1970 – 1975 The Raintree Years
Editor’s Note: I get a bit descriptive with a subject in this chapter so if you don’t want to read anything that I would classify as semi-adult language, don’t read on. Just to be clear, there were never any Hippies at The Raintree.
Soon after my success with Production Data Systems, in mid-1969, I started going out almost every night. I had broken up with a girl I had been with for over two years and I was ready to hit the road. Actually, she broke up with me, but that’s another story.
I have no idea how I found The Raintree, it was in Torrance and I lived in Fox Hills about ten miles away by freeway. But I did find it, and by 1970/71 it was the center of most things that happened to me for the next four years. I first started going there in 1969 and it became my hangout.
The Raintree had been started by two men who thought they were opening a large piano bar with a beautiful feature in the center. You can see my rendition of it above.
In the center of a round area, about twenty feet in diameter and three steps below the rest of the club’s floor, was a huge Raintree made of plastic lines with glycerin drops running down the lines. The Raintree was from the ceiling to the floor and that made it very large and about twelve-foot-high display. The top ring on the ceiling was about six feet on diameter and the ring on the floor was about three feet in diameter.
It was really something to see and very romantic. The image I drew above is not a Martini glass with lines, it’s my rendition of the Raintree and it doesn’t do it justice, you really had to be there. The actual plastic lines were clear and the glycerin was also clear.
Immediately around the tree was an aisle and against the inside wall of the area were curved red leather booth type bench seating with curved tables designed for two people. I think there was seating for about twenty-four with all the seating facing the Raintree.
There was a piano bar in the corner of the bar and no dance floor when they opened. The place was packed every night from the day they opened to the day I walked in the first time. By then they had a small dance floor and a three-piece group replaced the piano bar.
As the managing owner and his staff got to know me as a very regular customer, I started running a tab. I continued to go to the Raintree almost every night of the week and I would pay my bar tab when it reached $1000.00.
It started reaching the grand about once a month and my accountant jokingly suggested that I should just buy the place. I didn’t think about it because of my experience in the bar business before, but then The Raintree wasn’t a beer bar, it was a cocktail lounge, it wasn’t a small dive, it was three times bigger than the Plush Bunny and a lot classier.
At the time, I was hanging out with a guy I had met in Culver City a few years before who also owned his own company. While we would generally end up at the Raintree, he and I would go to other clubs always searching for new women. (Yes, searching for new women)
We never went anywhere together, he had a Cadillac and I had a Cadillac. When we were both at any club, the girls who knew us would find us. Yes, they would look for us. We actually had a group of about five or six girls who would seek us out or try to find out where we were going to be. They knew the later it got the more likely we would be at The Raintree.
The group would change over time with some dropping off and new ones jumping on. I won’t go any further than to say, yes, we were more than friends, with all of them, but he and I had our own in the group. We didn’t share. And there were so many out there to get to know, what a life! These women were someone’s daughter, they had jobs, they were secretaries, nurses and clerk typists. They were just average ordinary young women.
One day I was having lunch with my mom at the Rueben’s in Torrance and she was ragging on me about why I wouldn’t settle back down with the “right” kind of woman. At that moment two women walked in dressed to the tens. I mean really class acts. I asked my mom, “you mean like one of them.”
She looked over and she said “YES!!!! That’s what I’m talking about.” I then called them over to the table and introduced them to my mom. She was shocked, but not like she was later when I told her they were hookers. Yes, I knew hookers, but I didn’t partake.
Both he and I made a lot more money than the average guy and we were both big spenders. I can still hear my mother screeching that my female “friends” were only my “friends” because of the money I spent buying drinks. Maybe she was right, but even if she was, it was money well spent.
The reason I wrote what I just wrote wasn’t to try and say I was some kind of Don Juan, but instead it was about the time. If a man, back then, would get busted and sued for every girl he invited to his apartment to have a few drinks, smoke some pot or whatever else they may choose to do, ninety percent of them would be in jail for rape according to today’s rules. (Think Bill Cosby)
Inviting women to see your etchings was a joke line used as a subject in movies from the 1930’s till James Bond quit having sex and M became a woman. It was part of life, it will always be part of life and the feminist lesbians will never change that. They’ll just get more men sued.
Back then women were women and they didn’t cry over spilled milk. They all knew they were part of a larger decision that was made each time the decision was made. Why would anyone assume women always tell the truth? They are famous for their scorn and immense lies when wounded and hurt.
In fact, one of my favorite stories is about a girl who was a regular at the club. It came to a point that she and others would tell me all their problems. One night she came up to me crying the blues because some guy she liked was now gone after a one night stand. Before I continue let me say this first.
As a bar owner, you see people at their best and at their worst, but you see a lot of people. Eventually seeing all these people, you start to see things that a customer probably doesn’t see. An example is a very overweight woman who was also not so good looking. I would notice her when she would sit at a table and sit at the bar. She usually didn’t sit in the same place when she came in. She would order her drinks and then leave later that night.
During the entire time I ran The Raintree I never saw a man ask her to dance, buy her a drink or even just talk to her. It got to a point where I was rooting for her hoping each night it would change. I knew the one thing we had in common was we could be hurt. That goes for all of us, we can all be hurt.
For her it was a different kind of hurt but I know deep in my heart it happened every night she went home and went to bed. She is the reason I created a saying about hitting the pillow.
“When your head hits the pillow, you can’t lie to yourself any longer. When your head hits the pillow, you know the truth. When your head hits the pillow and you face the truth, you may start crying.”
I’ve told people various versions of my saying, it always gets the attention it deserves because it’s true.
Back to our little cry baby crying about the one night stand. I told her about women who never are asked to talk, to have a drink or to dance. I told her she should be happy she was good looking enough to have all that happen to her every time she goes out, but she should probably take the time to read the book before she hops into bed.
That is a perfect segue to my unscientific thesis about all people being books. That’s right, you’re a book, I’m a book, we are all our own book. Some of us have a better-looking cover than others and all our covers look different. What’s inside the book is who we are. It’s what makes us who we are and it’s a history of our life.
When people go out they are, at first, attracted to the books cover of the opposite sex or not attracted. But when they are, they usually find out a way to take the book off the shelf and flip through the pages. That means they take the time to get to know you. That doesn’t happen on one night stands and both men and women should be wary about that, or not.
So, if you really want to get to know someone, you must take the time to read their book and don’t pay as much attention to their cover. That doesn’t mean to ignore the cover, humans can’t help how they react to an unknown entity, they just react. That’s called nature and that’s good thing.
After a while The Raintree started losing business. Losing business in the rock club world means losing the females and where the females go the men will follow. My friends and I had started going to Rueben’s in Redondo Beach and it soon became our new hang out. It’s still 1970 or early 1971.
One night one of the owners of the Raintree walked into Rueben’s and told me his story of woe and asked why I hadn’t been there. Business was down and they weren’t making any money so he was really in the dumps. By the end of the conversation I offered to buy in. He declined the offer.
Don’t ask me why I made the offer, I just did.
A few weeks later the other owner, the silent partner, walked into Rueben’s, sought me out and we talked about business at the Raintree and how I could help. He was really interested in doing business with me and he suggested we meet with the other partner, the one who had turned down my offer.
A few days later we all met for lunch and hammered out a deal. I would not become involved if either of them had anything to do with running the club in any way. I would be the managing partner, they would both be silent partners and stay out of The Raintree. Key words, “stay out of The Raintree.” I agreed I would keep it afloat and would invest to remodel The Raintree and run it with no interference.
They both agreed and we shook hands, but I didn’t take the time to get the agreement on paper, but we planned on doing that later.
For the next three or four weeks, I worked on the remodeling plan and kept The Raintree afloat. Finally, as planned we closed The Raintree on a Thursday night, actually Friday morning at 2:00 AM and started the remodeling project.
I had hired all the workers to work straight through till Tuesday 24 hours a day. That gave us four days and 19 hours till the new grand opening of The Raintree.
We worked our asses off to get the remodeling job done on time, it was a huge remodel. It included:
We removed the Raintree and built, inserted, a round dance floor with a false bottom floor and a plexiglass top. It was twenty feet in diameter and replaced the seating area with the steps now going down to a twenty-foot diameter round dance floor.
Underneath the plexiglass, I installed all red lights and had to figure out how to replace the lights as they burned out. I decided to use bulbs sold for 220 volt electrical systems. I then installed a 220 Volt, 120 Watt light and it would burn as bright as a 60 watt 110 bulbs, but last much longer.
We also built
A new twenty-foot-wide stage by fifteen feet deep.
A new stage curtain that would open and close with a foot switch.
Installed more six person booths where the old piano bar dance floor was.
Remodeled the bathrooms
Re-carpeted the entire Raintree with new red carpet.
Converting the pool room to seating and tables to allow more seating.
I basically changed the Raintree into what looked like a Las Vegas Lounge. The crew was taking Benzedrine (Bennies) to stay awake to finish the project. Probably something I wouldn’t do today.
While I was planning the remodel I also designed the outfits the waitresses would wear. Miniskirts or Hot Pants and boots were in vogue at the time, but I didn’t want to go there. Instead I went for a bare midriff. I designed a hip hugger below the naval, black satin bell bottom pant outfit with a red pleat on the lower side of the pants. The top was a bikini top with a red fold. See picture.
The girls had to go to the dressmaker and be fitted for their new outfits and the outfits determined who would stay or go. From that point on all the waitresses had to look great in the outfit besides being one of the best waitresses in town. They didn’t wear them until the grand re-opening.
I also changed the way we rang up charges on the cash register and gave each station (waitress) a separate key on the register. I also had the doormen keep track of how many people were in the club by having one clicker counting those coming in and another clicker for counting those leaving.
Each half hour they would write their numbers on a log. The difference between the two was how many people were still in the club at that time. This is where the systems side of me kicked in. I kept tabs of each station by time and number of people in the club. After a while averages came up and I could keep track of the waitresses.
I sent out specially raised letter invitations to about three hundred people to attend the grand opening of the new Raintree. It was to start at 9:00 PM on a Tuesday night. We finished on time and we were still laying carpet as the guests were arriving.
When I first started managing The Raintree there were about seven clubs that were in competition with each other in the South Bay region. All the owners had kind of a mini Mafia in that they all agreed to certain points of membership.
They agreed to only pay a maximum of $750 a week for entertainment. They also agreed to not hire any waitress or bartender that any other of them had fired. In that way, they held sway over anyone who tried to work in the South Bay area.
They also had an unofficial rule that when any of the owners showed up at any other owner’s club they would be treated like VIP’s. They and their entourage would not wait in line. They would not pay any door fee on Friday or Saturday’s. They would be treated like major Mafia types with their own tables kept away from all the rest.
Then I showed up on the scene and told them I would not be a member of their organization and that I would run my business without their blessing. They did not like that at all.
I also told them I would hire anyone I decided regardless if any other club owner had fired them or not. I immediately became the target of their collective vengeance and maybe rightfully so, at least in their mind. I can’t prove it was them, but I received death threats every once in a while. The first one was a phone call by some unknown man who said, “If you go to the Raintree tonight, you won’t make it to the door.” It does give you the creeps, but ya gotta go.
I increased the entertainment budget to $1800 a week plus a two-bedroom apartment. Why the two-bedroom apartment? Because I decided to not hire any local South Bay groups. That decision sent shock waves through all the other owners.
At the time, L.A, was a place where you could see the greatest talent in the world, and the worst. There was not so much an in between. I had found out there was a circuit of club entertainment groups that worked outside of the L.A., Hollywood area. These groups worked Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, St. Louis, Oklahoma and other second city cities. They got up to $5000 a week.
But when they came to L.A./Hollywood they couldn’t get that kind of money because they weren’t name bands. These bands all had aspirations of making it big and that meant they had to come to L.A./Hollywood to record or to sell their recordings to a label. They were my target bands.
No other South Bay club owner had ever gone out of town to hire any group, I did. I brought a group named The Burgundy Express from Seattle. Another group I found out side of San Francisco, Nooney Ricket and the Noon Express had also worked Las Vegas. Another as close as the San Fernando Valley, called Stark Naked and the Car Thieves. Some were show bands and some were top forty bands, they were all dance bands and they all made the local bands look like amateur night.
When these bands came to L.A/Hollywood looking for a record deal, they needed money to survive and I gave them survival money and an apartment. It worked out great for them and me. I was getting a $5000 a week band and they were getting their stay in L.A/Hollywood paid for by working at The Raintree.
I also adopted a booking policy to book the bands for two to four weeks. This meant if I kept the entertainment the best in the South Bay, the people would show up.
The little mafia guys didn’t understand that the instant an owner decides to provide entertainment, he is no longer in the booze business. He is in the entertainment business. People can go anywhere for a drink, but they will go to a night club that has the best entertainment more often. Vegas has proved that.
The other club owners got the message and started changing their entertainment policies, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t step up and pay what I did.
To make a long story short, The Raintree became the place to go in the South Bay and the little mafia guys didn’t like that at all. In fact, some in the Torrance Police Department didn’t like it either.
I decided the bands that put on a show, would do so on Monday night to not interfere with the dance club aspect during the rest of the week. When I booked a band that was a great band, but no show, I borrowed a skit that the Burgundy Express had done as part of their show called the Miss Tits America pageant. It became so popular we broke our door and bar record on a Monday night.
The pageant was run as close to the real thing as we could. The Master of Ceremonies was dressed in white tie and tails. We had a red robe we would wrap around the winner, a dozen long stems roses and a trophy. The winner would walk around the dance floor while the MC sang “There she goes TITS America” and the crowd ate it up.
During the Miss Tits America night, girls would sometime take their tops off. We knew it was against the law and I told the master of ceremonies to immediately get the girl to put her top back on.
Word got to the Torrance Police Department that I was running some kind of nude show, which wasn’t true. The girls who volunteered to participate in the contest were customers and were told not to remove their tops, but all women never listen all the time.
One day I got word that the vice squad was sending someone to the next MTA contest and would bust me if anything happened. I had eyes on every one who arrived that night and we knew the three guys who were the police. I told the MC to get them to volunteer as judges and as hard as the police tried not to, the crowd yelled and screamed until each one them gave in.
That meant they could not do anything because they were a part of what was going on. Nothing happened that night but more importantly they left me alone after that. They knew it was all in fun with no X rated stuff. If they were going to bust anyone it would have to be the contestant.
All this may sound horrible today, but I was doing what I needed to do to stay in business. The original owners had no idea what they had created and didn’t know how to keep it going when the going got tough and this business is a dog eat dog business.
Key to owning a full-blown night club with class entertainment requires knowing what you need to keep the business going. In one word, it’s females.
I gave orders that on slow night if one two or more girls came in we would automatically do what was needed to keep them in The Raintree. An example is when two girls come in, as soon as they finished their first drink we would give them a chance to order another or buy them a round. If necessary, we would do it all night.
This keeps the girls in The Raintree and out of my competitor’s place and typically they would end up having fun. But how do you get the girls to come in in the first place?
First, the bands had to be top quality. The band members must attract women and could not bring any girl friends or wives to work. If two couples were going out for the night and they asked each other where they should go, I wanted one of them to say The Raintree. If one asked who’s playing there, I wanted them to not care because they would know the entertainment was always of top quality.
Other factors are in play and I didn’t miss any of them. In the beginning getting customers to leave the beach area and come inland just four miles was difficult. So, I went to the bars on the beach and looked for the best looking popular bartenders I could find. When I found one I would try and hire them. I had a really good looking team of bartenders.
I would also hire four very good looking girls to go to other nightclubs along the beach and have a good time meeting the guys. Just when the guys would make a move they would say, “We’re out of here, we’re going to the Raintree.” The men would follow.
One time I caught one of my beach bartenders stealing. He was a special guy and he and I had become friends. A few times we even went out bar hopping together and that made his stealing even worse.
I called him into my office and showed him the evidence I had and after talking a while, he admitted it. I asked him why he would steal from me. I asked him if he needed more money. When he said yes to that I gave him a raise. I didn’t fire him.
Thinking he was going to be fired, he was caught off guard when I put his friendship ahead of business. His eyes welled up and he thanked me. He also swore he would never do it again. As far as I know, he never did.
An acquaintance of mine, Howard Rumsey had opened a club in Redondo Beach called Concerts by the Sea. It started out as a large jazz club because Howard had been the main man during the success of a club called The Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach. The Lighthouse became the number one club associated with West Coast Jazz in the late fifties.
Every once in a while I would to go to Concerts and visit Howard. We chatted about business as his club was going down the drain and The Raintree was hauling in all kinds of money.
As a jazz buff myself, I hated to see him in trouble, but he didn’t cop out and stayed with jazz as long as he could. I, on the other hand was just a business man who may have loved jazz, but knew I couldn’t make money with jazz. So, while I didn’t cop out, I chose to go with Top Forty.
At the same time, because I loved jazz and especially the big band era, I started Big Bands at The Raintree on Sunday afternoons from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM.
It turned out to be a great success. Some of the great big band musicians showed up including a trumpet player named Cat Anderson who had played for the Duke Ellington band.
I still can’t remember who it was who helped me start the Sunday thing, it could have been an agent named Howard King or it could have been Rumsey. I would sit there amazed at the change in clientele on Sunday afternoons. All older farts, but they loved to dance at The Raintree to forties music and had a ball.
Back then the DUI laws hadn’t stiffened up yet and normal people could go out and have a few drinks and enjoy themselves without worrying about their life being ruined.
What had happened was I had created two more Friday or Saturday nights with the Monday night show and the Sunday afternoon Big Bands. Because of the out of city bands I was hiring, Wednesday and Thursdays were busy nights too.
Running the most popular nightclub in the South Bay of L.A., I was like a mini Hugh Hefner. I was thirty-two, fairly good looking and very virile. I was the king of Mars. I had become a total atheist, very liberal and while I wasn’t registered, I considered myself a Democrat.
I came to believe two types of people exist on this planet, I still do. Earthians and Martians. Earthians are made up of people who have roots, who would work 50 weeks a year, buy homes, plan for their future and have two weeks off for a vacation.
Martians, on the other hand, have no roots, they rent apartments and typically work where Earthians go to have fun. Martians are more of a “live for today and to hell with tomorrow” type. To make my point clearer, you could ask an Earthian to lend you 5 dollars and he would probably tell you why he couldn’t do it. Ask a Martian and even if it was the last five bucks he had, he probably would. If he knew you, he would lend you the money and the shirt off his back.
Earthians and Martians exist side by side happily today. In fact, the last time you went shopping you may have bumped into a Martian.
From 1965 to 1975 this country went through some amazing changes. In 1965 I turned 27 years of age and in 1975 I turned thirty-seven. I was at the perfect age to reap the harvest of that era. What a ten-year period it was. But the changes had slowly started as far back as the forties, after WWII.
Allan Sherman wrote a book that was published in 1973, “The Rape of the A.P.E.” This book described what had happened in America. The book description on Amazon puts it this way:
“The Rape of the A*P*E* (American Puritan Ethic) is the ultimate sex book. It is the hilarious but true story of 27 salacious years of American history – the Sex Revolution – America’s longest and hottest war. Allen Sherman: “There is a brief but telling instant when a boy is taking off a girl’s underpants, during which she must give her assistance; if she doesn’t lift her behind a split second, it is impossible.
Ours was a nation of girls who would rather die than openly contribute to their own seduction. It is a tribute to the girls of 1940 that they learned how to lift their asses without seeming to be lifting their asses. Sometimes they did it with a ho-hum and a stretch, pretending to be utterly bored, meanwhile shifting their position just long enough for the expert panty snatcher to do his job.
I have witnessed it many times, this fantastic arabesque girls do and every time I am overwhelmed with the sheer creative artistry of it. It belongs among the great moments of ballet.”
What Sherman describes in his book is literally how America’s puritan ethic got raped by the sexual revolution and then the hippie America haters were formed into an ideology that we are all paying for today. I read the entire book in one night back in 73, I was captivated by it.
I didn’t realize then the utter destruction of America that was being formed in the image of sexual freedom, women’s rights, gay rights and a loss of honor, honesty and respect in America.
I was just there for the ride.
I left the Raintree in 1975 after an argument with one of the silent partners. There was a lot more to it than I’m willing to discuss so we’ll leave it at that, but remember when I said we didn’t put our agreement in writing when we shook hands? Ya just can’t trust some people.
I was heading for the valley of broke people again.
During my time at the Raintree my partners and I also got involved with a high-end restaurant named Gallaretto’s. That’s next.