On the final afternoon of the Ranch House bar, emotion mixed with cigarette smoke, a combination that moistened the eyes of 45-year-old Suzie Jones. She said she could not imagine her life without the place.
A favorite of working-class, mostly middle-aged residents, the Ranch House was fast fading toward demolition last Friday. But pool balls still clicked and country songs played on the jukebox.
Jones, a secretary unashamed that her mascara was running, drank an amaretto-and-soda and said: "Everybody thought we were a bunch of drunks, but that's not true. We've gone through a lot together. We've had weddings, seen babies born, buried some of our good friends."
Formerly Was School Building
In a few days the bar itself would be buried--by a bulldozer knocking it down to make room for a parking lot for the nearby Bellwood General Hospital.
The Ranch House never looked like much on the outside. A low, narrow, stucco building built at the turn of the century, it once housed a school and then a church. The last 50 years it had been a bar, exuding the odor of stale beer through its front door on Artesia Boulevard.
"It never looked like much inside either," said Jones, a regular customer since 1962, "but it was real important to us. If my feelings were hurt, I could walk through the back door and someone would put their arms around me."
Ran Pool, Shuffleboard Leagues
The bar, near Woodruff Avenue, was especially popular because of its pool and shuffleboard leagues. Trophies and plaques won on all those happy nights still were displayed against the paneled walls, but the shuffleboard was gone. One of the two pool tables remained.
A pool game had been what Frank (Capt. Jack) Lewis had been seeking when he came into the Ranch House on roller skates 12 years ago for the first time.
"I hate to lose this place," said Lewis, a short, muscular man of 50 with tattooed forearms and a Navy background. "It's going to be missed by a lot of people."
Lewis looked around--at the ash-strewn red carpet, the torn stool cushions, the nicotine-stained wood ceiling, the bar mirror cluttered with signs and decals.
"It's a wonder it was never condemned," he said. "It's a dump, really. It's been here so long, had so much junk. I remember Thursday nights, this place was so full. . . . I hate to lose it."
The bar was the epitome of old-time places that seem to go on, unchanged, forever. It was hard to imagine the long-vanished school children or church worshipers.
"My grandfather came in here," said Richard Rich, 48, of Cerritos. "He was an old dairy man."
A hitching post had been outside when hay wagon drivers used to visit the bar. The decor inside had been mainly provided by antique wagon wheels, taken off the walls just recently.
Jones' daughter, Cyndi Bahr, who, like her mother was short and wore jeans, came through the back door crying. Joey Triplett, the woman bartender-manager, greeted Bahr with an embrace. "Don't cry, we'll find another place to go," Triplett said.
But where? The Parlor-Mint? The Blue Eagle? Those Bellflower bars were mentioned as possibilities.
"It's heartbreaking," Bahr said.
Window Glass Broken
The sound of breaking glass interrupted the pathos. A side window was being kicked out by a couple of young fellows with long hair, allowing a stranger, the 5 p.m. sun, to enter. The bar had been dark the last decade because the windows had been boarded due to break-ins.
George Bark, a feisty 52-year-old, kicked out the window's jagged edges and said, "They all know me here. I was here in '72 when we moved out from Chicago. This is the first bar we came to. My wife managed it for eight years."
For the most part, everyone agreed, the Ranch House had existed in peace. But Bark recalled a night when glasses and ashtrays flew. "I took on eight guys," he said. "They came in here and started some trouble. We always took care of our own, never had to call the police."
Although the bar would not go on, Bark was sure the clientele would. "We're survivors," he said. "People in high-tech jobs have a lot of stress; they have heart attacks. Common people like us, we don't have stress because we know how to relieve it. . . .
Nobody Watched the TV
On the jukebox, Kenny Rogers sang "Blaze of Glory," and the patrons seemed determined to go out in one. It was getting crowded and noisy. On a TV that needed its color adjusted, an Angels game went unwatched. Triplett and Lyndra Nelson, the other bartender, were busy taking drink orders.
Fuzzy-sideburned Paul Walker, 67, was on his stool as usual. The other regulars call him "Doc" because he used to work in maintenance next door at the hospital, and they still talk about the time in 1978 when he was hit by a car while walking his bike across the street.
Jones lit another cigarette and, bracing for the night ahead, started a fresh drink.
"We bobbed for apples in here on Halloween," she said.
Bob Loveland, the owner, was upset. "They (the city) won't let me move it," he said. "You have to serve 50% food (the Ranch House served mostly drinks) or they don't want you to have a bar around here."
Jones hugged him.
"I'll have another one," a man said to Triplett, "then throw my butt out of here."
Farther down the bar, a couple of co-workers argued.
A Parting Toast
For a moment, it seemed like any other day. Then a toast was proposed to Triplett, and Bark loudly joined in: "Here's to the ol' broad."
"Oh, shut up," Triplett said to him through tears.
They all raised their bottles and glasses: Jones, Bahr, Ed Dixon, LeRoy Knierim, Ed Green, Ken Runch, Gary Bakkan, Judy Staton, Lori Anna Fowler, Betty Mahar, Al Chavez, Donnie Toon, Helen Bark, Darlene Kneisly, George Valley, Shirley Mack, Roni Miller, Jerry Laloli, Brian Walker.
It would be awhile, they realized, before they would see one another again.
A sad song by Reba McEntire played and two people danced on the uncarpeted strip where the shuffleboard had been.
"What they should have done," said Terrie Brown, sitting at the bar she once tended, "is made a museum out of this."