Dancing Waters and the Demolition of San Pedro’s Cultural History

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By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

For the longest time, we’ve clamored for more and cheaper. Now we’re getting it, at least the quantity part, although it remains to be seen if rental rates will stop increasing or even decrease. But I’m not so sure this new development should come at the expense of our cultural history.

Notice has been given that a new apartment complex is going to be built on the 1300 block of Pacific Avenue, displacing the former La Rue Pharmacy, the Enigma Bar and the La Zona Rosa, the historical landmark of local punk music formerly known as Dancing Waters.

This past August, it was reported that Root Real Estate had submitted plans for a mixed-use development on the 2100 block of Pacific Avenue and a few blocks north at the 1300 block of Pacific Avenue.

The 1300 block development will replace all the commercial buildings including the La Zona Rosa. Plans call for a four-story building featuring 109 apartments, including 12 very low-income affordable units and an underground parking garage.

In exchange for providing those 12 affordable housing units, developers requested density bonus incentives such as an increase in allowable height and floor area.

Root Real Estate’s other project — a joint venture with Ketter Development— would replace a mostly vacant lot at 2111-2139 S. Pacific Avenue with 101 apartments and street-level commercial space.

Although Root Real Estate’s 2100 block project is filling a mostly vacant lot and will include some commercial for retail, little is being done to ensure that Pacific Avenue corridor developments retain their retail presence or consider the impact of diminishing the corridor’s  cultural and historic assets.

Built in the 1940s, the Dancing Waters started off as a bowling alley, changing names at least once from Civic Bowling Alley to Pacific Bowling Alley before it was sold to Heho “Al” Cordeiro in 1969. He owned the Aquarius, a nightclub adjacent to the Harbor Community Clinic on 6th and Mesa streets.

The two-story venue got its Dancing Waters name from a water feature that poured onto imitation rocks and plants behind the stage. The Dancing Waters has since been operated as a showplace for bands on the Lawrence Welk Show circuit, a “Latin nightclub” (which likely meant salsa/tango club given the era), a top 40 rock ’n’ roll club; a roller disco and a nightclub that served the gay community. For a short period it was a venue that showcased some of the most important punk bands in the Harbor Area’s musical history. A good primer on the history of the South Bay’s punk music scene is Craig Ibarra’s  A Wailing of Town: An Oral History of Early San Pedro Punk and More.

The Lawrence Welk Show was a televised musical variety show hosted by big band leader Lawrence Welk. The series aired locally in Los Angeles for four years starting in 1951, then nationally for another 16 years on ABC from 1955 to 1971, followed by 11 years in first-run syndication from 1971 to 1982.

A 1982 concert series at the Dancing Waters featured bands such as the Blasters, Salvation Army, Reuben Gueverra and The Minutemen (before founding member D. Boon died in an Arizona auto accident). The summer concert series apparently brought hundreds of fans to the neighborhood — as well as the problems that so often accompany a live music venue with a bar on each floor.

The Blasters, a roots-rock band known best for rockabilly when they formed in 1979 in Downey, were anchored by brothers Phil and Dave Alvin (vocals and guitar), with bass guitarist John Bazz and drummer Bill Bateman. More than 40 years later, they still are, although a Blasters gig today is a musical tour through rockabilly, early rock ’n’ roll, punk rock, mountain music and rhythm and blues.

Salvation Army was the original name of the punk band Three O’ Clock headed by Michael Quercio. The original lineup was Quercio (lead vocals, bass), John Blazing (guitar) and Troy Howell (drums). By the end of the year, Blazing left and was replaced by Gregg Gutierrez, later known as Louis Gutierrez. Quercio reverted to his real name and this lineup of The Salvation Army signed with L.A. independent label Frontier Records and released a self-titled debut LP in May 1982.

In the summer of 1982, legal problems with the actual Salvation Army forced the band to change their name. “The Three O’Clock” came from the time of day the band rehearsed. Almost exactly coincident with the August 1982 name change, Howell left the band and Mike Mariano (keyboards, ex-Great Buildings, ex-The Falcons) and Danny Benair (drums, ex-The Quick, ex-The Weirdos, ex-Choir Invisible, ex-The Falcons) joined. Frontier would later reissue the Salvation Army LP under the group name Befour Three O’Clock in 1986, and again in 1992.

Rubén Funkahuátl Guevara is a singer, songwriter, producer, writer, poet, performance artist and impresario. He made his mark in music with his 1970s band Ruben & the Jets, who recorded two albums on the Mercury Record label, the first produced by the legendary Frank Zappa.

  1. Boon and Mike Watt formed The Reactionaries in 1978 before forming the Minutemen in 1980. They would play together with Greg Hurley until 1985 when Boon died.

At the time, newspapers including this one probably paid more attention to the complaints generated by the concert series than the bands that played. After the benefit concert series, Cordeiro said he was going to turn the venue into a country and western club, but it’s not clear that came to fruition. Dancing Waters/ La Zona Rosa did become a norteño music format venue, catering to Spanish speaking audiences off and on.

The bottom line here is that amidst a new development cycle that will likely decimate further the retail businesses along the Pacific Avenue corridor, there’s a music cultural history that could be turned to dust if the memories of these places aren’t preserved.