AFM Flashback: Lawrence Welk Landed in Santa Monica With a Dream in 1951

Lawrence Welk - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of LA Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library

In 1951, he'd brought his big band, the Champagne Music Makers, to the city's pier for a four-week gig at the Aragon Ballroom. He was a major hit, drawing crowds of 7,000, and the rest is history.

Near American Film Market HQ is the crown gem in Lawrence Welk’s L.A. County real estate empire.

At 100 Wilshire Blvd., next to the junction of Wilshire and Ocean Ave., sits the 21-story Lawrence Welk Plaza. Nearby, at 1221 Ocean, is the 16-story apartment building the Lawrence Welk Champagne Towers, and next to that an 11-story office building at 1299 Ocean called the Wilshire Palisades.

To say Welk did well in Santa Monica would be an understatement. In 1951, he brought his big band, the Champagne Music Makers, to the Santa Monica Pier for a four-week gig at the Aragon Ballroom. He was a major hit, drawing crowds of 7,000. The band was so successful it was offered a weekly program on KTLA that went national on ABC, running on the network for 27 years until 1982.

In that time, America became accustomed to Welk’s odd accent, folksy manner and the way he’d begin conducting by saying, “Ah one, ah two.” Welk’s gross income in 1956 was estimated to be in the millions, and he performed at President Eisenhower’s inaugural ball in 1957.

With the kind of money he was earning, one could buy a lot of 1950s Santa Monica real estate. Welk invested wisely. “My dad drove through Santa Monica every night on the way to the Aragon Ballroom where he was playing,” recalls son Larry Welk. “He loved the ocean views.”

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Oct. 31 daily issue at the American Film Market.