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
"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."