July 22, 2009 -- The La Monica Ballroom may have shut down half a century ago, but the big band era it evokes will be recreated Thursday evening when swing music fills the air and dancers take the floor outdoors during a free concert on the Santa Monica Pier.
Johnny Vana & The Big Band Alumni and famed swing band the Squirrel Nut Zippers will pay tribute to what was once the largest ballroom in the world during a celebration of pier’s Centennial Anniversary with a special Twilight Dance Series concert.
The dance celebration will feature alumni who danced in the La Monica Ballroom before it was turned into a skating rink in 1958. Expert dance instructors will provide free lessons to anyone who wants to experience what La Monica was in its heyday.
Following the Big Band sounds of Johnny Vana -- whose band included graduates from some of the greatest big bands of all time -- the Squirrel Nut Zippers will bring 85 years of history into the present with their modern take on swing.
“A perpetually evolving, hybrid-stew of Southern roots traditions, blues and jazz, the Zippers were aptly tagged ‘30s punk’ by one critic,” the band’s web site proclaims. “They have always flirted with a muse most concerned with ghosts, love gone wrong, fever-dreams and stories unearthed from days past.”
Opened in 1924 – with 50,000 people showing up for the grand opening – the La Monica Ballroom shut down in 1962 and was torn down the following year.
During its heyday, as many as 5,000 dancers could squeeze onto the floor to swing the sounds of famous bands led by the likes of Earl Hines and Jimmy Dorsey.
In the early 1950s, the ballroom became home to Spade Cooley, before being transformed into a roller skating rink, first as Skater's Ballroom and then Santa Monica Roller Rink.
The concerts run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the pier parking lot (on the pier). All concerts are free. No alcohol is allowed. Dogs are allowed as long as they are on a leash.
Guests are more than welcomed to bring their own seating but seats will be available for rental.
La Monica Ballroom Redux is one of a series of events celebrating the Santa Monica Pier’s Centennial on September 9, 2009. The anniversary will be marked by a grand rededication ceremony with civic and government officials, local and national celebrities, as well as the largest fireworks spectacular over Santa Monica Bay in twenty years.