Wednesday, February 27, 2013

America's First Rock and Roll Riot

America’s First Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot Happened 40 Years Ago


Larry Engelmann
April 30, 1996

n the spring of 1956 Vice President Richard Nixon made a friendly visit to South Vietnam. After only five minutes on the ground in Saigon Nixon had learned to say, “Hello, how are you?” in Vietnamese. The new president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem told Nixon he would not cooperate in holding a countrywide election that summer aimed at uniting North and South Vietnam. Nixon, too, thought the election was a bad idea. Better, he felt, for South Vietnam to go it alone with America’s help rather than unite with communist-controlled North Vietnam.
That summer Graham Greene’s novel “The Quiet American,” about an idealistic young American in Saigon was published by the Viking Press in New York. “I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused,” Greene wrote of the ill-fated American protagonist in his story.
At about the same time as Nixon’s visit to Saigon, former mobster Mickey Cohen was converted to Christianity by evangelist Billy Graham. Following his conversion, Cohen demonstrated his born-again conviction and addressed a gathering of the down-on-their-luck derelicts at the Los Angeles Rescue Mission. After listening to Cohen’s tear-jerking and Bible-thumping testimonial, five men in the audience stood up and made decisions for Christ.
That same spring actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco and movie star and national icon Marilyn Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller.
It was that kind of time in America. The world was a friendly place. An American actress could become a real princess and a mobster might become a preacher. A globetrotting vice president might win new friends simply by learning a few words in a foreign language and literary critics could dismiss as a leftist diatribe a British novelist’s dark portrayal of America’s actions in Southeast Asia.
In the spring of 1956 America was one nation under Ike. Seven months after taking office, President Eisenhower succeeded in pulling America out of a war in Korea. Communism had been stopped in Asia, the public was assured, at the 38th parallel. In Vietnam would be stopped, President Nixon later reported, at the 17th parallel in Vietnam by the “Miracle Man of Asia,” President Diem.
In 1956 Joseph Stalin had been dead for three years and the national hysteria over Communist agents undermining the American way of life was abating. Senator Joseph McCarthy had fallen from grace, was censured by his senatorial colleagues and was busily drinking himself to death. The shadow of fellow travelers and academic pinkos cooperating with Moscow was fading away. “Ozzie and Harriet,” a very popular weekly television program about an incredibly happy and harmonious family that never discussed politics or race or sex or rock and roll(despite the fact that in 1957 Ricky Nelson, the youngest son, became a popular rock and roll performer) reflected best America’s cherished fantasy of a domestic tranquility that was pervasive and united parents with each other and with their perky and precocious children.
There were some troubling developments on the home front in 1956, but the national press downplayed them. A boycott of the public bus system by blacks in Montgomery, Alabama, divided that city sharply. News of the bombing of the home of the boycott leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., however, received less attention in newspapers around the country than did the Congressional decision to raise the cost of a first class postage stamp up one cent to four cents.
Americans who monitored national trends, however, gradually expressed fears that a far bigger threat to domestic tranquility than political ideology or racial division was an insidious new strain of music. Rock and Roll exploded onto the national stage in 1956 and millions of Americans quickly recognized the brash new sound as a clear-and-present danger. They demanded that it be smothered before it spread and did mortal hurt to the American spirit. The most popular of the purveyors of the new music was Elvis Presley, a shameless hip-gyrating crooner who was selling $75,000 worth of 45 rpm records every day with titles like “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” The sounds he sold seemed, critics warned, to intoxicate teenagers in some subtle way and, to make them move in ways that respectable kids had never moved in public before. For lack of a more precise term, rock and roll seemed to send them spinning out of control!
In June the police chief of Santa Cruz, California, broke up a rock-and-roll concert in his city’s civic auditorium on the grounds that teenagers at the concert were dancing in “an obscene and highly suggestive manner.” The chief issued a blanket edict banning Rock and Roll from Santa Cruz “forever!”
One month later the actions by the chief seemed prophetically wise. In the more tolerant atmosphere of nearby San Jose the city council had seen fit to take no action against Rock and Roll. The sound, consequently, remained legal in the Garden City. But on the night of July 7th, an ugly full-scale riot at a rock-and-roll concert in San Jose provided incontrovertible evidence of the frightening potential for public harm unleashed by the uncontrolled cacophonous harmonies of the new music.
Before that fateful night even the cops could rock and roll in San Jose without fear of setting a bad example for the city’s teenagers. Press releases for the 38th Annual Police Widows and Orphans Ball, scheduled for the evening of July 7th, promised that all of those attending would be “rocking and rolling” to the strains of Leona Mortenson and her “all-girl orchestra.”
The owner of the Palomar Gardens Ballroom at the corner of Carlysle and Notre Dame streets in San Jose had a different kind of rock and roll in mind for the concert he planned for the same evening. Charles Silvia had successfully booked several nationally-popular rock-and-roll groups into his club during the previous months. In fact, ever since listening to the upbeat sound of Bill Haley and His Comets a year earlier, Silvia had tried to book bands with Haley’s sound and popularity.
After opening the Palomar Gardens in 1948, Silvia had regularly booked most of the popular big bands to play there. But by 1956 the big-band sound no longer had its former popular appeal. The paying public wanted to hear rock and roll, Silvia found. And so when two Oakland promoters approached Silvia and offered to bring Fats Domino and his band to the Palomar Gardens, Silvia quickly made a deal with them. Fats Domino was one of the biggest musical attractions in the country that summer. A year earlier the New Orleans singer and composer first hit the top of the pop music charts with his single, “Ain’t That a Shame.” He followed that hit with “Blueberry Hill” in early 1956. And in the summer of 1956 his newest release, “I’m in Love Again,” had climbed to number seven on the nation’s pop music charts.
Silvia anticipated the largest crowd ever at the Palomar Gardens for the concert. Although he foresaw no major problems, he did arrange for six police officers to be present during the concert to help with crowd control.
Silvia underestimated the incredible enthusiasm of the public for Fats Domino. Several hours before tickets went on sale for the concert, a huge crowd gathered outside the Palomar Gardens. When the box-office shade was raised at 8:30 p.m., a boisterous impatient mass of people filled the sidewalk in front of the ballroom and a line stretched down the street for six blocks!
Silvia had an ironclad rule in providing live entertainment at his ballroom. When the doors opened and the crowd surged in, he required the performers to be on the stage and ready to play. Customers who paid a premium price($1.50) for a concert ticket, needed absolute assurances that there would be no rip offs, Silvia insisted. Concerts at the Palomar Gardens had to be more than token performances. There were no lesser-known opening acts. Silvia was fond of bragging that his customers always got their money’s worth and always went home happy.
But on the night of July 7, 1956, the featured band was late -- very late! When Silvia finally started selling tickets and there was no sign of Fats Domino, he began to worry. This had never happened to him before. He kept asking the promoters, who had arrived late in the afternoon, where the band was. And they kept telling him that it was on its way and that nothing was wrong. Maybe they ran into traffic or maybe they had a flat tire or maybe they overslept. They’d be there.
Silvia’s concern deepened with each passing minute. He began to feel regret for booking this band. He regretted his greed! He regretted his dream of putting on the best concert in the city’s history! He regretted working with these promoters.
At 9:00 p.m. Silvia threw open the doors to the Palomar Gardens and the crowd pushed its way in. On each side of the main door a policeman attempted to prevent the thousands of fans from charging past them from trampling each other or from getting squeezed too tightly against the walls.
In only a few minutes all of the tables around the dance floor were occupied. And the people just kept on coming inside. Business at the bar boomed. Silvia was somewhat pacified to see that the crowd was in a good mood. Nobody was protesting the absence of the band. The ballroom was filled to capacity -- 3500 tickets had been sold in less than an hour! The dance floor filled with couples waiting for the band to arrive. The noise of people talking and laughing grew louder and louder and beer bottles began to accumulate on the tables and around the edge of the dance floor.
Then a fight broke out in a corner of the ballroom. The crowd near the action hooted and cheered. The police moved and separated the madly swinging combatants. They were thrown out.
The fight wasn’t that unusual. Saturday night dances at the Palomar Gardens customarily included one or two such altercations and the police were quite accustomed to breaking them up and restoring order.
But within minutes of breaking up the first fight on this night, police were called to break up another and then another. Silvia saw that this crowd was more animated, more spirited, than the crowds he’d seen in the past. As the police moved around the ballroom separating those who were fighting or who were about to fight, Silvia watched them and silently prayed.
The band finally arrived at 10:30 p.m.. A long wild cheer went up when the back door of the ballroom swing open and the first members of the Fats Domino entourage climbed onto the stage and started to set up their instruments. Silvia gave a long sigh of relief and counted the seconds until the music started. Deliverance, he thought. Deliverance! He didn’t even ask for an explanation for their belated arrival. He just wanted them to start playing and to save him.
Ten minutes later Fats Domino strolled onto the stage and sat down at the piano. As he hit the opening notes of “Yes, It’s Me and I’m in Love Again,” the crowd started clapping and singing and moving with his music.
The band played for 45 minutes. Then Fats Domino announced that he was taking a brief break. People moved away from the stage and back to tables or to the bar or to the edge of the dance floor.
But even before the stage was emptied, somebody near the back of the ballroom threw a beer bottle at the musicians. The bottle crashed to the dance floor and shattered shards of glass skipped across the stage. For a moment there was an unusual silence in the Palomar Gardens. Then another bottle crashed onto the dance floor. Then another and another.
Then a young man standing near the stage stepped forward and pitched a full bottle the length of the ballroom. It crashed into a mirror behind the bar. There was a single loud scream and then a strident maniacal laugh. To many of those seated at the tables around the dance floor it seemed at first that a fight involving perhaps half a dozen rowdies was heating up.
But the bottle throwing quickly increased and a score of people from several different parts of the ballroom began heaving bottles back and forth at each other. The air above the dance floor came alive with the crash and chatter of shattering glass. The overhead lights were hit and popped and shards of broken glass rained down on the tables and on the floor. Fist fights suddenly seemed to break out everywhere at once, as though some signal had been given for a fight to start. Many of those closest to the dance floor ducked under their tables or held chairs over their heads to shield them from the rain of bottles and glass. Others drifted toward the exits.
The brawl increased in fury like a chain reaction. The frantic efforts of the police officers to smother it were not working. Within 60 seconds of that first bottle crashing against the stage, complete chaos and panic swept through the Palomar Gardens.
Silvia couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Several thousand people were almost gleefully dismantling and destroying his beloved ballroom. He watched and wondered what the hell was happening! Everywhere around him, kids seemed simply to have gone nuts. They were punching each other, clawing and screaming and kicking and biting mindlessly. “Everybody was at each other,” he later testified. “Boys fought boys and girls fought girls. My God, Girls were slugging it out and scratching each other.” Silvia had the distinct feeling that he was being drawn into his own worst nightmare. And he was helpless to stop it.
The air above the ballroom floor came alive with the continuous staccato of breaking bottles. People struck in the head by filled bottles collapsed under the feet of the crowd around them. Tables and chairs were chucked through the air and onto the dance floor or onto the heads of people. Several hundred women ran for the rest room for protection. When the bathroom filled up, they broke out the windows and began jumping out onto the sidewalk.
Those nearest the exits were suddenly pushed backward with a terrific force. The crowd flattened them against the doors, pushed and then pushed harder until the doors were ripped from their hinges. Both front and back doors were carried into the street. “People came flying out the doors like they were shot from guns,” a man standing outside reported. “It was like a tremendous explosion had suddenly blown them out the building.”
Someone threw a string of firecrackers into the middle of the dance floor and for several seconds a series of flashes and explosions convinced many of those inside the ballroom that a machine gun had opened up only a few feet away. The screaming and shouting, cursing and praying and pleading roared at an angry deafening pitch. Bloodied bodies lay scattered across the dance floor.
Policeman J.H. Boswell was parked in his squad car a few blocks from the Palomar Gardens when he received an emergency radio call for help. He raced to the ballroom and saw hundreds of people tumbling out the doors and windows of the structure. Many of them were swept along helplessly or were flung out into the street by the hysterical mass behind them. Clothing was ripped off and was hanging from the door hinges. Streaks and smears of blood colored the sidewalk outside the box office. Boswell’s first question to himself was, “What the hell is happening here?” He’d never before in his career on the force seen anything quite like this.
Boswell stayed close to the wall and forced his way through the crowd to enter the Palomar Gardens. He would never forget what he found inside. It was just like a movie set, he said. Like a movie set for a massive barroom brawl in the wild west. Only this was a lot bigger and a lot bloodier and there were no cowboys.
He watched as more than a thousand people bellowed and beat on each other and chased each other around -- some laughing and some cursing -- in the semi-darkness. The shrieking and crying and the continuous crashing of bottles, Boswell thought, were some of the strangest and at the same time most frightening things he’d ever heard. People had simply gone crazy. They were fighting each other and in some cases they seemed just to be fighting the air or the tables or chairs, swinging or kicking wildly at anything. As he tried to move through the human tornado toward another policeman caught in the maelstrom, a young man ran up to him and brought a beer bottle down full force on the back of his head. Boswell saw stars, stumbled to the floor and remained on his hands and knees for a moment, stunned by the blow. As he tried to stand up he saw the assailant still standing over him, his arm raised and another bottle in his hand. Boswell tried to keep from getting floored again. He grabbed the young man around the waist and pushed him backwards. He pulled out his nightstick as he let go of his assailant. The young man backed away reflexively and raised his arm again. Boswell regained his balance and swung his nightstick full force striking his assailant in the mouth. He remembered seeing a spray of teeth and blood and he saw the young man collapse backwards and disappear under the feet of the crowd.
Still dizzy from the blow, Boswell again tried to make his way across the dance floor where several other police officers were engaged in a fight with the crowd. He tried to help them by pulling fighters away and taking bottles from their hands. He kept shouting that everyone should leave the ballroom immediately. After he’d freed his fellow officers from their attackers, he saw several people lying unconscious on the floor he went from body to body trying to revive them, helping them to their feet, directing them toward the door.
In another part of the ballroom another policeman was attacked by a young man wielding a broken beer bottle. The officer drew his pistol and pushed it into the young man’s stomach. “Ill do it!” he shouted as loudly as he could. “Damn you, I’ll do it!” The young man hesitated, then dropped the bottle, turned and ran as fast as he could toward the door. The officer holstered his weapon and waded back into the crowd hardly believing what had just happened. He too, like Boswell and Silvia couldn’t quite figure out why this was happening.
Celebrants at the Police Widows and Orphans Benefit Association Ball were rocking and rolling to the strains of Leona Mortenson and her All Girl Orchestra when an emergency call for help came from the Palomar Gardens. Police Chief Ray Blackmore picked thirty officers to accompany him to the trouble spot. The men raced from the ball and piled into six waiting patrol cars. Then, with lights flashing and sirens screaming, the chief and his men rushed into battle at the Palomar Gardens.
When Blackmore and his thirty men arrived at the ballroom, they were greeted with derisive hoots and flying beer bottles. Blackmore later recalled that the bottles “crashed around us like confetti.” The police used loudspeakers to order the crowd to disperse. Blackmore told his men to arrest only the worst troublemakers and to let everyone else go. “We could have arrested 75 or 100,” he said later. “It was just one of those things, you grab the first one you see.”
Several people were yanked from the crowd by the police and heaved into a paddy wagon. But before the vehicle could depart with its protesting cargo, somebody kicked open the door and the prisoners jumped out and scurried away. This happened several more times while the police broke up the crowd. Eventually, though, the beer bottle supply ran low and the fighting died out and the crowd lost its spirit and faded away. Eleven people were arrested for drunkenness and disturbing the peace and were successfully transported to jail.
After the brawl was over, Silvia surveyed the wreckage of his beloved Palomar Gardens. Except for the bar and the stage, nothing remained intact. The tables, chairs, lights, mirrors, and doors were all shattered, broken or missing. Broken glass blanketed the floor. Occasionally a timid figure appeared at the doorless entrance asking for a missing purse or for lost car keys.
The concert lasted 45 minutes. The riot lasted 90 minutes. Silvia closed the Palomar Gardens for two weeks while city officials investigated the cause of the riot.
The next morning colorful accounts of the San Jose riot appeared in every major newspaper in the country. Critics insisted that it was all caused by godless rock and roll and the sheriff of Santa Cruz gloated and announced, “I told you so!” A San Francisco Chronicle story termed the affair a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot” and during the next few weeks newspapers around the country adopted that alliterative phrase linking the music with the breakdown of public order.
Police intervention in the rock and roll dance in Santa Cruz followed by the San Jose riot led many people to conclude that there was something inherently dangerous in the sound of rock and roll. White Citizens’ Councils in the South were charging that rock and roll was a vehicle through which the NAACP infiltrated and then demoralized white youth. A psychiatrist in Hartford, Connecticut, described rock and roll as a “communicable disease.” Ministers from all over the country warned God fearing patriots to resist the new music and to pray for the conversion of Elvis Presley and other purveyors of the demonic disharmonies.
Even the staunchest defenders of rock and roll were hard pressed to explain the disorder that kept surfacing at rock and roll concerts. Following a riot at one of his concerts in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in November, Fats Domino himself attributed the brawl to “the beat and the booze,” at least partly agreeing with the opponents of rock and roll.
But San Jose’s Police Chief Blackmore disagreed. “It was the fifth to the bottle rather than the eight to the bar” that caused all the trouble, he said. It was the booze and not the beat. Yet Blackmore could not explain why decades of big band and jazz music in San Jose -- accompanied by the sale of alcoholic beverages -- had never produced anything like this. Charles Silvia blamed it all on the late arrival of the band, not on their brand of music. “Had Fats Domino showed up on time there never would have been a riot,” he insisted. But his argument convinced no one. Tardy bands did not cause riots -- not, at least, in 1956.
On July 9, 1956, city officials in Jersey City, New Jersey, refused to allow a rock and roll concert in that city’s municipal stadium. Mayor Bernard Berry of Jersey City cited the San Jose catastrophe as his primary reason for opposing, successfully, a rock and roll concert in his city.
One week after the Palomar Gardens riot the San Jose City Council considered a resolution to ban rock and roll forever from all city-owned structures. Mayor Robert Doerr, took a calculated risk, however, and successfully interceded on the side of rock and roll, asking the council members to postpone prohibition and to accept, in the meantime, a ban on the sale of bottled beverages at all future concerts in the city. A new city ordinance required all drinks at concerts in San Jose had to be dispensed in paper cups. When Charles Silvia brought Fats Domino back to the Palomar Gardens in 1957 beer was sold in paper cups and nobody went crazy.
As the crusade against rock and roll continued the San Jose riot was cited again and again as the clearest example of what to expect when teenagers gathered to hear the “primitive,” hard-driving popular new sound. Over the next forty years the outspoken defenders and the outspoken critics of rock and roll have continued their struggle with each other. The disorder and the violence that surfaced first in San Jose resurfaced again and again over the years as a sort of uninvited guest wherever young people gathered to listen, celebrate, dance and bathe in the rhythms of rock and roll. The music seemed to unlock something seldom seen in American youth, something both troubling and destructive and degrading as well as something soothing and ecstatic and uplifting. Both sides in the debate seemed to agree on one point --there was a rough magic in the music that unleashed the energy of youth without giving it direction. They disagreed as to whether the magic was black or white. But there definitely was something in the music that amplified the anxieties and the impatience of young men and women and made them bang against the borders and the confines of the world to which they were confined, a world that always seemed too small for their dreams and desires. There was something dark in some of the things the music made them say and do. There was something light in the things it made them dream and embrace. There was something addictive in that music, everyone who heard it could feel it. Everyone who felt it knew they would never feel quite the same again. Once touched by it, one tended to measure the wonder and the regret of one’s life -- the passing of days and years and of youth itself -- by its words and sounds. It became, in all of its forms, an endless anthem for generations of young Americans. It’s most popular performers became internationally celebrated icons.
Forty years have passed since the Palomar Gardens Ballroom riot. Today, those young men and women who danced and sang and rioted after listening to the rock and roll songs of Fats Domino at the Palomar Gardens in San Jose, are senior citizens in their late 50s and 60s. They are the grandparents and even the great-grand parents of the youngsters who buy CDs and attend rock concerts today.
And the beat goes on.


Rachel Divine

I was 17 in the summer of 1956 and a student at San Jose High School. A group of us -- three girls --went to the Palomar Gardens on the night of July 7th to see Fats Domino. It was really crowded inside. But at first it was fun. The music was great. Then this fight broke out between two guys. Very quickly other people were fighting in other parts of the ballroom. It turned into a free for all, with bottles flying everywhere and tables and chairs flying through the air. It was pretty frightening. We went into the bathroom and got stuck there. There were so many girls in the bathroom, we were packed in like sardines. And people were screaming. Finally a policeman came to the door and escorted us out. When we got outside, my dad was waiting for us. He was really angry. I guess he’d heard what was happening on the radio and he came to get us. There were a lot of people still fighting outside. My parents were really angry at me for going there, as if I knew what was going to happen. It was a bad experience though. I never went back inside the Palomar Gardens. When the Platters came there the next year, we wanted to see them but we didn’t go. After the riot, I just never wanted to go back there. I remember Fats Domino saying a few days later that he would never come back to San Jose again.

Janet Bossetto(Fremont)
I lived in Oakland at the time. I was 16 and a student at Castlemont High School. We went to a lot of the early rock-and- roll shows. We came down to the Palomar Gardens to see Fats Domino on the night of July 7, 1956. The problem that night was the show began late and it was really crowded inside. A lot of people got in a bad mood. When Fats Domino started playing it was impossible to dance because the place was so crowded. Actually, we were pressed against the wall in the back of the ballroom. Then after the first set a fight started. Then beer bottles started flying. There was panic. People tried to get out of the way and out the doors. Then I saw a table fly up in the air and come down on some people. My date said, “Let’s get out of here!” We tried to get out the door without falling down and being trampled and without being crushed. It was really scary. We finally got pushed out the front door with the crowd. It was a very bad experience. We never came back to San Jose again for a concert.

Rudy Venegas(Saratoga)
I was a freshman at San Jose State in 1956. I think I was one of the original rock and rollers in the 1950s. I loved the music, still do. I went with friends to the Palomar Gardens on July 7, 1956, to see Fats Domino. I remember he was late, and that was a problem. And the place was really crowded. I remember trying to dance, but you couldn’t dance because there were too many people inside. When the fight broke out there was panic. Girls were screaming. We turned a table on its side and sat behind to protect ourselves from the bottles that were being thrown. I think the music had a lot to do with it. That kind of music really turned people on. You had a couple of beers and you listened to the music and you got pumped up. It was a new thing, a phenomenal thing. Something new was happening. And it got out of control.

Doreen Hamilton(San Jose)
On the night of July 7, 1956, I went with my husband and my 18-year-old cousin to see Fats Domino at the Palomar Gardens. It was really crowded, but we managed to get a table next to the dance floor -- a ringside seat! After the band stopped playing we were sitting there talking and then all of a sudden somebody threw a bottle and it went right over our table. It was a total surprise. We’d never seen anything like this before inside the Palomar Gardens. Then all of a sudden another bottle flew by and then another. We realized there was a problem and my husband said, ‘Let’s get out of here!’ We tried to get out the back door to the left of the stage, but it got too violent and my husband saw that we weren’t going to make it without getting hurt. So my husband pulled us under a table. We sat under the table while the riot went on around us. After it calmed down a little we ran out the back door -- or where the back door had been. Someone had torn it off. We ran straight to our car and drove home. We never went back to the Palomar Gardens again. Years later, when I told my boys about that night, they would say, ‘Wow, mom was in a riot!’

Tommy Herrera(Mountain View)
I was 14 at the time and lived in Mountain View. We used to cruise around on weekends. And we’d cruise by the Palomar Gardens. We were too young to get inside, so we always tried to sneak in, through the back door, and hear the acts they had. That night we were cruising around and tried to get in, but we couldn’t. I remember it was really crowded and there was a crowd outside that couldn’t get in. We parked across the street from the ballroom and were trying to figure out how to sneak in when all of a sudden we heard this commotion. And then the doors flew open and these guys came flying out. They were all righting, like a dozen guys, rolling around and shouting and fighting. Then there was this second wave of people flying out the doors. A big circle of people formed outside and guys were fighting in the middle of the circle. Bottles started to fly and we backed off to get out of the line of fire. I remember seeing a guy get hit in the head with a flying bottle and I saw him go down. I had never seen anything like this before. Never. When we heard the sirens coming -- they were coming from all directions -- we ran to our car and got out of there. We headed back to Mountain View. I read about the riot the next morning in the newspaper. I heard later that they banned Fats Domino from California.

Bob Custer(San Jose)
I was a disc jockey at KLOK radio in San Jose in 1956. I was on the air on the night of July 7 when Fats Domino played the Palomar Gardens. We had a Saturday night High School Hit Parade show. The news of the riot came to us from the Associated Press -- they had a local guy who covered the story. He was there when it happened and we picked it up from the wires. And we had a local guy, Hugh Heller, who also phoned in a report. San Jose was a quiet little town then. The riot sort of tarnished the town’s reputation. The story put San Jose on the front pages of newspapers but in a bad way. I remember that the reaction of the local people was that they just didn’t want to have rock and roll concerts after the riot -- they were too much trouble. A short time after the riot, I tried to bring some popular jazz groups to San Jose State to play at Morris Daley Auditorium. I wanted to bring in Dave Brubeck. But the administration at SJS would have nothing to do with it. They didn’t seem to realize that Dave Brubeck didn’t attract the same kind of crowd that went to see Fats Domino. They just didn’t understand. They were afraid of another riot.

Margaret Myer(San Jose)
On July 1, 1956, my family moved to san Jose from the Chicago area. While my parents were looking for a new home, we stayed at the Hotel De Anza. That’s where we were on the night of July 7. We had dinner at Original Joe’s that night. When we returned to the hotel, the nearby streets were very congested. As we entered the lobby, I remember seeing a young man dripping blood. From our hotel room window, we looked down on the Palomar Gardens. We wanted to see what was going on so briefly we went down to Notre Dame street. However, we soon decided to return to our room where we continued to watch the scene around the Palomar Gardens from the window. That was our welcome to San Jose -- a riot.”

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