San Pedro’s Dancing Waters nightclub takes its name from an indoor waterfall that was installed by its owner when he turned the old bowling alley into a nightclub in 1969.
The Streamline Moderne structure, 1331 S. Pacific Ave., was designed by architect William Durr and opened in 1940 as the Pacific Bowling Center. Lot owner Nick Pericich was granted a permit in August to erect a $ 19,000 building on the site. (A story in the San Pedro News Pilot put the cost of the new facility at $ 60,000.)
The eight-lane bowling alley was owned and operated by Louis Pesce and Joe Ivelia, who were also the owners of the 20th century lanes at 476 W. Fifth St. In fact, Pesce’s 5-year-old son Richard rode the first. Ball in the new aisles at the opening of the Pacific Bowling Center on November 2, 1940.
More than 2,000 people, according to the News Pilot, blocked off the building on opening day, which included a match between a local bowling team and a visiting team sponsored by cowboy movie star Roy Rogers. (The locals won.)
The bowling alley operated until 1969, when new owner Al Cordiero took over, converting the building into a dance club. His plans included a 16-foot-high and 22-foot-long wall upon which an indoor waterfall would cascade over man-made boulders, often highlighted by colored lights. He named his club Dancing Waters.
From the start the club offered live music, most often popular Mexican bands such as Los Freddy and Los Yonic playing banda music, although large traditional groups also appeared.
Cordiero tried out several different formats, even converting the club into a disco on wheels at one point in the late 1970s. Scenes from Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film “Raging Bull” involving Jake LaMotta’s nightclub were tours to Dancing Waters.
In 1981, music promoter Dennis McBride approached Cordiero with the idea of producing “new music” shows at his club, according to Craig Ibarra’s gist of “A Wailing of a Town: An Oral History of Early San Pedro. Punk and More 1977-1985 ”(End Fwy Press, 2015).
Cordiero accepted the idea and the first such show took place on June 12, 1981, titled by The Minutemen of San Pedro, with the Salvation Army and the Slivers also playing.
Regular punk concerts did not begin to be scheduled at the club until the beginning of the following year. The Minutemen returned in February, followed by Wasted Youth and Social Distortion.
When the Cramps, Legal Weapon, and the Meat Puppets performed Dancing Waters on May 7, 1982, Cordiero began to realize that this “new music” drew large and often unruly crowds. Hundreds of people started to descend on his club and he had to increase security.
As spring turned into summer, the roster of bands playing at the club started to look like an early 1980s punk rock who’s who: TSOL, the Vandals, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies, the Descendents, the Last, 45 Grave and heavyweights Bad Religion, Black Flag, and Minor Threat all played there during this time.
But the neighbors were not happy with the associated problems brought by some fans of the music. Local owners complained about the out-of-control crowds, graffiti, underage drinking and the general chaos surrounding the wild and woolly shows.
A perk for the Harbor Free Clinic featuring the Blasters, Salvation Army and Minutemen on August 21, 1982, appears to have been the last show of its kind at Dancing Waters. Cordiero had grown weary of the problems associated with the bands and their fans, and announced his intention to turn Dancing Waters into a country-western bar called Country Falls.
This never happened, but the club stopped booking punk rock concerts after 1982, although they continued to book pop and metal bands and run special events. Guns N ‘Roses, Megadeth, Stryper, Blue Oyster Cult, and Armored Saint all performed there.
In recent years, the club, which changed its name to The Waters Club, has re-emphasized banda, norteno and other popular forms of Mexican dance music. The Cordiero family sold the club, renamed La Zona Rosa, in 2000. On January 29, 2020, a tribute to Al Cordiero was held at Godmother’s Saloon in San Pedro.
In June of this year, the Los Angeles City Council authorized the Burns and Bouchard development corporation to move forward to construct a four-story, 102-unit apartment building on the block where the club building is located. now vacant since 1940.
Neighborhood groups complained to council that the proposed development goes against the character of the neighborhood and that its scale would increase traffic and parking problems in the area. The board unanimously dismissed the appeal, putting the developer’s plan into action.
The company has yet to set a timetable for the demolition, but the wrecking ball is almost certainly on its way.
Sources: Archives of the Daily Breeze. Dancing Waters Facebook page. Los Angeles Times Archives. “Pacific Bowling Center / Dancing Waters Club, 1331 S. Pacific Ave. , By Nathan Marsak, RIP Los Angeles website, September 4, 2019. Random Lengths Archives. Archives of the news pilot of San Pedro. A Wailing of a Town: An Oral History of Early San Pedro Punk and More 1977-1985, by Craig Ibarra, End Fwy Press, 2015. “Waters Club San Pedro Concert Setlists,” Setlist.fm website.