular clubgoers who thanked her for the fun they had there.

"This is very special," Babiracki-Kirby said. "I'm glad I got to be a part of rock 'n' roll history."

anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

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