The personal side of Balboa Pavilion

June Casagrande

In the 99 years since the Department of War issued the permit to

build the Balboa Pavilion, no one has come to know the place better

than Art Gronsky.

From the time he moved to Newport Beach from South Pasadena at age

6, the pavilion has been central in his life -- at first, an exciting

destination that would dazzle any grammar school child, and later,

his family's livelihood.

"I can tell most of its history firsthand. I knew the people who

owned it before us and the people who bought it after us, too," said

Gronsky, now 82 and still a Newport Beach resident.

On Thursday, he will tell those stories. Gronsky is the featured

speaker at a dinner presentation by the Newport Beach Historical

Society and Friends at the American Legion Hall on Balboa Peninsula.

Gronsky's tales will include the earliest glory days of the

pavilion, when its upstairs dance hall attracted the likes of Benny

Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.

His family bought the pavilion in 1947 when it was on the verge of

being condemned. Within a year, it became clear that the place needed

some serious work or it would be a wash -- literally.

The Gronsky family tore down most of the original Victorian style

structure and replaced it with a modern-style building. Modern, at

least, by 1948 standards. The waterfront fun spot featured

restaurants, shops and attractions -- many of them similar to

attractions there today, some of them unlike anything you'd see

today.

"One of our tenants was a bingo parlor. They got around gambling

rules by making it a game of skill. You had to roll balls into slots

to get the numbers you wanted. After a few years, around 1952 or

1953, the sheriff's department shut it down -- shut them down because

they considered it gambling."

Gronsky's family lost the building in 1960 after a bitter court

battle with in-laws who owned half of the building. At a court

auction of the building, the Gronskys tried to buy it back, but were

impressively outbid by the Ducommun Real Estate company.

"We had bid $300,000, and the bidding was going up just $1,000 at

a time, but then the Ducommuns put an end to it by going up $15,000.

That was the end of that."

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