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Saba & the Caribbean Ballroom, Capitola, CA (bar)

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Name:Saba & the Caribbean Ballroom



I found this matchbook,

and the story goes like this...

The Capitola Hotel, which was built in 1895 by Frederick Hihn along the rocky coast of the bay, burnt down in 1929. After sitting vacant for a few years, a roller skating rink was built on this prime ocean front property in 1933. Here is a view of the roller rink from 1935:

In 1935, several newly built structures, including a dance hall, were moved from the vicinity of Capitola Avenue and Stockton Street, and combined with the roller rink to create the Capitola Ballroom.

Here's a view from the 1940s:

In 1954 the ballroom was renovated to become the Saba Nightclub. Saba was a bar with tikis serving exotic cocktails, and the original ballroom became the Caribbean Ballroom with a West Indies theme. Here's a wonderful shot of the front:

The Capitola Museum had a very large copy of this image on display, and I bet it showed tons of great detail. Here's another shot of the building from the air:

Like the original hotel, The Saba burned to the ground in 1957. Here is a 1957 aerial view showing the hard to see burned remains of Saba:

I found a great write up of its history from the Capitola Historic Museum:

How the Tiki Came to Capitola

It happened in 1954.

The “tikiana” bar craze—fermented in the years of
the Great Depression—had moved from Los
Angeles up to the Bay Area by the early Fifties.
Victor Bergeron opened "Trader Vic's," a San
Francisco restaurant decorated with tiki carvings,
bamboo, and outrigger canoes.

Brad Macdonald, Capitola’s mayor and the founder
of Shadowbrook Restaurant, was a thirty-
something entrepreneur who was raised in Capitola
and had worked and lived in San Francisco. In
1953, he was young, confident, and brave enough
to speculate on a new venture.

Planning to sell Shadowbrook and start a new
enterprise with his father, Jack Macdonald, Brad
visited Bergeron at Trader Vic’s. Inspired, the two
MacDonalds created “Capitola’s Saba and
Caribbean Ballroom” with a West Indies theme.

The plan was to combine a trendy dining
atmosphere with a profitable entertainment venue.
The outmoded Capitola ballroom and skating rink
at the end of the Esplanade seemed the perfect
site. The ballroom sat on the footprint of the
landmark Hotel Capitola that burned in 1929.
Although hastily constructed in the mid-1930s, the
dance pavilion had seating for up to 1,000 patrons.
An adjoining lounge offered sweeping views of
Monterey Bay.

The Saba was renovated and ready for its grand
opening in 1954. Stretching the bounds of reality
with its fanciful décor, the restaurant presented
carved tikis inside and out, with walls draped in
fishnets, bamboo, and thatched grass adorned with
the shells of man-eating clams. A huge swordfish
and an outrigger canoe were eye-catching
centerpieces. Painted in day-glow colors, the
adjacent ballroom radiated with black lights.
Behind the orchestra stage was the chimera of lava
flowing down a papier-mâché volcano. Tikis, the
central icon, were etched even onto the tops of the
dining tables.

Brad and Jack both remembered the enormous
popularity of Capitola’s nightclubs that had drawn
large crowds throughout the 1920s and early
1930s. The era of marathon dancing was a time,
however brief, when Capitola enjoyed ranking as a
year-round visitor destination. They gambled on
their ability to recapture this past fame by booking
in celebrated performers.

Times had changed, however. The Macdonalds’
attempt to put Capitola on the circuit of popular
bands was a risk that worked, but not to the degree
that Brad had hoped. The great names appeared—
Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel
Hampton—but they had to compete with the juke
box when it came to attracting younger audiences.

Nonetheless, from 1954 until the Saba burned in
1957, the Macdonalds booked in headline
entertainment that added sophistication to Capitola
at a time when it was a struggling new municipality
with an uncertain economic future.

The Saba’s tikis burned in the fire, but their
connection to the whimsical nature of Capitola has
made them a suitable icon for revival. This year—
fifty years after their disappearance from Capitola’s
Esplanade, the tiki has returned.

Today’s community supports its heritage while it
shapes contemporary life. Capitola’s personality is
that of a successful city stitched on the historic
fabric of an easy-going tourist resort. Within its
character is an unconventional spirit that surfaces
every so often to add a new dimension. Surprising
as it may seem, a tiki is part of that characteristic
pattern. of a vintage show (I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners,
The Lone Ranger…), leaf through a Life Magazine,
and feel “Just Beachy.” All you need to imagine is
the scent of coconut oil.

The Capitola Museum had an exhibit in late 2008 on the Saba, which featured Frank Hill, who was the carver for all of the original tikis. Here is their info about him:

Artist Frank Hill

Remember Walter Cronkite and You Are There?, the
1950s television series? Frank Hill has lent a
similar perspective to the Capitola Museum’s
exhibit on the same era.

Hill grew up in Capitola, living with his family near
today’s Shadowbrook. He even remembers the
chalet cabin in its pre-restaurant days, when a
realtor once let Hill and his friends go inside for a
Halloween spree.

He was in high school in 1947 when Brad
Macdonald and Ed Philippet founded their dining
establishment. Hill became Shadowbrook’s first
dishwasher and was soon designing menus on
wooden shingles, or painting oak dining tables a
bright pink. These were Macdonald’s ideas, he
remembers, and although they seemed a bit
outlandish, they worked.

While Hill was attending the Academy of Art in San
Francisco in 1954, he did artwork for Macdonald
when home for the weekend. The artist carved tikis
from telephone poles, designed menus, painted
tabletops, and trimmed the interior décor of the
Saba and Caribbean Ballroom.

Hill later continued his art career, working for
Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip;
Frank O’Neal and Short Ribs; and Hank Ketcham’s
Dennis the Menace. Hill spent thirty years working
with Ketcham’s syndicated strip and still writes
captions for the Sunday pages.

This is the poster Frank did:

I bet this guy is still around and has some great stories. Could be some more info at the museum, too. Anyone near Capitola want to explore those options...


I also found a quick mention that because of the fire and following erosion, you can sometimes still see the safe from this place in the breakers near there.

Not sure if that is actually true...

Is that poster at the end of your post vintage? Some of the type looks contemporary.....


No, the poster is new. It was something that Frank Hill did for the exhibit, based on one of his older tikis and his older artwork which don't exist anymore. The historical society printed these as posters and shirts.

found another one Max

I came across a brochure and a menu from Saba on ebay that provide some additional insight into the complex.

The brochure cover.

A rendering and description of the entrance:

The restaurant had several rooms, including the Caribbean Banquet Room

The main bar:

And the Sailfish Room which was where the Tikis were.

Here is the menu from the Sailfish Room with a nice description of the interior.

This place was a 1950's crossover between Caribbean and Tiki.


[ Edited by: Dustycajun 2016-04-05 15:39 ]

Spotted a color postcard showing the exterior of the Saba restaurant.


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