YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Ventura County

The Music's Over at the Ban-Dar

Ventura: Former employees and customers gather to share personal histories as a favorite old nightclub comes down.


It was last call at the Ban-Dar.

Former dancers, musicians, barkeeps and barflies showed up Monday to watch a demolition crew reduce the storied Main Street honky-tonk to a heap of rubble.

Originally a big-band dance club when it opened over 70 years ago in Ventura, the Ban-Dar got its name from the founders, named Bannister and Darwin.

"It's history gone," said Marilyn Pratley, a waitress and bartender at the club in the 1960s and '70s who went by the nickname "Mother."

"I'm not taking pictures today because I have memories of this club in my mind," Pratley said.

The Ban-Dar, which featured maroon fins and neon stars on its exterior, was a prime example of the '60s Space Age architecture known as Googie. But the building had fallen into disrepair over the years and was in need of costly improvements.

"I think it was from an era gone by," Ventura City Councilman Jim Monahan said. "It's been a fun place to go over the years, and many famous people performed there. But the building was so far out of code that it would have been unreasonably expensive to build it up to code. Termite repair would have taken out half the building."

Landowner Ken Luper, who bought the old club near the renovated Pacific View Mall in the spring, has not said what will replace it. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

At one time, the club was considered a premier entertainment venue in the county, offering everything from country and western to soul music. In the 1960s and '70s, country legends Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard could occasionally be found at the bar or sitting in with the house band.

Gladys Knight and the Pips performed there, as did Little Richard and the Platters. In the early '70s, comedian Richard Pryor was known to try out new material at the Ban-Dar before taking his show on the road. After performing, Pryor would invite a select few back to his limousine to continue the party.

John Trueblood was often one of the invitees. A drummer for a house band at the club in the mid-'60s, Trueblood got to know Pryor and dozens of other famous entertainers who liked the club's neighborly feel and proximity to celebrity hideaways in Malibu, Ojai and Santa Barbara.

"There were always girls here and a lot of musicians," said Trueblood, 61, a local antique store owner who witnessed Monday's demolition. "This place was a big part of my life."

As they watched a crane operator drop chunks of their old nightspot into a large dump truck, just about all of the dozen or so who turned out for the demolition had a story.

There was the time a bar patron was standing at a urinal when a Cadillac crashed through the wall. Or the time when an argument between two regulars spilled out into the front sidewalk and one of the two ended up dead.

Others remembered the Stardust Motel, which was essentially a small shack tucked behind the club that served as the home for Ban-Dar employees and musicians and gained the nickname "Heartbreak Hotel."

But mostly, stories flowed about friendships forged over live music, scantily clad dancers and a rowdy dance floor.

Kay Monahan, a 61-year-old former go-go dancer at the club who was also a single mother at the time, said her friends at the Ban-Dar were the closest thing to a family she had after moving from Chicago.

"It's just so sad because this is history, and some of the best people I know I met here," said Monahan, who accepted her future husband's wedding proposal at the club on New Year's Eve 1968. She is not related to the councilman. "Now this town is being destroyed by investors. There's nothing old left."

Los Angeles Times Articles