The History of Club Ripples

At some point during the summer of 2017, I recall that my friends and I wandered into Ripples after leaving Panama Joe’s on Second St in Long Beach, CA. I remember searching for the nearest gay club on Google Maps and being surprised that there was one less than half a mile away, facing the beach. As we turned the corner onto Ocean Boulevard, we looked up at the six flags that sat on top of the club which, together, made a rainbow. Once inside, it was nearly empty with scattered bar patrons either pensively stirring their drinks or chatting in random corners. Nearly two years later, at the end of 2019, Ripples had closed its doors for good.

The location at 5101 E. Ocean Boulevard had a listing in every guide that Damron had published from 1965 to 1980, though, it had no entries from 1970 to 1972. The location went through four costume changes before it became known as Ripples. From 1965 to 1968, it was listed as Oceana, which Damron had labeled as a very popular restaurant. In 1969, the entry for the location remained the same but the name had changed to Skamppies. From 1973 to 1974, the restaurant had reappeared under the name Celebrity House. Then in 1975, the restaurant had changed its name to Great Expectations, which Damron had described as looking “promising.” Finally in 1976, the location was listed as Ripples and described as attracting a young collegiate crowd, featuring dancing, and being very popular. In 1977, Damron had listed Ripples as “Burned- supposedly reopening in the Spring of ’76.” However, in 1978 the entry had gone back to normal, and in 1979 and 1980 it was also listed as a “Cruisy area.”

A search about Ripples yields several different histories about how the club came to be, which makes ascertaining the true story behind the bar pretty difficult. However, looking at Damron’s guides can give us a better idea of what this timeline looked like. We also need to keep in how Damron published his information. For example, the entries in the guide for 1965 were likely complied in 1964.

1965-8 1969 1970-1972 1973-4 1975 1976-1980
Oceana Skamppies No Entries
Owned by John Agar
Celebrity House
Owned by Mary Azar
Great Expectations
Owned by a Group
Burned down in early '76

The building, originally an ice cream parlor, is said to have been a gay bar since the 1950s and was reported to have closed in 1968. From Damron’s listings, we can assume it operated under the name Oceana during this time and then as Skamppies in the last year before it closed down in 1968. It was then said that Shirley Temple’s first husband, a man named John Agar, bought the building shortly after the bar closed and turned it into a restaurant called Land’s Inn. Another source claims that his intent was to remove the property’s association with the queer community. This may explain the three-year gap for the location in Damron’s Guides. Reportedly, Agar sold the property to Mary Azar, who later turned it into Mary’s Celebrity House (or as Damron had listed it: Celebrity House). This would’ve had to take place sometime in 1972. However, another source claims that Agar sold it directly to a group of gay men in 1972. By looking at Damron’s entries, it’s more likely that Mary Azar owned the location before it was sold again. A source reported that Azar had sold the property to a group of twelve businesspeople in Orange County. Though it’s unclear, the twelve businesspeople and the collective of gay men may have been the same group. Using Damron’s listings, we can estimate that this sale took place at some point in 1974, meaning Azar likely owned it for roughly two years.

John Garcia had reportedly worked as a waiter for Azar from 1968 to 1969, according to one source, but Damron’s timeline tells us that she didn’t own the bar until roughly 1972, so this may have occurred somewhere else. However, Garcia did work at the Ripples property at some point and continued his employment there until he and his partner, Larry Herbert, eventually owned the place in 1980. It’s said that after Azar had sold the property to the group in Orange County, they changed the name to Great Expectations, which lasted a short while until the location was finally dubbed Ripples. Using Damron’s listings we can estimate that this sale took place at some point in 1974. After the club had been firebombed (which according to Damron, must’ve taken place in early 1976), Garcia and Herbert started gradually buying shares from the group until they owned the club in 1980. Club Ripples finally closed in 2019.1

  1. This piece was compiled using the Damron travel guides data, the Los Angeles Conservancy webpage on Club Ripples, and Gary Metzker, “Club Ripples, Long Beach’s iconic gay bar, to close doors after decades of service to community,” Press-Telegram, November 29, 2019, ↩︎

Originally Published: August 14, 2020 | Last modified: August 14, 2020