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Renderings courtesy of Ultra-Unit Architectural Studio.
Following attempt after attempt to either lease or sell the building, gay dance club Ripples and its owners, life partners Larry Hebert and John Garcia, have met a potential buyer who wants to take on an ambitious re-haul of the space.
But before all this can become a reality, the unknown buyer wants to move the plans through the City application process before inking a deal to assure that the best design is pre-approved post-purchase.
And the plans are big: eschewing the early-70s aesthetic of the current building, these new owners are hoping to create a space that is more reflective of current times and the beach atmosphere that surrounds the area.
Ultra-Unit Architectural Studio have created a project that, led by Cameron Crockett, updates a building and space that has been largely disconnected from Belmont Shore and the Long Beach LGBTQ community for several years.
“We have always had immense pride in the fact that we are constantly improving our city, in part, by adapting many of our old buildings and neighborhoods into a more contemporary cultural context,” Crockett said.
That cultural context is important because, well, in the words of Dylan, times they are a changin’—and that particularly includes LGBTQ culture, where exclusive, fortress-like spaces and hidden bars are giving way to fuck-who-you-like spaces like the Abbey in WeHo and drag queens visiting libraries and clubs.
Ripples has long been fighting for relevance in a city where its gay scene is largely relegated to the Broadway Corridor while Hamburger Mary’s in DTLB is the largest space where queers and their allies dance the night away—both places that are opposite, if not outright entirely disconnected, from the beachfront Ripples. It also faces the issue that, echoing the piano-tune-belting gay joint that was the Paradise on Broadway, places which harken to an older scene are finding it difficult to stay alive in our hyper-aware culture that fights more for inclusivity and acceptance than tolerance and private spaces.
When it opened in 1972, Club Ripples was a space that moved away from the far more common Just-A-Bar and toward a full on dance mecca—and, in what would become a mirror for its future, hit a sudden rollercoaster ride when, the very next year, a fire would destroy over half the building.
That’s when Hebert would become attached to the building, not only fixing its books and meeting future lover and partner Garcia, but eventually owning the space—by 1980, the pair had ousted all twelve of its previous owners—but were unprepared for a silent, deadly disease that would, yet again, prompt business to plummet.
The AIDS crisis, however, did not entirely deter Ripples’ success.
With the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell cruising spot that was the beach parking area across the street and the chill, relaxed vibe of the neighborhood itself, Ripples sewed itself into Long Beach gay history.
But that rollercoaster, brought on initially by the fire and later by AIDS, would then reappear with bigotry, rioting, attacks by the Aryan Nation… The rollercoaster might’ve slowed down but it never truly disappeared. Garcia and Hebert weathered a lot.
And that led to even more public ups and downs, particularly after the millennium hit, when attendance began to slowly drop yet again. This time, it would thrust the pair and club into the spotlight of power-lesbian Tabatha Coffey and her reality show Tabatha Takes Over in 2012. (Bee-tee-dub: Tab is back with a re-launch of the popular series and, yup, she’s back in Long Beach trying to fix the disaster known as Popeyesgate.)
That led to another renovation that very same year post-Tabitha. Then the attempted sale of the building in early 2016. Then a switch to leasing over selling in late 2016. Then another attempted sale last year.
In other words: Garcia and Hebert just want to retire—and to be honest, Long Beach, they deserve that.
They’ve expressed, through different articles, their discontent with the disconnection between their era—one wrought with social, political, religious, and community battles—and the current generation. It has led to outright bitterness, including shady business practices—”No cover—just kidding!” nights—and a distasteful dismissal of its patrons.
Here is one of Hebert’s most blunt quotes, taken from a now-defunct, short-lived paper in Long Beach: “I’m going to be blunt: these young kids nowadays don’t know what we’ve gone through to get to this point for them. We’re talking bulletproof windows, attacks by the Aryan Nation, police not going along with our program. We fought the battle for these kids today.”
This type of bitterness can’t continue to go unnoticed.
Perhaps, then, what is due to Garcia and Hebert is not another public event, not another makeover, not another attempt to revive Ripples, but a thank you—because without them having fought that battle, this step forward for a new kind of space couldn’t be achieved.
Even more blunt: if we wanted, as a queer community, for this space to continue to exist, we would have patronized it. It’s that simple, even outside shady business practices.
Onward and upward, Long Beach.