Since 1948, Balboa Bay Club has served as a private retreat for area residents and many celebrities through the years.
By Sharon Stello
Set on 15 waterfront acres, Balboa Bay Club boasts a private marina, beach and pools as well as a members-only restaurant; luxury amenities like a full-service spa, state-of-the-art fitness center, basketball and racquetball courts; and a full calendar of social events for adults, children and families. The club also has a storied past filled with visits by celebrities from actor John Wayne to former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
This year, the exclusive club marked its 75th anniversary with a “Blast from the Past” celebration in September.
“As Balboa Bay Club marks its 75th anniversary, we take a moment to appreciate the legacy it has built in Newport Beach,” says Kevin Martin, president of International Bay Clubs, the parent company of Balboa Bay Club. “Over the decades, we’ve created lasting memories and welcomed incredible members, from former presidents to community leaders. Balboa Bay Club is not just a place; it’s a symbol of Newport Beach’s excellence. We’re excited about the future and sea of possibilities it holds. Here’s to the next 75 years of serving our community and welcoming generations of notable members and their families.”
Leticia Rice, general manager of Balboa Bay Club, sheds some light on the institution’s history.
“Debuting in 1948, Ken Kendall’s vision of an elite membership club in Newport Beach came to fruition. Balboa Bay Club transformed a dilapidated stretch of sand in Newport Beach to a welcoming and exciting private marina,” she notes. “While Orange County was still little known to the elite of Hollywood, that would all change as the club gained the interest of many of the day’s stars.”
Indeed, over time, the club began to attract famous actors and politicians who enjoyed spending time out of the limelight there. “Many celebrities are part of the history of the club with John Wayne leading the pack,” Rice shares. “His longstanding history with not only the club but with Newport Beach makes him a favorite subject when tales of the club are regaled by longtime members. He and Joey Bishop were both former governors of the club and would graciously serve as bartenders for the annual employee holiday party. [Actors] Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood often docked their boat at the club as did Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.”
The club continued to grow both in popularity and size, Rice continues, “from bungalows on the beach to a world-renowned resort.” The mid-1960s “brought a new era of living at the club as the residential apartments became the place to live in Newport Beach,” she says. Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, actress Dolores del Río and bandleaders Freddy Martin and David Rose all lived at the club at various times throughout its history. Today, the club has 145 residential apartments on-site featuring one-of-a-kind views of Newport Harbor.
“As the club continued to grow and become the place to be, many of the events grew with it,” Rice says. “In their heyday, the annual Governor’s Ball and Christmas Tree Ball saw members standing in line for a week just to get tickets. These days, events like our summer concert series and holiday family events sell out just as fast.”
The club has adapted and reacted to the ever-changing needs of its members. “Today’s events have grown from the traditions of old and, while we still have fan favorites like our annual Luau and Labor Day Carnival, these are now presented alongside new favorites like our Summer Concert Series, Winemaker Dinners, Father’s Day Car Show and many more,” Rice says.
In fact, the club’s resilience has been a key factor in its continued success. “Built upon the idea of offering an exclusive boating experience, the club is now so much more,” Rice explains. “Boasting a private marina, beach and pool as well as first-class dining, the club continues to offer its members an unparallel[ed] private club experience. The new state-of-the-art fitness center is just one of the recent improvements … which show our commitment to staying one step ahead of the needs of our members.”
About a decade ago, the club came under the stewardship of the Pickup and Martin families. “Since their purchase of the club in 2012, … [it] has continued to thrive,” Rice says.
“… The decision was made to rebrand the property as Balboa Bay Club and Balboa Bay Resort. While still operating as one unit and continuing to offer members the wonderful ‘Host of the Coast’ experience that they have come to know, the rebranding has helped to bring a new generation of travelers and locals alike to the property. Our community involvement has also flourished through the Balboa Bay Resort’s involvement in local Newport Beach events, including the recent 25th annual Fire and Lifeguard Appreciation Dinner hosted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.”
In addition to the festive event marking the anniversary in the fall, the club has been celebrating its milestone all year long. “Members have been scooping up all our limited-edition anniversary logo wear,” Rice says, “and are quick to sign up for all our private club events—especially the upcoming holiday activities.”