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Tom Marshall

By Tom Marshall

Casino San Clemente celebrates its 85th birthday at the end of this month. She looks not a day older than her Grand Opening on July 31, 1937. The local icon’s current owner, Linda Sadeghi, will mark the occasion with a couple of bashes in celebration.

The first, this Saturday evening, July 30, is a VIP event. Beginning at 6 p.m., the invited guests include the mayor and City Council, the San Clemente Historical Society Board of Directors, wedding vendors and loyal patrons of Sadeghi’s jazz concerts.

The evening’s affair will feature cocktails, dinner and the lighting of candles on 85 cupcakes, as local jazz vocalist Elizabeth Lamers leads the singing of “Happy Birthday” in the grand ballroom.  

That will be followed by special performances by the Roemer Family (three generations of which have performed at the Casino) and jazz favorite Meloney Collins. A “secret” ribbon-cutting will highlight the evening at sunset, followed by dancing like it was the 1930s to a DJ.

Sadeghi will soon announce the second event, a public dance party one evening in October.  

It has been a long and often bumpy road for Casino San Clemente. To be clear, it was never a gambling establishment. The name “Casino” is based on the Spanish word for dance hall. That fits nicely with San Clemente’s aura of a Spanish Village by the Sea.

Originally, the building sported a neon sign on its roof that said “DANCE!” The sign has been lost to the past. 

According to newspaper accounts at the time, construction on the building began on June 15, 1937. More than 1,000 workers constructed the ornate building in just six weeks at a cost of $75,000. 

The Grand Opening occurred on July 31, 1937, a Saturday. More than 5,000 people attended. The crowd was so large, local police had to call in the Highway Patrol to help “untangle autos,” according to news accounts.

The event was broadcast live nationwide on the CBS Radio Network. The Sterling Young CBS Orchestra provided the dance music. 

Among the attendees were movie actress Julia Faye, California political dignitary and local founder H.H. Cotton and the head of the Orange County Works Progress Administration (WPA), which may explain how so many Depression-era construction workers were available. 

During the Casino’s heyday, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were among the stars who played there.

When World War II broke out, the Casino’s dance floors were repurposed as offices for the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Following the war, the venue hosted several different businesses, as well as The Yacht Club. In the 1970s, it became Sebastian’s Dinner Theater for a time. 

The building stood empty for three years before Sadeghi brought it back to life as an entertainment/wedding venue in 2009. It wasn’t easy or cheap.

“We had to put in a whole new kitchen, new electrical wiring and air conditioning, and the plumbing had literally disintegrated,” Sadeghi remembered.

In total, she has spent millions restoring the Casino to its original glory. As the sign used to say, let’s dance.

Tom Marshall is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist.

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