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This week, for the first time in maybe 17 or 18 years, San Clemente’s historic Casino ballroom will come alive to music and dancing. Casino san.

The dome-shaped structure at 140 W. Avenida Pico looks a bit different – for now – than it did in 1937 when Sterling Young and his orchestra lured Southern California dance fanatics to San Clemente’s then-new tourist attraction by the sea.

Admission was 40 cents then. “A smart distinctive innovation for pleasure on Southern California’s beautiful south coast,” an advertisement proclaimed. “Located at the westerly entrance to San Clemente, the Sun-Tan Village by the Sea.”

LAB Holding, which acquired the shuttered property last summer, is restoring the building intent on opening it in late 2010 as a restaurant and special-events venue. LAB’s Shaheen and Linda Sadeghi have repainted the Casino, cleared away debris that had piled up on the grounds and added landscaping. They aim to restore the interior based on photographic evidence.

Thursday evening – New Year’s Eve – the nonprofit San Clemente Historical Society will offer visitors a sneak preview – a New Year’s Eve party in the former ballroom.

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Admission is $75. Call 949-498-0116. Cocktail attire is requested. The party, from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., will feature the Hot Pursuit Band, food from Carbonara Trattoria Italiana, a dessert bar, a cigar lounge, a midnight champagne toast and a no-host bar.

Although the former dance floor is carpeted now, the Sadeghis are looking to bring back the original hardwood, bringing back the dome as an entertainment venue and converting what once was the Casino’s restaurant – The Yacht Club, with its Patio of the Stars – into “a 4- to 5-star restaurant with a 3-star price point.”

They call the endeavor Sebastian’s at North Beach – a name special to them not just for the name of a former dinner playhouse on the site but because Sebastian is the name of their 14-year-old son.

“We want it to be a nicer, classier restaurant,” Shaheen said, “but I want it to have family and neighborhood pricing so it’s affordable. I want it to be special, but I don’t want it to be so special that people can’t afford to go.”

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The Casino evolved from ballroom dancing in the 1930s to surf music in the 1960s. The 1970s brought Sebastian’s West Dinner Playhouse, a role that lasted under different names until 1991 or 1992. A new owner, Richard Lee, modified the building around 2000, remaking it as an institute of health and well-being.

When the Sadeghis took possession last summer, they went right to work. Shaheen describes the restoration as akin to an archaeological mission. “As we learn more, it’s sort of like peeling the onion,” he said. Little by little, the Sadeghis are finding signs of latter-year modifications they aim to undo.

“They’ve been very receptive and very inquiring,” said Raad Ghantous, a Historical Society board member who has provided some of the historic evidence. “They’re very sensitive in how they are going about it.”

“What’s nice,” Shaheen said, “is that (the Casino) was originally designed for all of this. We’re taking the original vision and bringing it back. We have to figure out how things were modified and put it back to the original.”

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Anyone with pictures or vivid memories of having visited the Casino decades ago is invited to contact Mike Cotter of the Historical Society at 949-322-6009 or the Sadeghis at 714-966-6661.

“I would love to see if anybody has anything,” Shaheen said. “We’re totally on an archaeological path. We’ve got some good photos, but we could always use more. We need people with good memories.”

Posted by at 02:48AM

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