On this date in 1915, an all-night “big” masquerade ball was held in Seal Beach — a mere two months and a week after it had been incorporated as an Orange County city.
New Year celebrants were invited to the “Come Down and Dance the Old Year out and the New Year in the Seal Beach Dancing Pavilion” where good music, good floor, good time, and free merry-making novelties waited for them. To sweeten the deal, a free lunch was promised at 2:00 am.
No one today knows what songs were played, who was in the band, or what musical instruments were used that night. The playlist would probably seem a little staid to modern ears, but I’d like to think that the excitement of the crowd and the energy of live musicians would have made the music thrilling even to our twenty-first century tastes.
No photographs or any of those “merry-making novelties” from that night survive. If they do, they’re hidden deep in boxes and albums stacked in the attics, basements, and storage rooms of grandchildren and great grandchildren, shorn of context and connection to any living memory.
We don’t know who attended that New Year’s Eve masquerade ball or what sort of masquerade costumes, if any, they wore. No one bothered to make a list of the attendees, so we don’t know if any city founders or other local notables were there. There was probably a good mix of people: residents and out-of-towners, young and old, friends and families, couples and single folk.
But we do know they danced. Or at least most of them did. If 1915 was anything like today, some were there to listen to the music and watch the dancers while others held back from the “good floor,” yearning to dance but either too self-conscious or waiting in vain for the right dance partner.
Imagine what it must have been like in that pavilion that night.
It’s the final few minutes of 1915. Every new year brings new hopes and aspirations, but the impending 1916 feels especially optimistic for the people of Seal Beach.
The racing roller coaster, the scintillators at the end of the pier, and all of the Joy Zone amusements along the beach have been announced, and construction starts in a few weeks to be completed in time for the summer season launch. These exciting attractions are sure to bring crowds to Seal Beach, and once people experience all that Seal Beach offers, they won’t be able to resist buying homes and lots to build houses. Entrepreneurs will open shops and businesses. This new city on the beach between two bays will grow and bustle. The future is grand and shiny with promise. The place is on the cusp of greatness.
So they dance, and their hopes and dreams dance with them.
Maybe there’s a countdown before the clock struck midnight. Then the new year erupts with cheers and hugs and smiles and kisses. Champagne bottles are popped, toasts are made, and congratulations given. Everyone made it through another year.
The advertisements for the event didn’t announce any official firework displays, but I’m sure at least a few firecrackers are set off by amateurs — maybe even some Roman candles and skyrockets. There must have been.
Then the music starts again, and the dancers return to the floor. As the hour passes, the dance floor becomes less crowded as people start to leave, either tired or setting off for private celebrations elsewhere. Others sit down and talk and laugh and wait for that 2:00 a.m. lunch (not a breakfast! Not a dinner! A lunch!).
At some point, the band stops playing and begins to pack up. The few remaining dancers reluctantly leave the floor. A final round of drinks is served and emptied. The crowd thins to a few stragglers, and then even they depart, lingering for awhile outside before bidding each other goodbye and happy new year. Inside the pavilion, the remaining staff probably does some cursory clean up and prep work, but it’s been a long day and an even longer night, so they rush through it and then turn out the lights and lock up.
Finally, the night is quiet, the city is dark, and the streets are empty. There are only a few hundred people living in Seal Beach, and most of them are asleep, except maybe for one or two weirdo night owls like me. Let’s leave them there in those first few hours of 1916 when their future existed only as possibilities, before it became our past.
– Michael Dobkins
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