For a brief period, Dancing Waters brought the best of punk rock to San Pedro – Daily Breeze
Dancing Waters nightclub in San Pedro 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 Pacific Bowling Center. Lot owner Nick Pericich obtained a permit in August to erect a $19,000 building on the site. (A story in the San Pedro News Pilot pegged 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 also owned the 20th Century lanes at 476 W. Fifth St. In fact, Pesce’s 5-year-old son, Richard, started the first race down the new lanes at the grand opening of the Pacific Bowling Center on November 2, 1940.
More than 2,000 people, according to the News Pilot, jammed the building on opening day, which featured 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, turning the building into a dance club. His plans included a 16-foot-tall, 22-foot-long wall over which an indoor waterfall would cascade over man-made rocks, often highlighted with colored lights. He named his club Dancing Waters.
From the start, the club featured live music, most often popular Mexican artists such as Los Freddy’s and Los Yonic playing banda music, although large traditional bands also appeared.
Cordiero tried several different formats, even converting the club into a roller disco at one point in the late 1970s. Scenes from Martin Scorsese’s 1980 film “Raging Bull” involving Jake LaMotta’s nightclub were filmed at Dancing Waters.
In 1981, music promoter Dennis McBride approached Cordiero with the idea of producing “new music” shows at his club, based on the essential “A Wailing of a Town: An Oral History of Early San Pedro Punk and More 1977-1985” by Craig Ibarra (Fin Fwy Press, 2015).
Cordiero picked up the idea, and the first such show took place on June 12, 1981, headlined by The Minutemen of San Pedro, with The Salvation Army and the Slivers also featuring.
Regular punk gigs did not begin to be scheduled at the club until early 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 descending on his club and he had to step up security.
As spring turned into summer, the list of bands playing at the club began to read like a who’s who of early 1980s punk rock: 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 weren’t happy with the associated issues brought in by some of the music’s fans. Local owners complained about the out-of-control crowds, graffiti, underage drinking and general chaos surrounding the wild and wooly shows.
A benefit for the Harbor Free Clinic featuring the Blasters, Salvation Army and Minutemen on August 21, 1982, appears to have been the last such show at Dancing Waters. Cordiero had grown tired of the problems associated with bands and their fans and announced plans to turn Dancing Waters into a country-western bar called Country Falls.
This never happened, but the club stopped booking punk-rock bands after 1982, although it continued to book pop and metal bands and hold special events. Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth, Stryper, Blue Oyster Cult and Armored Saint have all played it.
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 gave approval to the Burns and Bouchard development company to go ahead with construction of a four-story, 102-unit apartment building on the block where the club building now vacant since 1940.
Neighborhood groups complained to council that the proposed development went against the character of the neighborhood and that its scale would increase traffic and parking problems in the area. Council unanimously rejected the appeal, setting the developer’s plan in motion.
The company has yet to set a timetable for the demolition, but the wrecking ball is certainly on the way.
Sources: Daily Breeze Archives. Dancing Waters Facebook page. Los Angeles Times Archive. “Pacific Bowling Center/Dancing Waters Club, 1331 S. Pacific Ave. by Nathan Marsak, RIP Los Angeles website, September 4, 2019. Random Lengths Archive. San Pedro News Pilot Archives. 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.