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Marla Novo

Marla Novo - Archives & Collections Catalyst

Santa Cruz Bans Rock and Roll?

For today’s blog post I am going to talk about an event that isn’t really spoken of in 2018, but to me, it has great historical significance. As we all know, Santa Cruz is one of the most progressive left-leaning towns in the United States. Since its just 75 miles away from San Francisco, I guess you could say that the cultural movement that grew from San Francisco made its way to Santa Cruz in the mid-1960s. Before that time, however, Santa Cruz was the tourist destination built on a foundation of lumber, tanning, and limestone. Some of the most famous people in California would come to Santa Cruz just to get away from it all. Over time Santa Cruz became known as the jewel of the west coast with its extravagant beach views and sunny weather.

Although Santa Cruz was a place to “get away,” politically the county was according to Albert J. Mendez a “conservative stronghold” (Menendez 152-155). For almost a century beginning in 1860 to 1972, Santa Cruz County only had a Democratic majority three times. Santa Cruz like most of the country threw their support toward Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (Mendez 152-155). Other than those three instances, the county of Santa voted overwhelmingly Republican. For most of its patrons, Santa Cruz was a sleepy tourist town that was set in its ways. With the tourist industry booming in Santa Cruz change seemed like an afterthought. Why change something that is going so well? Why would anyone ask for any “negative” national attention? Santa Cruz was the “Jewel of the West Coast” remember?

"As of June 4th rock and roll was officially banned from all public events."

Well that all changed on June 3rd, 1956 when the Santa Cruz Police Department decided to ban a new music fad called rock and roll. Earlier that night many Santa Cruzians packed the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium to see Saxophone sensation Chuck Higgins play his hit “Pachuko Hop.” During the concert police entered the venue at 12:20 am and witnessed music that according to Richard Overton “excited the crowd to passion at times and it was feared that the crowd would become uncontrollable” (“Authorities” 1). Although it was only a few dancers at the venue, Overton and the police department took action under the belief that the dancing was “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community” (“Authorities” 1). The day after the story appeared on the front page of the Santa Cruz Sentinel with quotes from the officers and support from the police chief. As of June 4th rock and roll was officially banned from all public events.

Given the political climate of Santa Cruz at the time, most Santa Cruzians didn’t bat an eye. Everyone wanted to move on with their lives and remain the premier tourist destination but an amazing thing happened. Santa Cruz had the distinct honor of being the first town to ban the type of music. On June 5th, the story went viral with “Newspapers and radio and television commentators across the country reacted with applause or amusement to the halting of a Civic Auditorium ‘Rock n Roll’ dance last Saturday night” (“Santa Cruz” 1).


Once all of this negative attention hit Santa Cruz, government officials became concerned with a possible loss in visitors. As a result, they sent city manager Robert Klein on a damage control tour. According to Klein, “There is no ban on the harmless swing known as rock and roll” (“Klein” 1). Klein also went on to say that “We (Santa Cruz) encourage dancing by juvenile groups all summer long. We frequently have dances in the auditorium and as long they’re conducted properly they’re welcome.” (“Klein” 1) By these statements, it is clear that the city of Santa Cruz tried to sweep this story under the rug. Tourism was a huge part of the economy and the City of Santa Cruz didn’t want to lose its place as the teenage “weekend getaway.” Even after Klein came out and explained himself, the event continued to be national news with newspapers in Orlando, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Kansas, and Washington. I am assuming here and more research needs to be done, but I believe that Santa Cruz was the first city in the United States to ban Rock and Roll. This is due to the story gaining so much national attention and the lack of evidence of a prior ban anywhere else.

"By these statements, it is clear that the city of Santa Cruz tried to sweep this story under the rug. Tourism was a huge part of the economy and the City of Santa Cruz didn’t want to lose its place as the teenage “weekend getaway.”

For the next few days and even weeks, the story of the ban on rock and roll became a thing of the past. Everything went back to normal, city officials were happy, and there was no news of the ban on rock and roll or Santa Cruz. Then just two weeks later on June 18, 1956, similar bans were reported in Ashbury, New Jersey and San Antonio, Texas due to concerns involving rock and roll and its undesirable elements (History.com Staff “Rock and roll”). To make matters worse an event just a mere 26 miles away from Santa Cruz made teenagers and parents question the validity of Rock and Roll.

On July 6, 1956, there was a riot reported at a Fats Domino concert in San Jose California. On what seemed to be a historic night, Fats Domino, one of the biggest acts in the country, was late for his first appearance in San Jose at nine o’ clock. After an hour and a half of waiting a fervent audience finally watched the first band members walk on stage followed by the large piano-playing sensation. Once Fats began to play it didn’t matter what time it was, because people were getting their money’s worth. All of that began to change once the band went on their intermission. While everyone was recuperating from a wild set a beer bottle was thrown causing a loud crash in front of the stage. After a few more beer bottles were broken, more people joined in the fight that started by the bar. Once the overhead lights were hit and broken the small fight turned into chaos. When all of the dust settled, people had run to the restrooms for an exit and 11 of the rioters were arrested by San Jose Chief of Police Ray Blackmore. After the show the city council was left with a situation on their hands, do they ban rock and roll or do nothing? In the end, Robert Doerr, the mayor of San Jose sided with Blackmore who stated that the riot was caused by beer bottles, not rock and roll music (Engelmann, “Ain’t that a Shame”). After Blackmore’s decision, the city of San Jose decided to ban bottles from public events and use paper cups.

Although it was considered evil music, rock and roll had officially become a genre and it came in the form of a ban on rock and roll. Because of the ban issued by Santa Cruz City Police, rock and roll and Santa Cruz had gained national attention. In what was thought to many as a “fad” it turned out that rock and roll music was here to stay. City governments didn’t know what to do about the music promoting immoral values so many cities banned rock and roll. To get a sense of what teenagers and parents thought about the music and its effect, the Santa Cruz Sentinel tasked head of the Gilbert Youth Research Company, Eugene Gilbert, to interview both parents and teens all across the country on the impact of rock and roll. His findings reported that parents thought it was “primitive” “lewd” and possibly damaging to their children. In the article, one parent said: “It looks like a Roman orgy when those kids get together” (Gilbert 4). The teens, on the other hand, wanted to let their parents know that they shouldn’t worry. Most of the teens interviewed wanted to have fun with one saying “You’re just not with it man. Why is this so different from the Charleston or the lindy-hop? We’re only having some fun before we get too old to enjoy ourselves” (Gilbert 4). After the interviews, Gilbert stated that the teens asked the parents to let rock and roll run its course until the next fad comes along.

As it turned out rock is still alive and well. With that said I will say that it's amazing that cities went on to ban rock and roll and in Santa Cruz no less. To reiterate, Santa Cruz on the surface is to some the leftmost city in the country. As of now in my opinion it is, but it took us a while to get there. I am finding that the history of a small beach town 75 miles outside of San Francisco is as rich as a town that has been in existence for more than 150 years. It is in events like the ban on rock and roll that we find small nuggets that make history exciting. I hope you enjoyed this blog and will tell people that Santa Cruz was the first city to ban rock and roll.

Works Cited

“Authorities Impose Ban On ‘Rock And Roll’ Dances Here.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4 June 1956, p. 1, Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/57678036/?terms Accessed 21 March 2018.

Engelmann, Larry. “Ain’t That a Shame: Thirty Years Ago, America Experienced Its First Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot.” The Los Angeles Times, 6 July 1986, http://articles.latimes.com/1986-07-06/magazine/tm-23375_1_rock-n-roll. Accessed 21 March 2018

Gilbert, Eugene. “Rock And Roll Sends Teen-Agers; Most Don’t Feel It’s Dangerous And Suggestive.” The Santa Cruz Sentinel. 9 Aug 1956, p. 4, Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/53781283/?terms=Rock+n+roll+banned Accessed 21 March 2018.

History.com Staff. “Rock and roll banned in Santa Cruz, California.” History.com, 2009, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rock-and-roll-is-banned-in-santa-cruz-california Accessed 21 March 2018.

“Klein Says Rock ‘n’ Roll Not Banned.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 6 June 1956, p. 1, Newspapers.com,https://www.newspapers.com/image/57678078/?terms=Rock+n+roll+banned Accessed 21 March 2018.

Menendez, Albert J. The Geography of Presidential Elections in the United States, 1868–2004. Mcfarland, January 2009.

“Santa Cruz Gets Nationwide Attention For Dance Ban.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 5 June 1956, p. 1, Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/57678056/?terms=. Accessed 21 March 2018.

Youtube Chuck Higgins Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQJsj1uzIpg

Early 1950s photo inside the Auditorium: http://www.schsclassof1954.00home.com/