Monday, June 25, 2012

"30,000 Youths Rock Zuma Beach": The Zuma "Radio Station" Riot of 1961

(Source:  Evening Outlook, June 6, 1961; Courtesy of the Santa Monica Library Archives)
Dateline: Zuma Beach, Malibu, Calif.  Sat., June 3, 1961.


“KRLA deejays hyped a "beachcomber's ball and grunion hunt" at Zuma Beach, set for June 3, 1961, with pop stars like Fabian set to sing and other local pop acts providing dance music for the teens who were expected to attend. KRLA had estimated a crowd of 2,000 people, at most 10,000. Instead, 25,000 people showed up at Zuma Beach, not all teens, not all well-behaved. Newspapers referred to it as a fully-fledged riot. Local constabulary and lifeguards were attacked with sand-packed beer cans. Restrooms were trashed, lifeguard stands dismantled, and illegal fireworks tossed into the crowd with mad abandon.” (source:


"Teen Riots" cite/link:

Scroll down to the third headlined story entitled:


Warming Up for the 'Summer of Love'

LA TEENAGE REBELLION: In the spring of 1961, Southern California suddenly erupted from the valleys to the beaches in angry generational conflict. There were 11 so called 'teen riots' in six months--three of them, including Griffith Park in May, Zuma Beach in June and Alhambra in October, involved thousands of youth.


Yet while chief Parker was still fuming over 'Negro hoodlums', Gidget and 25,000 of her beach blanket friends were pelting sheriff's deputies and highway patrolmen with sand-packed beer cans. The weekend after the Griffith Park battle, Los Angeles' most popular rock and roll station invited listeners to a 'grunion derby' at Zuma Beach, near Malibu. KRLA expected about 2,000 to arrive on Saturday night--'instead 25,000, a conservative estimate, showed up'.  23 County Parks and Recreation officials prevented the sponsors from erecting a planned dance floor and bandstand, so the huge crowd was left to organise its own amusements. At midnight, the official beach closing time, sheriffs ordered the revellers to leave. The response was a fierce fusillade of beer cans and bottles. Fifty additional patrol cars had to be called in before the crowd dispersed.24 Although KRLA disputed the hair raising accounts of mayhem and near rape promulgated by county officials, the general perception was that the deputies had narrowly prevented 'an uncontrolled riot of frightening proportions'. 'Only by great good fortune,' claimed the Los Angeles Examiner, 'the fracas did not result in fatalities'.


"County Recurrent" first learned of this riot when LACo Veteran Recurrent (Ret.), Baby Dave Rochlen mentioned it in passing in an earlier story he wrote for our blog entitled, "The Zuma Beach Lifeguard of the 60's"

wherein Baby Dave concluded his remarks with the following rhetorical question and philosophical riff:

"How many guys got to experience the Radio Station Riots with just a skeleton crew of guards waiting for the motorcycle cops to arrive from town? Because squad cars could not reach Zuma since 101 was totally jammed with traffic all the way back to the Malibu Mayfair Market? How many guys got to witness Bob Hughes calming down a crowd of ho daddy’s with his calm, cool and collected manner? And that Brazilian guard who defended against a crowd of guys rushing a tower he was in? (Planted his foot into the chest of the lead guy rushing up the ramp knocking him backward into the close packed followers who then fell backward, ripping the rails off of the Guard tower ramp?"

In any event, with respect to the Riot of 1961, we have researched articles from both the Santa Monica Newspaper of the period, namely, the "Evening Outlook", as well as  the L.A. Times.  We've also received written remarks from the likes of Chief Bob Burnside, who was on duty and in charge that late afternoon of the riot, as well as the recollections and comments of Baby Dave, a rookie Zuma guard that spring/summer.  We are hoping to add additional remarks in the future but what we've been able to gather to date is both illuminating and entertaining.  So here goes:

Per Bob Burnside:

"For a month , KRLA had been broadcasting a grunion run and beach concert to be held a Zuma.  At that time, few people other than the Valley folks frequented Zuma.  Now all of Los Angeles was informed about the BIG BEACH PARTY… at Zuma.

Permits were obtained and the Department was notified.  At that time we were under the Parks and Recreation Dept. of LACO. Captain Kirby Temple (aka, Kirby) was the Area’s Captain, Lt. Goldie Fields the Lt.  Extra lifeguards were assigned to cover any water activity.

Crowds started to arrive early that day. Luckily the surf was small and at 5 pm Lt. Fields went off duty and I assumed his responsibilities for the remainder of that day.

As the crowds built , Captain Temple, having recently just married and his wife was alone in the county house on Westward beach, was concerned about the crowd and felt it best to go home. He left me in charge, having no idea that this might become a nightmare.

As the evening progressed...the crowds grew and grew.  We notified the LACO Sheriffs Dept. who dispatched additional cars to the area.  As the sun dropped down in the hprizon, the crowd became irritated awaiting the concert to start.. Unknown to all…was that the entire group of entertainers were stuck in a massive traffic jam...caused by thousands of Los Angeles residents who also had decided to see the concert on the beach.

The crowd got really rowdy and stated chanting and rocking Tower 4… I called Captain Temple and Lt Fields, but the highway and traffic was so congested, they felt it near impossible to return to Headquarters... and still didn't feel that anything unusual would occur…WRONG!

Tower 4 called in with a serious eye incident, a fire cracker had blown up and injured a girl.  I dispatched Bob Hughes and John Phillips in unit 5 to Tower 4.  On their arrival, the crowd now seeing our red lights and the Sheriffs red light and sirens, went crazy and started throwing everything at the units and tearing into the tower.  Hughes and Phillps were big dudes...and held of the crowd and closed up the tower... Prior to that, the Sheriffs seeing the possibility called for the riot squad.. Because of the traffic, most of them were on motorcycles.

We sent Unit 4, the beach unit to Tower 1 and loaded up as many Sheriffs as possible. After all the deputies were in place at the water line below Tower 4, the Sheriff’s gave a whistle and load speaker warning, "CLEAR THE BEACH AREA!" The deputies then started moving toward the parking lot.  Anyone that refused to move "GOT CLOBBERED" and handcuffed.

It only took around 15 minutes for the Sheriffs to clear the sand..The crowd then dispersed without further incidents...leaving behind a thrashed beach and facilities damaged. At the end of that evening, I recall we had administered first aid to over two dozen injured… six of them seriously and two were transported via ambulance to Santa Monica.

The next morning the L.A. TIMES and other reporters interview Captain Temple about the riot.  He made a mistake in commenting "They all should be put into the Coliseum, given baseball bats and let them riot there while we watch from the stadium seats."

That didn't settle too well with the many church bus loads of kids... as their parishes screamed to the LA Board of Supervisors about Captains Temple’s racially slanted comments. We were now in for a witch hunt.

The bottom line after many weeks of investigation, Captain Temple was disciplined for, as they put it, neglecting to assume command under an emergency and for improper remarks.  Kirby got suspended without pay for 30 days and on his return was so bitter over the issue, he started his plans to retire.. doing so near a year later to that riot date."

Per Baby Dave Rochlen:

"Let me just say, I was frightened for MY LIFE and was totally busy doing first aid and protecting myself, locked in my tower.....didn't give a thought to taking photos of anything or anybody.

That article you included was in correct in its statement about 50 additional police cars called in to finish off the night. It was absolutely impossible for ANY four wheeled vehicle to travel up Pacific Coast Highway since people had abandoned their vehicles as far back as Malibu Mayfair Market (7 miles away from Zuma) and tried to walk into the event. These grid locked vehicles included empty cars parked on the shoulder of the road. CHP Motorcycle Division was called and were the only additional personnel who made it up to Zuma. And, there were about 50 of those guys.  Pretty Big Guys, those solo bike officers. They weaved in and out and all about and made it up to Zuma. Once there, they proceeded to muster at the north end of the beach, way up by Trancas.They parked their bikes, formed a line from the parking lot to the ocean and slowly made their way towards Point Dume, forcing all in their path to start heading South.  That took awhile but finally worked.

Also, in the article there was a reference to physical assaults.  Some of these occurred back by the restrooms, pretty far away from the security of my tower. My first and only two attempts to try and intervene were met by a hail of those sand filled beer cans and cursing threats and "weapons waving" directed at me. I called HQT for  direction and was instructed to stay in my tower with the doors locked. The appearance of Bob Hughes, calmly stepping out of the Rescue Truck near my tower to DIRECTLY confront the crowd, calmed everything down around me, in Tower Four.

I will not comment on the response or lack of response to the phone call HQT made to Captain Temples home at Westward Beach early in the evening. Anyone wearing a white hat that evening was at such a disadvantage simply because 12-15 Lifeguards, 10 or so Sheriff's on hand vs. 25,000 to 30,000 drunk and rowdy non beach people from the Valley and inland LA just didn't work out for keeping a lid on anything.

Dave Rochlen

Also, from Dave:

I don't think that anyone really wants me to describe the physical assaults that I witnessed or the brutal beatings I observed or the details of the first aid service I provided to the guys who were beaten and wounded - the same guys who shortly before were throwing stuff at me, cursing me and trying to draw me out of my tower by trying to tip my tower over.

And we would be remiss if we did not share an amusing recent conversation between Burnside and Rochlen about this 1961 Riot, as follows:

From: David Rochlen
Date: 6/19/2012
Subject: Re: Radio Station Riots - Zuma Beach, June 1961

I thought I was in tower 4 earlier in the day.  Bob Hughes was sent down in the truck to "save" me and John Phillips is the guy who planted his foot in the guys chest rushing his tower knocking him back and into the rest of the guys who were behind him.  They all fell back grabbing the hand rails which ended up being ripped off of the tower ramp.


Date: 6/19/2012
To: David Rochlen
Subject: Re: Radio Station Riots - Zuma Beach, June 1961

Yes... I remember sticking your ugly face in tower 4... hoping they would kick your ass...   Bob

And finally, after I sent Dave the following photos from Zuma that I took this past weekend (June 23, 2012) at the Tower #4 area, he had the following additional remarks:

"I noticed the date of this event and realized that I was a Brand New Guard, having just recently graduated from Santa Monica High School the week before. So, this was my introduction to lifeguarding and did I need some guidance and support dealing with the Riot and related activities.  Even though the tower was close to the bathroom, that area was a no mans land.  Shoot, anywhere off of your tower was a no mans land. In the photos you sent (above), the tower is alot closer to the water than back in the day when it was positioned closer to the wall separating the food stand and the tower."



Newspaper Articles:

The Evening Outlook, Monday, June 6, 1961:
"30,000 Youth Rock Zuma Beach"
Police, Deputies Quell 30,000 Zuma Revelers
"A beach party attended by some 30,000 teenagers and young adults, many of them intoxicated on beer and wine, got out of hand at Zuma Beach County Park Saturday nitght and almost erupted into a major riot.  Only the arrival of heavy sheriff's department and California Highway Patrol reinforcements prevented an outfight mob attack on police trying to quiet the rampaging crowd, officers said...  The thousands upon thousands of young people, mostly attired in T-shirts and shorts and barefooted had gathered at the beach for a combination "rock n' roll" and "grunion hunting" party sponsored by radio station KRLA of Pasadena."

Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1961:
"Near-Riot at Zuma Beach Blamed on Failure to Meet Regulations"
"Capt. Kirby Temple of the county lifeguard service, who was present at the melee, declared: "When you get that many kids together, there's bound to be trouble --- especially when they're predominantly male", he said, adding, "I've hard that a lot of the kids knew exactly how many Sheriff's deputies were going to be there.  Those kids were crammed shoulder-to-shoulder.  If an officer had gone in there, he probably wouldn't have come out."

The Evening Outlook, Monday, June 6, 1961:
"Police Rout 30,000 Revelers At Zuma Beach"

The Evening Outlook, Monday, June 6, 1961:
"Stiff Riot Law Sought By County"
Zuma Outbreak Sparks Study
"Supervisor Burton W. Chace today demanded tough new county laws to
prevent a recurrence of the near-riot of teenagers and young adults at Zuma Beach
Saturday night."

The Evening Outlook, June 7, 1961
Opinion by J.D. Funk, GM, The Evening Outlook
"About The Trouble At Zuma Beach"
"Society in general and youth in particular got a black eye Saturday night at Zuma Beach County Park.  No amount of statistical beefsteak or "We're sorry about the whole thing" will reduce the swelling.... What really happened is still vague.  But liquor, emotions that teenagers can't handle and supervisorial laxity on the part of adults all contributed to an ugly incident... The radio station apparently abetted curfew violations, since grunion hunting wasn't due to start until 2:30 a.m."

and one of our favorite lines from this Opinion, "Maybe there would be fewer ugly blots against teenagers if commercial enterprise stopped exploiting the and inflating the sense of their own importance."


Wow!  What a miracle that none of our guards got seriously injured that afternoon and evening of this riot.  Many Thanks to Bob Burnside and Baby Dave for their exceptional contributions to this article.  We are hopeful of adding new material in the coming days and months from other guards and other resource material as they become available.


Until next time.....

"County Recurrent" News

Service • Training • Commitment

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