This blog is primarily about the history of the buildings the Grateful Dead played in. Why? I don’t know except I’m a fan of old buildings and especially how they’re transormed over the years for various purposes. These old buildings speak to me of people, places, culture and ideas from long ago. So the Dead are just the springboard for talking about these places.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Cheetah Club, Venice, CA

The GD apparently played the Cheetah in Santa Monica (actually just over the line in Venice) only on 4/30/67. See Corry Arnold's brief post on the Lost Live Dead blog

The Cheetah, previously the Aragon Ballroom, was located at the Pacific Ocean Park Amusement Pier in Venice, CA. Besides the Dead other bands such as The Doors, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Love, The Mothers of Invention, The Seeds, Buffalo Springfield and others played there. It closed in 1968.

photo from Sunset Sunshine at Flickr

The Cheetah was yet another dance club in a line of dance clubs in this building that had been operating on Lick Pier since the 1920s. When Lick Pier opened it was 800' x 225' and had the ballroom plus several amusement rides. The future home of the Cheetah was built in 1922, as the Bon Ton Ballroom, and the interior of the huge 22,000 sq. ft. ballroom was decorated in a modified Louis XV motif. According to Jeffrey Stanton's excellent Venice History page, Carlyle Stevenson and his orchestra "entertained nightly and all day on weekends." And aren't you lucky? You can hear Carlyle Stevenson's El Patio Orchestra play "By the Light of the Stars" over at! While you're there download a GD show or two or ninety.

Lick Pier in 1925, the Bon Ton Ballroom is the red-roofed building behind and to the left of the Lick Pier sign. Picture from the Pacific Ocean Park Amusement Pier website

I'm not sure how long Carlyle performed there but it was still called the Bon Ton Ballroom in 1931. However, by 1936 it was known as the Lick Pier Ballroom and in 1942 it became the Aragon Ballroom. By the 1950s people seemed to be more interested in TV than in an old-fashioned amusement park (thus beginning a long slow decline...). At some point in 1951 one of the orchestras to play there attracted only eight couples. The doors were about to shut but the manager decided to hire Lawrence Welk and his orchestra, who had entertained dancers there in 1946. That turned out to be a huge success and Welk's performances were weekly broadcast over local TV (later to be picked up nationally by ABC). Welk left the Aragon in 1961 for ABC studios at the Hollywood Palladium.

The ballroom remained the Aragon until February 1967 when it was remodeled and renamed the Cheetah Club. Based on a Google news search it appears the club closed sometime around or after June 1968. There are no further references to it until 1969 when an 8/3/69 LA Times article mentions the "defunct Cheetah Club". At that point the city was discussing ways to demolish the entire pier and all the buildings on it. A fire took care of that for them. I'm not sure what was in the building after 1968 - it was probably empty - but it burned up along with Lick Pier in a May 1970 fire while thousands watched. It was one of the last nails in the coffin for this area which, like the area where the Family Dog at the Great Highway was located, had been an amusement park since the 1920s.

It still looks like a nice beach though...

(Most of the information for this post came from Jeffrey Stanton's Venice History page and the Pacific Ocean Park Amusement Pier website. Both are excellent resources and I highly recommend checking them out).


Corry342 said...

Fantastic work as always. I love the photo of the venue. Isn't that Mark Volman of The Turtles (and later "The Phlorescent Leech," for you Zappa fans), staring at the camera?

Based on the marquee, I am pretty certain that it is the week of August 15-20, 1967. West Coast Branch is playing during the day (at the time of the photo), The Boston Tea Party at night (it says "Tonight") and The Seeds are headlining later in the afternoon (3pm). This would cause me to think it was Sunday, August 20, 1967.

Corry342 said...

The original incarnation of the Cheetah seems to have promoted its last show on June 28-30, 1968 -Mothers Of Invention/Sweetwater/AB Skhy (Note that Howard Wales was in AB Skhy, for what its worth). I haven't been able to pin this down for certain, however.

Some of the shows in July and August 1968 were promoted by a local concert promotion outfit called High Torr, and I'm not certain if they were responsible for all the subsequent shows, but I think they were. In any case, the last High Torr show was August 23-25, 1968, with The Fugs/Things To Come/The Zoo, and that was it.

There was at least one show (April 20, 1969) out in front of the Cheetah, on the pier, but I don't believe there were any more indoor shows after August 1968.

Corry342 said...

The Santa Monica Cheetah was associated financially with similarly named venues in Manhattan and Chicago. The definitive work on the New York Cheetah is here

The Chicago Cheetah was the once and future Aragon Ballroom, at 1106 W. Lawrence, and an as yet unwritten saga (but a saga indeed).

One of the principals behind the Santa Monica Cheetah was the son of former Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.

Corry342 said...

I poked around the (quite amazing) Flickr site from which you got the photo, and its definitely from August 20, 1967.

The Yellow Shark said...

Great job again - but it is not Mark Volman Corry.

Unknown said...

Pictures of venue are awesome. This location attracts me toward itself. I would visit this one day.
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Fredoil said...

I was at the Cheetah club in Venice, CA at the pop pier. No nude stuff in those days like the Cheetah Clubs now days. Just great rock groups and dancing in an a all mirrored stainless walled club with colored lights reflecting off those walls. It was a huge place 22K sq ft with a stage an several bars and lots dance floor. I seen all the listed groups plus the Chambers Brothers and a few others. Very fun place.

Unknown said...

I was at the Cheetah Club in 1967 when The Doors played. I was 17 years old at the time. I remember dancing to Jim Morrison singing "Light My Fire" and was very close to the stage. I had never danced with strobe lights before so I remember that experience very clearly- how the lights reflected off the walls.Unfortunately my cousin, who was
driving, wanted to leave early. I am just glad I got to see Jim Morrison and The Doors. I didn't even notice I had to be 18.It is a great memory.

Unknown said...

My boyfriend, Tom Ell, and I went to the Cheetah on his 18th birthday 7/28/1967. We were dressed in hippie/Carnaby Strreet garb. Standells were playing. I danced with the drummer on a stainless steal pedestal. The strobe lights wer so slow it allowed someone to move from you while dancing. Bars all around the edges with a gift shop and hippie dress shop. Huge dancing spot but in back of the stage the same amount of space dedicated to pool tables, nice comfy chairs and t.vs.

My boyfriend put a Cheetah ashtray in his hippie boots. Which I still have to this day. They also had the first edition of the Cheetah magazine which I still have to this day.. I'll have those wonderful memories.

I wonder where Tom Ell is today and if he remembers❤️

Unknown said...


About Me

I'm fascinated by the evolution of place. Or more precisely how a location has been used by humans and how we've changed a place to fit our needs and fit our needs to meet a place. The older I get the more I feel a connection to people from the not-too-distant past. We walk past a building housing a Rite-Aid and mobile phone store without realizing that once there were people dancing and falling in love there, or laughing at a movie there, or skinning their knees while roller skating there, or dropping acid for the first time and grooving to Hendrix there. So this blog is a weird bit of history/architecture/Grateful Dead arcania. But what's the internet for if not for weird little bits of arcania?

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