Before the days of weekly TNCs and sloppy Saturday nights, Claremont McKenna College students mainly attended four parties per year. According to former President Jack Stark, the parties were dry events that students rarely pre-gamed. Since the founding of the school in the 1940s to the early ‘60s, every grade hosted a different party for the student body. The freshmen class usually hosted the Beachcomber Ball, the sophomores held a Western themed party, the juniors organized the Starlight Ball and the seniors coordinated the still thriving Monte Carlo dance.
The Beachcomber Ball was also nicknamed “Islander’s Dance” for the tropical decorations and laid-back vibes. According to The Ayer, CMC’s yearbook, the decoration committee created an scene dubbed “Hbua Hbua” Island and surrounded the island with water, floating gardenias, canoes and palm trees. In 1952, the organizers of the spring Beachcomber Ball flew in leis from Hawaii for the party goers to enjoy. Attendees came clothed in long summer dresses, straw hats and sarongs to dance to tunes of authentic Samoan musicians. During the intermission of the Beachcomber Ball in 1957, students enjoyed performances put on by knife dancers and hula girls.
Although the name of the dance later changed, the sophomore Western dance started off as “Dude’s Harvest.” According to The Ayer, the sophomore class would turn the Hub into a “poor man’s dude ranch.” The dance always featured bandanas, cowboy boots, cowboy hats and country music. In 1960, the dance was named “Hay Hop” since every couple had to jump into the hayloft in order to enter the party. Throughout the event, students could win little trinkets as door prizes.
During the first year of CMC’s existence, the former chair of the Board of Trustees, Garner Beckett, created an outdoor dance floor adjacent to Story House to host the Starlight Ball. The Starlight Ball soon became one of the most anticipated events of the year, as a queen and her court were crowned at the ball. The queen and her court would also get photographed for a full spread in the yearbook. Men dressed in white-jacketed tuxedos danced with women in formal gowns to relatively well-known live orchestras. The Starlight Ball only became more popular as the event opened to all students from the Claremont Colleges in the ‘50s.
The only party of the four still celebrated today, Monte Carlo has always had gambling in addition to dancing. In the past, students could also win big prizes. “For many years, the winning prize at Monte Carlo was a trip to Hawaii donated by Ken Ward ‘50, who owned a travel agency and enjoyed keeping the tradition alive,” Vice President and Ambassador-at-Large John Faranda ’79 said. “The prize availability died when travel agencies were replaced by airline websites.” According to Stark, the gambling was one of the biggest reasons why Monte Carlo, as opposed to other parties, continued as a tradition. “The dance was always secondary to the casino impact,” Stark said.
The grades stopped hosting the other parties around the late ‘60s. According to Stark, most of CMC’s traditions ceased during this time due to on-campus turmoil created by the women’s movement and anti-Vietnam War movement.
There was another well-attended party very relevant to CMC’s early history: the Military Ball, an annual ball honoring the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) cadets. Because CMC began after the end of World War II, a majority of its first students were veterans. CMC also graduated 26 classes before the U.S. military draft ended in 1973. During these years, says Jack Stark, most CMC students joined ROTC “because there was a good chance you would be drafted anyway.” With a large part of the student body made up of veterans or ROTC cadets, the Military Ball was a major social event. Non-ROTC veterans were welcome and women from Scripps and Pomona attended as “honorary officers.” At its most popular, the ball hosted 600 students and featured performers such as Phil Harris (a jazz musician and comedian) and the Keith Williams Orchestra. The Military Ball is no longer held on campus, though the tradition has continued at different venues in the Pomona area, honoring the CMC Army ROTC Battalion, which includes cadets from 10 local colleges.