Through legal maneuvering, the Cuckoo’s Nest delays the revocation of its live entertainment permit, but only for a time

Roach and Williams didn’t go down without a fight, and their persistent efforts even enabled punk rock to briefly resurface for a moment at the Cuckoo’s Nest (time enough to host Henry Rollins’ first performance with Black Flag). They embarked on a lengthy legal appeal of the City of Costa Mesa’s revocation of the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit. The Cuckoo’s Nest’s appeal was a constitutional challenge contending that the City of Costa Mesa violated the Cuckoo’s Nest’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The theory was that dancing was a form of protected speech.The Cuckoo’s Nest hired a young local Constitutional lawyer named Ronald Talmo, based out of Santa Ana, to pursue the legal appeal. Talmo immediately filed a lawsuit against the City of Costa Mesa after the City Council temporarily revoked the Cuckoo’s Nest’s permit on February 17, 1981. With that lawsuit, the Cuckoo’s Nest sought a preliminary injunction against the City of Costa Mesa. If the Court granted the preliminary injunction, the City would have been prohibited from enforcing its decision to revoke the Cuckoo’s Nest live entertainment permit, which would allow the Cuckoo’s Nest to hold live entertainment until the courts resolved the legal appeal. At first, Talmo’s legal strategy ran into a brick wall. On March 6, 1981, the Orange County Superior Court judge assigned to the case denied the Cuckoo’s Nest’s request for a preliminary injunction, and found no violation of the Cuckoo’s Nest’s First Amendment Rights. Talmo then appealed the Superior Court judge’s adverse decision to the California Court of Appeals. In yet another disappointing setback, the appellate Court turned down the Cuckoo’s Nest’s appeal.

But Roach and Williams would not give up. Talmo then filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court. In late April 1981, the California Supreme Court granted the Cuckoo’s Nest’s appeal. The effect was that the City’s revocation of the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit was temporarily suspended. The California Supreme Court essentially authorized the Cuckoo’s Nest to hold punk shows, at least until the Court of Appeals reconsidered the Cuckoo’s Nest’s appeal. The Supreme Court decision (temporarily) saved the Cuckoo’s Nest in more ways than one. According to one reporter, the McDuck Corporation was about to sell the Cuckoo’s Nest to investors who intended to remake the club into a “cowboy bar”!  (“Closed Punk Rock Club Can Reopen,” Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1981.)  The sale was to occur the night the Supreme Court’s decision came down. Roach was elated, claiming that “I had given up and was going to sell it tonight. This is like a movie script.”  (“Closed Punk Rock Club Can Reopen: State Supreme Court Grants Limited Stay to the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1981.)  In the interim, the Cuckoo’s Nest had been shut down for over two months.

The City’ s direct assault on the Cuckoo’s Nest spurred Roach into open defiance of the City. As Roach recalled during his 1981 interview for the documentary Urban Struggle, “They tried to get rid of me. Actually, that’s why I sort of turned radical. I spent most of my time trying to placate them, and make them happy, and keep it under control. But once they tried to get rid of me, then I kind of let it go wild. And I really just wanted to shove punk rock right up their ass.” And so the Cuckoo’s Nest booked a punk show on the first Friday night it could (May 1, 1981): T.S.O.L., the Hated, and Agent Orange played that night. There was a pervasive sense of jubilation on the night the Cuckoo’s Nest reopened.

Talmo’s legal maneuvers got the Cuckoo’s Nest an additional six months of life. Crowds swelled initially, due in large part to the sensationalistic media coverage of the City’s attempt to revoke the Cuckoo’s Nest’s permit. Arrests also skyrocketed: for example, police made 90 arrests of punks around the Cuckoo’s Nest on the weekend of October 24-25, 1980.  (“Embattled Punk-Rock Club Still Open—Barely,” Los Angeles Times, December 4, 1981.)  The conflict between the City and the Cuckoo’s Nest only intensified during this period.

However, the heavy police presence eventually started to affect audience turnout—in the final days of the Cuckoo’s Nest, weekend shows reportedly attracted 40-60 persons, when in its heyday, the Cuckoo’s Nest would draw over 300.  (“Embattled Punk-Rock Club Still Open—Barely,” Los Angeles Times, December 4, 1981.)

In or about November 1981, the Court of Appeals finally issued a decision in the appeal filed by the Cuckoo’s Nest. Not surprisingly, the Court of Appeals turned down the Cuckoo’s Nest’s appeal. The revocation of the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit would be effective December 9, 1981.

Having exhausted all legal appeals, Roach finally threw in the towel after about nine months of courtroom fighting. The McDuck Corporation sold the club to one Joe Yukech, who transformed the Cuckoo’s Nest into the Concert Factory in March 1982, which became “a haven for polite teens trying to out-conform each other.”  (“Club’s New Image Lures a New Crowd,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1980.)  Mods and rockabilly kids took over the dance floor formerly ruled by the punks doing the Huntington Beach strut. All was well for the City and local businesses: “neither group professes to threaten the establishment.”  (“Club’s New Image Lures a New Crowd,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1980.) Yukech refused to book punk shows, too afraid of a confrontation with the City of Costa Mesa. “We’ve spent a lot of effort trying to erase the old Cuckoo’s Nest image,” Yukech said.  (“Club’s New Image Lures a New Crowd,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1980.)

After a few years, the Concert Factory folded, and things would get even worse for the punk ghosts haunting the old Cuckoo’s Nest—Zubietta turned the place into a pizza parlor, the last indignity he would inflict on Orange County punk. For his part, Roach would stick with the club business, but did not return to punk rock. Roach continued to operate Radio City in Anaheim, which featured New Wave, metal, and hard rock bands.

In 1998 the structure at 1714 Placentia Avenue was demolished, without much of a farewell. “It was a great club, a lot of cool memories, but nobody really cares anymore,” were the parting words of T.S.O.L.’s Jack Grisham.  (“Yawn Farewell for Old Punk Room,” Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1998.)

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