By Joe Piasecki
Our recent special issue marking 50 years since the April 1965 formal dedication of Marina del Rey covered a lot of local history. Thanks to the Marina del Rey Historical Society, plenty of historical records and photos from the December 1957 groundbreaking to last year’s Holiday Boat Parade remain for all to learn from and enjoy.
Harder to uncover were personal accounts of what the harbor was really known for from the late 1960s to the mid-‘80s: the nightlife. In the age of the “Swingin’ Singles,” Marina del Rey was for many young people something of a Bacchanalian port of call.
“The marina was the place for us twentysomethings to see and be seen. … Cute guys — with jobs and discretionary funds — for days,” recalls reader Madeleine Renee, who worked as an LAPD crime pattern investigation specialist and regularly dined with detectives at The Black Whale, where C & O Cucina is today.
That’s right. As arresting as it may be for today’s young adults to imagine what their parents were getting up to back then, we asked Argonaut readers to dish the dirt on good times past for the chance to win a prize: a $50 gift certificate for Killer Shrimp and its next-door sister restaurant Killer Café.
Killer Café recently started offering 24-hour dining service, so the prize goes to the person most likely to need a sobering 3 a.m. meal: a Venice resident who, to protect the guilty, asked to be identified by the alias “Hot Pants Holly.”
HOT PANTS HOLLY
“Singles from all over the Westside and South Bay would come to play … especially on Friday nights. I was one of them. In fact, I bought a house in Venice in 1978 so I could be near the action,” Holly writes.
“On the heels of the Vietnam War and birth control pills, it was a time of experimentation and freedom, of reinventing ourselves. We no longer had to be the good girls of the 1950s.
“Donkin’s Inn was one of my favorite places. … I remember going to the beach all day on Sunday to work on my tan so I would look good in my white hot pants and halter top when I went to Donkin’s in the late afternoon. I would pull into a huge, free parking lot in my Mustang with $5 in my pocket that allowed me two drinks, including tip. Boats pulled up to the dock to share in the fun. People were three or four deep at the bar.
“We hoped provocative clothes like miniskirts, see-through blouses, platform shoes and tube tops would attract a man we wanted to meet. These men wore polyester suits, gold chains and shirts opened to show off their un-waxed, hairy chests.
“A friend and I self-published a booklet in the ‘70s about singles bars. One chapter was called, ‘It’s a Zoo in Here,’ in which we attributed animal traits to people in bars. (Example: ‘The goat butts into your conversation then talks nothing but trash. He thinks he’s king of the mountain but he’s the bottom of the heap.’)
“I now prefer the calmness and security of knowing who I am and being less self-centered, which comes with maturity. Well, at least that’s what I tell myself!”
Why the secrecy about her name?
“Because I don’t want all my old boyfriends trying to get in touch with me, if they’re still alive — ha!”
I MARRIED MISS MARINA DEL REY
Scott Kenning and some drinking buddies were checking out the 50th anniversary issue when, discussing a photo of Miss Marina del Rey 1967, Kenning piped up that he had been married to the very first Miss Marina del Rey — a Venice native who, when she was just 17, helped preside over the county’s Dec. 11, 1957, groundbreaking ceremony for the harbor at the mouth of Ballona Creek.
Kenning’s friends bet him a round of drinks that he couldn’t prove it. With the help of the above photograph he claimed a hangover as his prize.
“They needed someone for the groundbreaking, so they appointed me Miss Marina del Rey,” recalls Helen Stevenson of Santa Monica (then Helen Payne), who did modeling work for the Venice Chamber of Commerce while attending Venice High School.
Stevenson recalled that Venice Beach lifeguard Larry Stevenson, who would become her first husband, crossed the mouth of the creek in a small boat during the ceremony. Stevenson went on to found the Makaha skateboard company and invented the kicktail — the bent backend of a skateboard that allows boarders to perform tricks.
As a young pilot flying out of Santa Monica Airport in 1958, Dennis Schachter recalled watching boats tow water skiers across landlocked Lake Los Angeles (aka Mud Lake).
“Little did I know that, 57 years later, I would be standing on the dock surrounded by luxury yachts at the Del Rey Yacht Club and looking up about 1,400 feet to the point in the sky I was looking down from in 1958,” wrote Schachter, a Mar Vista resident.
“Many fond memories were created during the in-between years: Climbing abandoned oil well derricks on what was later to become the Silver Strand, … memorable dinners and drinking at Donkin’s Inn, Pieces of Eight and Fiasco restaurants followed by retiring to secluded, shadowy cabin cruisers drinking amaretto and Galliano until the wee hours of the morning, … the inherent social scene native to the Marina City Club.”