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Boom sees its last dance

An American flag still hangs above the Boom Boom Room. The Boom’s other banner — the rainbow one — still gently waves on the same mast the way it always has. Now, though, the “closed” sign in the window is permanent.

The Boom Boom Room’s taps are finally dry after a Labor Day weekend of closing parties. The echoes of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” the final song played closing night, are now just memories.

Despite knowing the Boom was on its way out for more than a year, the loss is just beginning to settle in. Thousands of people came to capture one last memory of a place that has acted as a pillar of the gay community for more than 60 years.

Patrick O’Laughlin, the operator of the Boom, said the final crowd’s moods were varied.

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“It was a combination of celebration and a lot of sadness as well,” O’Laughlin said.

O’Laughlin said some people cried while others thanked him for keeping the Boom open for as long as he could.

“I think that a lot of it was friends saying goodbye to each other, to me and to the staff,” O’Laughlin said.

For O’Laughlin, the Boom’s departure leaves an uncertain future. For now he plans on finishing up the last details of the Boom’s closure. After that, he’ll take time to relax and think about his next move.

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The Boom may have shut its doors, but there are those hoping to make that a temporary condition.

Laguna Beach resident Fred Karger and his Save the Boom campaign is still hoping to find a buyer that would keep the bar a gay establishment.

“I’m never giving up on that. I’m never giving up on saving the Boom,” Karger said.

Karger hopes the publicity generated by the closure will smoke out potential buyers. He said the feeling he gets from airline mogul Steven Udvar-Hazy, who bought the property last year in hopes of opening a boutique hotel on the site, is hopeful.

“I have the great sense that he is willing to unload it,” Karger said.

Campaigning to save the bar he loved has been a personal journey for Karger. The public relations expert donated to gay causes in the ’70s, but had never been publicly open about his sexuality.

When he decided to organize an effort to keep the Boom, he hadn’t imagined he would become the public face of the fight.

While the Boom Boom Room was a place he was comfortable being himself, it wasn’t until he began crusading to save his cherished watering hole that he officially came out of the closet.

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“It’s been an incredible experience for me personally because I’ve never been actively involved in gay civil rights causes,” Karger said.

Karger said it wasn’t easy for him at first.

“I was very fearful actually, it’s been an evolution for me,” Karger said.

Karger found help in the personal process at the Boom and from Robert Gentry, a Laguna Beach City Councilman from 1982 to 1994, and also believed to be the first openly gay mayor in the United States.

Karger approached Gentry with the idea of a grass roots preservation effort, and Gentry willingly joined the cause and offered a little counseling as well.

“He just gave me tremendous support and encouragement,” Karger said.

Of the many groups to come in and out of Laguna Beach, artists and gays were the main groups who made Laguna a permanent home.

“The gay community wasn’t just passing through in a movement like some of the other groups were, the gay community stopped and stayed,” Gentry said.

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Gentry says he now sees much of the gay culture was influential in creating Laguna’s relaxed accepting atmosphere leaving.

The Boom Boom Room is the latest example.

“It signals the possible end of a very important era,” Gentry said.

Gentry firmly believes the Boom has had a personal impact on many lives. He recently met a couple in his new home in Hawaii who were celebrating their 20th anniversary. The men met at the Boom.

Gentry was at the Boom in the 1970s when undercover police would try to arrest gay men looking to meet other men. He said word would spread and everyone went on their best behavior.

“All the sudden you thought you were at a tea party in London,” Gentry said, describing the mood change.

Gentry’s hope is to not only to see the Boom Boom Room restored, but also to preserve Laguna’s gay history. To him, the responsibility lies with the people and the city council. Both parties should stand up and take an active part in restoring the city’s gay community, Gentry said.

“What would the community do if this were the last art gallery? Or if this were the last art studio?” Gentry said. “To me it’s that important.”


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