California BallroomTM
1960-1979

Hip, Groovy, Fab, Far Out, Funky. The Cali played host to bands across the years and saw some incredible changes in style. From the Teds to the Travoltas, Mods to Motowners, Hippies to Punks, the places was "Where it's at". People came from all over the south of England to be part of the incredible atmosphere it had. I, like many others, spent my teenage years dancing the night away there watching the great American acts of the Motown era and British Glam Rock. We knew the place as "The Cali" or Soul City.

 This site was originally intended to act as a memorial to two of the California Ballroom's stalwarts, Mick Ilka and Bruce Benson, neither of whom are still with us, but like Topsy "it growed". I was unprepared for the huge interest mention of a site would generate. Being a local I was totally unaware of the fame of the place country-wide. Pulling together all the information, photographs and verbal accounts is proving to be a huge task as more and more people come forward. Being the impatient type, rather than wait for the final version, I've posted what I have and will keep adding to it. Check back occasionally.

There are many memories posted on this site, these can change as people read things sent in by other people. I suppose you could call them memory joggers which flesh out the blanks. (we're all getting on a bit you know!) Please do not take all memories as gospel.

For those who have stumbled onto this site and are wondering what all the hype is about, the story starts here.........

The California Ballroom, Dunstable, Bedfordshire started life before the war when Mr J. E. Nelson of Walthamstow, bought a piece of land from Mr Rollings of Dunstable, who owned the quarry on the Downs. Mr Nelson then set about building the best outdoor swimming pool in the South of England. Builder Edwin Green bought it in the late 1950's.

Edwin saw the opportunity to provide further entertainment and in conjunction with his son Dennis, added the Pool Ballroom that officially opened in 1960. He would have been amazed and delighted then to know what a monster he had created.

California Ballroom at night
The Cali at night
click on image to enlarge

For 20 years the California became the hottest night spot around and many a young man first saw his future wife through the heaving mass of sweating dancers who frequented the place on a regular basis.

The list of bands appearing at the Cali reads like a Who's Who of rock and roll as a succession of international artistes trod the boards in front of appreciative crowds. Many bands have said that the California was their favourite venue due to the proximity of the crowd and the fantastic welcome they received. Others lamented the positioning of the stage in relation to the bar, which allowed drinkers to show their disapproval by throwing the odd beer can. Whether they loved it or hated it, they all remember it.

 

The California Ballroom, Whipsnade Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, UK

Gone but not forgotten.

Footnote:

This site has now been running for a number of years and as of 2006 is getting around 7,000 visitors a month. Over the years we have had many plaudits, a couple of brickbats and three take-over bids; one offering cash the other two issuing threats. What makes it all worthwhile is the feedback from yourselves. Thanks.