The Royal Tahitian, then and now

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The Royal Tahitian operated in Ontario from 1960 to 1967 at Whispering Lakes Golf Course. A history appears in my Sunday column.

At top is an undated postcard image; the reverse gives the address as 2525 E. Riverside Drive, the phone numbers as YUkon 4-4610 and NAtional 9-8487 and says, “Set Amidst 250 Acres of Tropical Plants and Lagoons.” Above left is a 1965 ad from the phone book. Above right is a thumbnail image of the 1967 summer schedule; click on the image for larger view. Below is the James Brown portion of the ad. Ow! Good God. All these images are courtesy of the Ontario City Library’s Model Colony History Room.

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Below are photos shot Aug. 25 on my visit to the fenced-off building, which has been used as the golf course clubhouse since the late 1960s, until being closed and fenced off in April in preparation for demolition, which will occur any day now.

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At top is an exterior view, looking north. Above is an interior view from within the pro shop, looking east. At left is the footbridge, a remnant of the Royal Tahitian days.

Did you ever visit the Royal Tahitian, or were you there later for golf, a wedding or a banquet? Leave your comments, please. The tiki gods demand it.

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  • Craig E. Hellman

    I went there with my folks. H. Hafif’s wife worked there too.

  • John Clifford

    My 1967 Prom was held there. I recall a nice dinner and the fire dancers. Being from Azusa, it seemed like I drove forever, into the middle of nowhere, to get out there. Unfortunately, the ol’ memory is fading from that long ago event. My date that night became my first wife.

    So much for both of those institutions. :-)

    [Ha ha! Thanks, John. -- DA]

  • Steve Fletcher

    Here’s one for the Tiki Gods….I saw Ella Fitzgerald there (probably on one of the dates on your playbill) and also the Righteous Brothers. Both show were fabulous, and it was a great venue to enjoy a nice dinner and show. It’s sad to see another landmark going away, especially right after Ontario Music.

  • http://empoprise-mu.blogspot.com/2009/03/at-royal-tahitian-circa-1966.html John E. Bredehoft

    Thanks for the info. I had seen a 1966 Royal Tahitian poster at the Applebee’s in Ontario International Airport, and had wondered about it. The 1966 poster featured performances by Pearl Bailey, Sarah Vaughan and Louis Armstrong.

    [I think that might've been '65. The ONT Applebee's is a surprising place to find Ontario memorabilia, but good for them. -- DA]

  • http://www.ethnicmusicalinstruments.com Fred Mulvey

    Wow! Oscar Peterson, Ramsey Lewis, Ray Charles, James Brown and the legendary Ella Fitzgerald live on stage — just north of the dairy farms? My father-in-law, Bob Stone, would have driven all the way from Rosemead and even ordered an extra portion of poi (yuck) had he known! These were jazz, pop and R&B greats! They may have wondered “…who booked this gig?,” considering the venue’s close proximity to the unmistakable “fragrance of nature” that often generously envelops the entire area. But that was a different time. Sadly, I can only imagine how many other missed opportunities to appreciate gifted human talent were squandered by ignorance and racial prejudice? But, I digress…(Its my ADHD). Google critiki dot com for more Royal Tahitian pictures.

    I learned to play golf at this course, back then it was called Ontario National, as I recall, as a guest of my best friend and his dear Dad, John Merki, who recently passed this year. He was a member of the Antonio’s Mens Golf Club. They played the back 9 bright and early every Sunday. John instilled his love of the game in me and I hope the updated course will inspire a new generation of young golfers like the old course did.

    BTW, David, where is all the press on the new course? In an age of community transparency, City of Bell, maybe you can gather some info on the proposed plans just to see how our tax dollars are being spent. Just a thought.

    [Is there a new course? I only know about them budgeting roughly $700,000 to get rid of the clubhouse and install a new one, plus new landscaping and parking lot fixes. -- DA]

  • Henry Vanderweide

    I knew that the old place was getting bad and since renovation is out of the question, I guess that it is better that it will be demolished.

    We had our Engagement party in there as well as our Wedding reception at the Royal in 1963. The night of our Engagement party Johnny Mathis was there and he sang “Misty.” It was a beautiful setting with the ponds and the bridge with the Tiki Torches ablaze just a mile from my parents’ dairy at Walnut and Walker.

  • Alice R. Gomez

    We had our Garey High School (class of 1966) “Senior Breakfast” there. I remember sporting my gloves and wide brim hat….and how cool everyone looked!! Happy memories…..

  • Viola Swanstrom

    We had some unforgetable family special-occasion dinners at the Royal Tahitian. Can’t forget the Tahitian Dancers.

    As John stated, above, on May 20, 1967, we had our Azusa High Prom at the Royal Tahitian. It was indeed a difficult place to find at night, but quite a sight with the glowing tiki torches!

    Great memories!

    [That makes two members of the Azusa High class of 1967 to comment on this post. How about that! -- DA]

  • Gene Harvey

    Wow, David, your comments in the column and on this blog make it all come flooding back to me.

    In the summer of 1967, I took an evening off from my duties of running the Village Theatre in Claremont, my wife and I arranged a babysitter for our two very young children, and then Barbara and I ventured out into the dairy farmlands to find the Royal Tahitian.

    Find it we did and had a fabulous evening watching and listening to Ray Charles amid all the tiki torches and enjoying exotic drinks and good food. We had seats up close to the piano and it was fascinating to watch him communicate with his assistant who walked him onto the staging area and stayed close at hand.

    We were thrilled to see Charles so close to our home in Claremont, a town and area which many of my friends in L.A. and Hollywood considered at that time so far “out in the sticks.”

    I guess the building has to go, but it’s sad to see it demolished. The dairy smells and atmosphere of the area did not detract from the pleasure of seeing such first-rate legendary performers.

    [I envy you your up-close Ray Charles experience! -- DA]

  • Sheree Vath

    I was a little too young to attend anything at the Royal Tahitian but have a funny memory of the golf course. Sometime in the 60′s I attended a celebrity golf tournament with my Uncle. The only celebrities I remember were Rodney Allen Rippy & James Garner. Rodney Allen Rippy thought James Garner was Max Baer from the Beverly Hillbillies and kept calling him “Jethro.” I remember James Garner looking a little irritated when he finally said “I’m not Jethro.”

    [Ha ha! What a maverick. -- DA]

  • Jim Brayfield – Montclair

    My wife celebrated her 21st birthday here in April 1967 and we saw Arthur Lyman. It was a real nice place and the food was great. Too bad things have to get old and go away. This was a long time ago, she is now 67 so you see a while.

  • Cathy Shields Hawks

    In spring 1967, our Charter Oak High School drill team awards banquet was held at the Royal Tahitian. What an evening! When our banquet ended, we could hear Dick and Dee Dee singing in the lounge(?)! We were allowed to go in and listen and watch even though we were under 21. They took one or two song requests before we had to leave. I think about the RT when I drive along the 10 Freeway east but always thought it was already gone! (BTW, Fred Mulvey — above — and I went to high school together!)

    [This is turning into a virtual high school reunion. -- DA]

  • Marie T.

    I saw Sonny & Cher at the RT when I was 14 in 1965. My friend’s mother drove us out from Covina. It was right after their first hit I Got You Babe.

    At the intermission we snuck through the kitchen to go get Cher’s autograph. She was sitting there in the coffee shop, with thick black eye makeup, and I remember thinking “wow what a tough biker chick!” She must have been all of 18 or 19 years old. Her skin was really bad, too much makeup.

    Many years later I was watching Oprah and Cher was on the show which was about how she had her skin treated by this amazing specialist. Her skin is now beautiful.

    I just remember she was wearing bell bottoms and really gave the business to Sonny while they were performing. Oh, and that autograph is in a box somewhere — wish I could find it!

    [Cool story, Marie. Thanks. -- DA]

  • Jim Lugenbeel

    My late wife and I went there several times, saw such notables as Johnny Rivers, Nat King Cole’s brother and his group, THE DUKE, THE COUNT, and was there the night Dick Gregory spewed hate and discontent…

  • Mina Sims

    For many years I was Herb Hafif’s legal secretary. On weekends I helped out at the Royal Tahitian. What fun we had. I believe I saw all or most of the shows, but my favorites were Ray Charles and “Satchmo”! When Ray Charles sat down to play, you could not hear a whisper in the crowd. His show was awesome. I believe “I can’t stop loving you” was the hit at that time.

    Many great memories. Thank you for bringing them all back. I only wish they didn’t have to tear it all down, but I guess it’s inevitable.

    [When Ontario is involved, it is. -- DA]

  • Wendy Wrider

    I was 17 in 1967 when I came down with a group of teenagers from Big Bear Lake to see James Brown. He did all the classic moves, down on his knees, all the capes put on him by the Flame members. It’s funny, I always wondered about this place and just recently my husband and I rode in there to look. How sad they’re tearing it down.

  • Dennis

    Hi David,

    If my memory serves me well, I recall that a church used to rent part of this building. I believe it may have been in the early to mid 70′s. I think the church may have been called Whispering Lakes Community Church. Maybe some other readers can verify this.

    I too am saddened to see this building and these memories go. What if you were to handcuff yourself to the fence to avert the destruction? I (and others, I’m sure) would come down and support you.

    Dennis

    [But if you guys don't show up, there I am, handcuffed to a fence. -- DA]

  • Bill Butek

    In the early 60′s I saw a number of well known performers appear there including Ray Charles, Righteous Brothers, Kingston Trio, and Satchmo. I had been a member of the Saturday Mens golf club for many years and whenever I told some of the members who weren’t aware of the history of the Royal Tahitian, they were amazed since the building had fallen into such disrepair. To them, it didn’t seem possible. Thanks for your article. It is nice to remember some of the good times that we had there. The golf was great also.

  • Tom Martin

    I saw Sarah Vaughn and Dick Gregory on the night of August 11, 1965. Immediately after the show Dick Gregory went to Watts to try and stop the first night of the Watts Riots. As you know he was not successful.

    The show was great, especially Sarah Vaughn. It is interesting that so many major black acts played the Royal Tahitian Gardens.

    [I agree. And thanks for the Dick Gregory story. -- DA]