Van Halen at Walter Mitty’s

I’ve heard over the years that the band Van Halen performed at the old Walter Mitty’s club out in Pomona’s Westmont area before they got famous. The topic resurfaced when I interviewed the couple at nearby Westmont Hardware last month.

A Google search brings up the online Van Halen Encyclopedia, which has an entry on the band’s club days.

Van Halen is said to have performed at Walter Mitty’s Rock & Roll Emporium on six occasions in 1976: March 24 and 25 and April 7 to 10.

The site says of those days: “Their sets consisted mostly of cover tunes at first and they would sneak in originals as often as they could.”

The Pomona club rates an entire paragraph: “At Walter Mitty’s in Pomona, CA, which had a capacity of 300 (Van Halen was said have squeezed 1000 people into the place on some nights), the band witnessed a man die from stab wounds during an argument between two bikers about whose bike was faster while the band played You Really Got Me. After this incident, the band decided to move their amplifiers roughly one-and-a-half feet away from the wall so they could hide behind them when fights broke out. The club was reportedly closed a short time later due to an increase in violence.”

Besides its many L.A. dates, the band is also known to have performed at the Bogart in San Bernardino on two occasions, Sept. 18 and 21, 1976.

A 2012 story on about the band’s reunion drew a comment from Leslie Ward-Speers, the daughter of Walter Mitty’s owner:

“…For a couple of years, you played several times at my dad’s small bar in Pomona, CA.  My father’s name is Larry Ward and he owned Walter Mitty’s across from the General Dynamics Company on Mission Blvd. When ever you guys came to play a weekend gig at daddy’s bar, it was standing room only. The local college students from MT SAC and Cal Poly bombarded the bar to hear your outstanding and unique sound. All of the other bands that played in Daddy’s bar were playing what ever the current hits were on the radio. But not you guys. I knew then that you were good and that success was just around the corner for you.”

Did anyone happen to see them in Pomona, or remember Walter Mitty’s?

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  • Richard E Nunez

    Yea I was there what a great place to see bands before they went big. It was shoulder to shoulder, man they just rocked the house. It was a drag when we heard they had closed it, but what great times we had there.

  • Dennis

    Hi David,
    I was at Walter Mitty’s a couple of times in the mid-70’s. I don’t recall any big name bands or soon-to-be big names there, but it was packed. There was no actual sign on the front of the building, but painted in somewhat psychedelic black lettering on the white facade above the storefront was the full name of the place- “Walter Mitty’s Rock and Roll Emporium”.

    • Smitty

      I was there. Van Halen wasn’t big then. They played Aerosmith and Zep.

  • Anthony Maino

    I saw Van Halen at Walter Mitty”s I thought it was 1977. I got invited by a couple of guys from the band Stormer to see who they thought was going to be the next big rock band. I also remember the bass player was named Rudy, it wasn’t Michael Anthony at that time. I was only 17 at the time and I will never forget that night.

  • Anthony Maino

    I watched Van Halen perform at Walter Mitty’s in what I thought was 1977. I was invited by a couple of guys from the band Stormer, they thought Van Halen was going to be the next big rock band. I remember the bass player was not Michael Anthony but a guy named Rudy. I was only 17, but I will never forget that night.

  • Theodore Berhanu Levine

    I saw them at the music festival 3-they rocked!!!

  • larryprg

    In the mid-70s for a couple of years at Cal Poly Pomona, at noon on a Thursday now and then, a band would play on the quad in front of the Student Union. They were actually pretty good. They played at a lot of Poly dorm and frat parties. They called themselves, “Van Halen.”

  • Scott Hickey

    yes i went there got in with 50 cents thats all i had door man said come on in . i was 16 an it was packed

  • C Erickson

    We use to go to Walter Mittys back in 1976, 21 to drink, guys 20 could still get in and wear a wrist band so they weren’t served alcohol, girls 18 could get in. We just had someone who was 21 buy a pitcher of beer and bring it back to our table. I picked up a really cute girl and we went out to my van, she told me she was only 14! went back in with out her- good god she looked 19. I remember this huge biker looking guy who sat out on a stool at the door. Went to Hollywood in March and saw VanHalen at Gazarris.

  • Kim Annear Garretson

    Yes my friend lanita and I would go to walter mittys to c van halen she had a fake id would get in and then come back out give it to me as we were both blonde and blue eyed then I would get in also. Then straight to the bathroom for some swigs of tequila! What can I say it was the 70’s and w wanted to c van halen and have a great time!

  • denniswalkersr

    Tended bar for my friend Larry at Mittys…crazy customers and crazy bands. Some wild memories at that joint.

    • socalrocks

      larry had a cute wife…

    • Dude

      I bet you remember my dad well. He was on Pomona PD at the time (Sgt Dave Clark). he used to get calls there often.

  • kissel

    Good family friend of mine was a bouncer there, and testified at the trial.

  • Dan Smith

    Yes, I was there. My best friend Dan Bjorklund and I, Dan Smith, were about 20 at the time. We both graduated from Glendora High School in 1974. I remember dancing in Walter Mitty’s to Van Halen songs and thought they were pretty good rock tunes. I didn’t know who the band was but when we walked out of the bar to go home my buddy said “Hey, let’s come back next week, Van Halen’s going to play again”. I said ok. I just remember that Walter Mitty’s was a zoo. It was very crowded and smoke filled. I think we got beer even though we weren’t 21 yet. There were lots of good dance bars and places throughout the southland back in those days. We used to go to Papillon’s in Monrovia, the Image in Rancho Cucamonga, Handlebar’s in Pasadena, Baxters in La Verne, another place just off of Sierra Madre Ave. off of the 210 (I can’t remember the name, it was one syllable I think), Don Jose’s in Azusa, and even a 4 story bar place in West L.A. (the name escapes me there too). You can hardly even find anywhere to go dancing anymore to good ol’ rock and roll. How times have changed.

  • Enid Snarb

    I saw bands there in the late 70`s , predecessors of Metalica called Rock Candy ! or was it Motley Crew !!!!!

  • Wesley Barrett

    Yeah I remember Walter mittys way out there on mission when Van Halen would play there they could hear them across general Dynamics really small place whole lotta fun.somebody there heard them and next they was famous you could not pack 300 mice in that place much less 300 people party allways out back behind building.bikers started coming bar went to hell.

  • socalrocks

    agreed..that place could not hold 300…did see van halen there twice… less than 5.00 cover charge for them…the other times , with other bands, there was no cover charge… went there mostly for the collage girls and dancing and cheap beer by the pitcher .. …thankfully i moved on before the rift raft started and go down….


    Hi, my name is Gary and I worked at Mitty’s off and on for about 2 years as a bouncer and bartender. The Doorman was named Fred with a big Afro. Mean little dude. The place was a popular hang out for a few different Biker Groups. Most of them were civil and remained within the realm of acceptable. Van Halen played there several times, I don’t remember how many or the dates. I remember that I busted Alex for drinking a Heinekin that someone snuck him. He hid it behind his bass drum. DavidLlee was a great guy (in the beginning) turned into a self absorbed nut after awhile. That NEVER affected his talent though.
    I dated Larry Ward’s daughter Leslie for a short time. She was a great girl. Larry Worked at Pomona Toyota during the day. (I bought a truck from him). His wife was named Darla, and she was very friendly and attractive. I have dozens of memories and stories of Mitty’s over the period they were ipen. Larry got some bad deals and had to close. Sure do miss the fun we had there.

    • davidallen909

      Since my post was written, Gary, a book by Greg Renoff, “Van Halen Rising,” delves into the band’s early years, including the Mitty gigs.