Monday, June 11, 2018

Gus' Sea Shell Cafe, Balboa

Balboa Bikes 'N" Beach Stuff, 601 E. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach.
Seeing this old building in Balboa with the “Green Fence of Death” around it set off all kinds of alarm bells for me. However, it seems the front portion of the building is being saved even though the back portion is being rebuilt with additional stories added. That beats total demolition by a bunch.

I remember stopping in here in the early 1990s, when it was still a bike rental shop, and finding the staff extremely helpful. I’d ridden my own bike (as I did most weekends) down from Huntington Beach and was on my way toward the Balboa Island Ferry and the rest of my journey down the coast when I got a flat tire. The folks in this shop graciously helped me patch the tire, put it back on the bike, and got me on my way at no charge. Aside from that, all I knew about the building was that it was old and that it had interesting wood floors that sounded a bit hollow and creaky. Now, having my attention drawn back to the building by this construction, I wanted to know more. Here’s what I found,…
Gus' Sea Shell Café, Balboa, circa 1929
The building was constructed around 1929 as the latest incarnation of a popular Balboa café owned by Gus Tamplis (a.k.a. G.B. Temple). Tamplis was born Kostantinos Basilion Tempelis in the small village of Kastria, Greece in the early 1890s and came to America around 1907. When he was naturalized in 1918, he legally changed his name to Gus Basilion Templis. It was under this name that he soon enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served as a ship's cook during World War I and was honorably discharged in late 1921.

In 1922, Tamplis opened “Gus and Tony’s The Sea Shell” near the Balboa Pier at 105 Main Street. The café specialized in Mexican (“Spanish”) and Italian fare and rapidly gained a large following. By 1923 it was known simply as Gus’ Sea Shell Lunch. By 1924, it was called the Sea Shell Café, and had moved to a somewhat larger space next door at 107 Main. According to the L.A. Times’ (Celebrate!, Vol. 2 historical supplement, Oct. 16, 1988), "…Everybody called him Gus Gus... He spoke with a thick accent,… and usually he only answered direct questions with a 'Yes Yes’ or a 'No No.’ Hence 'Gus Gus.'"

In 1929, Gus Gus moved again to a new location at the Corner of Palm Street and Central Ave. This move was a wise and calculated decision. This put the café directly across the alley from the new and wildly popular Rendezvous Ballroom. The Ballroom played host to some of the biggest musical acts in the country, as well as providing a home for new talent on the way up. By the late 1930s, the Sea Shell café (now serving mostly seafood and) and bar was well-established as was the place where the ballroom crowd congregated.
The Rendezvous Ballroom (the Balboa Pier would be to the right)
During World War II, Gus' cafe was also often the meeting place for the local USO executive committee. It also was the site of the first meeting of the Newport Harbor chapter of the Kiwanis Club in early 1941.

By 1952, Gus was living on Balboa Island and still owned a café somewhere, but it didn’t seem to be called the Sea Shell, and it definitely wasn’t at the corner of Palm and Central (by now called Balboa Blvd) anymore. The building at that location was now selling bamboo and rattan gifts. Later in the 1950s and into the early 1960s, the space was an Italian restaurant called Grandolfo's. And as mentioned above, it later became a bicycle rental shop.

Gus Gus died Aug. 22, 1954 and is buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana.

Update: Here's a photo of the building as it appeared in April 2019, after it (in the great Newport Beach tradition) "had work done":


Unknown said...

Ah, my family owned the building in the 50's & early 60's. It was an Italian restaurant called Grandolfo's. Please feel free to contact me so I can give you better details on the actors and musicians that frequently came in & a rather funny story about Timothy Leary.

Mr. Fleming said...

Great post. I took photos of the interior during construction when the workers fortuitously left the gate open. I discussed the remodeling with one. The have a Balboa matchcover collection including several of this place as Gus Sea Shell and one of Grandolfos.

Mr. Fleming said...

That’s me above. I’m not unknown. Lol.

Mr. Fleming said...

The two comments above are mine. Orogrande66@aol dot com. There’s no place for me to put the dot. I can send images if u want.

Chris Jepsen said...

Unknown: Sorry about not getting back to you. For some reason, this particular thread was BOMBARDED with almost 70 unique spam messages from Pakistan (of all places)! Until I deleted all those, I didn't see YOUR messages. I'll send you an email soon. Thanks.

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