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Last topless bar in North San Diego County

Price of land prevents re-opening of the Main Attraction

The Main Attraction was nicknamed the Purple Church for its colorful awnings.
The Main Attraction was nicknamed the Purple Church for its colorful awnings.

When Covid hit, two local gentlemen’s clubs turned off their strobe lights. The Main Attraction in Oceanside and Pure Platinum in Kearny Mesa shuttered in May, 2020. There is no word when or if Pure Platinum will reopen. But the fate of Oceanside’s topless mecca is much clearer. Nicknamed the Purple Church for its colorful awnings, the Main Attraction will never reopen. Its 75-year building will be razed within weeks. Demolition crews are on site now.

The Main Attraction was North County’s only venue with topless female dancers. Its closure reflects the continuing decline of the live adult entertainment business in the county. Two decades ago there were some 15 bars known for stripper poles and pasties. Today there are about seven.

The Mandrells at the 101 Club

Because of its location right across the street from the state-sponsored visitor’s center at Oceanside’s northern entrance, city officials tried for years to get the Main Attraction to relocate. But its demise was not due to any public nuisance claims; the property just became too valuable. The Main Attraction sits on a 5.3-acre site on Coast Highway made up of five different land parcels. Once cleared, a five-story, high-density apartment/condo complex will be built. Alta Oceanside will have 306 units, some as small as 608 square feet.

The Purple Church thrived because it was less than a mile from Camp Pendleton.

“When Desert Storm came down, I remember these young men would come in a week before they were deployed,” says Candy Evans who danced at the Main Attraction from 1989 to 2003. “Some of these guys were just kids who joined the Marines just so they could get out of Iowa or wherever. We would sit and talk them for a long time. They just wanted someone to talk to. These young men were scared.”

Evans says her former industry was maligned and misunderstood. “We were voodoo back in the day. We were thought to be drug addicts and hookers. But it was nothing like that. Many of us were single moms trying to get their kids through pre-school. Many were students, or flight attendants who only worked weekends just so they could make ends meet.”

“I’m really proud of the things we did,” says a former dancer named Shelby who started working at the Main Attraction at age 21. “When I first started, I had just been working at a fiber optics company as a secretary for $210 a week. I had four Irish bosses who fought all the time. It was so toxic. They would literally throw things down the hall. I was miserable. I had three roommates just to survive.” Then she started dancing. “I made more dancing on a tabletop in one night than I made almost in two weeks. I didn’t like how we were treated but I was not ashamed.”

Shelby has since married and moved to Maryland. Her youngest is just now graduating from film school. “Usually it was the women who called us prostitutes. They thought we were trying to steal their husbands or boyfriends.”

She says the girls of Main Attraction were good people. “We did so many fundraisers for various causes. We had so many [fundraising] weekend car washes. I remember once the Ronald McDonald House didn’t want to take the money we raised because it came from dirty strippers. Some nights all the money we made from certain dances would go to a cause. One time we helped my niece who needed a heart transplant. Those young men were such gentlemen. It’s a shame we were treated so terribly.”

During its later years of operation, newspaper accounts said the Main Attraction was not a focus of criminal activity or police calls. But Shelby recalls that in the 90s, her workplace was frequented by police. “For a few years the cops would come in and check us out every night under the pretense that they wanted to make sure no one was up to no good.”

She says other clubs in San Diego endured actual harassment. “They kept shutting them down. They would rejoice every time they got another one to go away.”

Shelby say her former industry has changed. “There is no performance [with today’s dancers]. Back in the day we were performers. I liked to do campy burlesque. I wore costumes and did routines. We had to pay money for people to make our costumes. We had choreographers who would teach us things. We had gowns. I had a firefighter’s uniform with a rain jacket. We did cowboys and Indians. Nowadays people just stand there and take their clothes off. We weren’t strippers. We were performers at gentlemen clubs.”

Shelby says one of her most popular routines involved “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” by Joe Cocker and involved using her Fedora as a boobie concealer. “A lot of the time it’s more about what you don’t get to see.”

“Juan” is a full-time employee at one of the San Diego strip clubs. He says some of the biggest local clubs like Pacers or Cheetahs used to have a roster of 300 to 400 dancers but now have an available dance crew of about 100.

He says the industry seems to be doing better in Orange County where there are some 20 gentlemen’s clubs. “It’s thriving in L.A. too.” But Juan says topless showcases are not doing as well in San Diego.

He says San Diego strip venues are heavily impacted by Tijuana dance clubs like Hong Kong, Adelitas, and Chicago that are a just a “stone’s throw away." He says TJ strip clubs have much less restrictive rules regarding interpersonal contact between client and dancer.

“Plus, it’s harder to get girls to work here because the city of San Diego charges every single dancer $500 just to dance and the vice teams come in any time they want to check,” Juan says. “In Orange County the license is $50 and its good for a whole year.”

Juan says vice squad cops are not as intrusive as they were when Cheetahs was the target of a highly publicized 2014 police raid. He says all the local strip clubs are very good at self-policing and that “…98 per cent of the dancers follow the rules.” He says club managers communicate with each other about dancers who stray. “She gets ousted,” says Juan of the dancer who breaks the rules. He says private dances are still available for an extra cost but that by law there is no interpersonal contact. “That’s where we went wrong in the past.”

Juan says he went to the Main Attraction in Oceanside before he was married. “I was 21 or 22. Back in the day it used to have pretty good talent. But I’d say it went downhill. When it closed, I’d say it was in the middle echelon of local strip clubs.”

While Oceanside historian Kristi Hawthorne says she was not a fan of the Main Attraction’s business model, her Histories and Mysteries blog showed the Main Attraction building at 939 North Coast Highway had a colorful history since opening in 1946 (four years after Camp Pendleton was founded).

Once known as a country western bar, the 101 Club hosted live shows by Johnny Cash, Rose Maddox, and 1967 Oceanside High School graduate Barbara Mandrell. After a late ‘70s stint as a disco called First Edition, it became Pure Platinum when it hosted male dancers dressed like the Village People. It settled on female dancers and the name Dirty Dan's. It became the Main Attraction in 1990.

The city of Oceanside purchased the all-nude, Playgirl Club on Pier View Way in 2002, and eventually transformed it to the California Surf Museum. The city paid $700,000 for the building. The city also paid an additional $700,000 to the Playgirl’s late owner Skip Arthur to ensure the Playgirl would not open somewhere else. Some questioned the need for that additional payment since the Playgirl, which did not serve alcohol, was not very profitable and was likely to close anyway.

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The Main Attraction was nicknamed the Purple Church for its colorful awnings.
The Main Attraction was nicknamed the Purple Church for its colorful awnings.

When Covid hit, two local gentlemen’s clubs turned off their strobe lights. The Main Attraction in Oceanside and Pure Platinum in Kearny Mesa shuttered in May, 2020. There is no word when or if Pure Platinum will reopen. But the fate of Oceanside’s topless mecca is much clearer. Nicknamed the Purple Church for its colorful awnings, the Main Attraction will never reopen. Its 75-year building will be razed within weeks. Demolition crews are on site now.

The Main Attraction was North County’s only venue with topless female dancers. Its closure reflects the continuing decline of the live adult entertainment business in the county. Two decades ago there were some 15 bars known for stripper poles and pasties. Today there are about seven.

The Mandrells at the 101 Club

Because of its location right across the street from the state-sponsored visitor’s center at Oceanside’s northern entrance, city officials tried for years to get the Main Attraction to relocate. But its demise was not due to any public nuisance claims; the property just became too valuable. The Main Attraction sits on a 5.3-acre site on Coast Highway made up of five different land parcels. Once cleared, a five-story, high-density apartment/condo complex will be built. Alta Oceanside will have 306 units, some as small as 608 square feet.

The Purple Church thrived because it was less than a mile from Camp Pendleton.

“When Desert Storm came down, I remember these young men would come in a week before they were deployed,” says Candy Evans who danced at the Main Attraction from 1989 to 2003. “Some of these guys were just kids who joined the Marines just so they could get out of Iowa or wherever. We would sit and talk them for a long time. They just wanted someone to talk to. These young men were scared.”

Evans says her former industry was maligned and misunderstood. “We were voodoo back in the day. We were thought to be drug addicts and hookers. But it was nothing like that. Many of us were single moms trying to get their kids through pre-school. Many were students, or flight attendants who only worked weekends just so they could make ends meet.”

“I’m really proud of the things we did,” says a former dancer named Shelby who started working at the Main Attraction at age 21. “When I first started, I had just been working at a fiber optics company as a secretary for $210 a week. I had four Irish bosses who fought all the time. It was so toxic. They would literally throw things down the hall. I was miserable. I had three roommates just to survive.” Then she started dancing. “I made more dancing on a tabletop in one night than I made almost in two weeks. I didn’t like how we were treated but I was not ashamed.”

Shelby has since married and moved to Maryland. Her youngest is just now graduating from film school. “Usually it was the women who called us prostitutes. They thought we were trying to steal their husbands or boyfriends.”

She says the girls of Main Attraction were good people. “We did so many fundraisers for various causes. We had so many [fundraising] weekend car washes. I remember once the Ronald McDonald House didn’t want to take the money we raised because it came from dirty strippers. Some nights all the money we made from certain dances would go to a cause. One time we helped my niece who needed a heart transplant. Those young men were such gentlemen. It’s a shame we were treated so terribly.”

During its later years of operation, newspaper accounts said the Main Attraction was not a focus of criminal activity or police calls. But Shelby recalls that in the 90s, her workplace was frequented by police. “For a few years the cops would come in and check us out every night under the pretense that they wanted to make sure no one was up to no good.”

She says other clubs in San Diego endured actual harassment. “They kept shutting them down. They would rejoice every time they got another one to go away.”

Shelby say her former industry has changed. “There is no performance [with today’s dancers]. Back in the day we were performers. I liked to do campy burlesque. I wore costumes and did routines. We had to pay money for people to make our costumes. We had choreographers who would teach us things. We had gowns. I had a firefighter’s uniform with a rain jacket. We did cowboys and Indians. Nowadays people just stand there and take their clothes off. We weren’t strippers. We were performers at gentlemen clubs.”

Shelby says one of her most popular routines involved “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” by Joe Cocker and involved using her Fedora as a boobie concealer. “A lot of the time it’s more about what you don’t get to see.”

“Juan” is a full-time employee at one of the San Diego strip clubs. He says some of the biggest local clubs like Pacers or Cheetahs used to have a roster of 300 to 400 dancers but now have an available dance crew of about 100.

He says the industry seems to be doing better in Orange County where there are some 20 gentlemen’s clubs. “It’s thriving in L.A. too.” But Juan says topless showcases are not doing as well in San Diego.

He says San Diego strip venues are heavily impacted by Tijuana dance clubs like Hong Kong, Adelitas, and Chicago that are a just a “stone’s throw away." He says TJ strip clubs have much less restrictive rules regarding interpersonal contact between client and dancer.

“Plus, it’s harder to get girls to work here because the city of San Diego charges every single dancer $500 just to dance and the vice teams come in any time they want to check,” Juan says. “In Orange County the license is $50 and its good for a whole year.”

Juan says vice squad cops are not as intrusive as they were when Cheetahs was the target of a highly publicized 2014 police raid. He says all the local strip clubs are very good at self-policing and that “…98 per cent of the dancers follow the rules.” He says club managers communicate with each other about dancers who stray. “She gets ousted,” says Juan of the dancer who breaks the rules. He says private dances are still available for an extra cost but that by law there is no interpersonal contact. “That’s where we went wrong in the past.”

Juan says he went to the Main Attraction in Oceanside before he was married. “I was 21 or 22. Back in the day it used to have pretty good talent. But I’d say it went downhill. When it closed, I’d say it was in the middle echelon of local strip clubs.”

While Oceanside historian Kristi Hawthorne says she was not a fan of the Main Attraction’s business model, her Histories and Mysteries blog showed the Main Attraction building at 939 North Coast Highway had a colorful history since opening in 1946 (four years after Camp Pendleton was founded).

Once known as a country western bar, the 101 Club hosted live shows by Johnny Cash, Rose Maddox, and 1967 Oceanside High School graduate Barbara Mandrell. After a late ‘70s stint as a disco called First Edition, it became Pure Platinum when it hosted male dancers dressed like the Village People. It settled on female dancers and the name Dirty Dan's. It became the Main Attraction in 1990.

The city of Oceanside purchased the all-nude, Playgirl Club on Pier View Way in 2002, and eventually transformed it to the California Surf Museum. The city paid $700,000 for the building. The city also paid an additional $700,000 to the Playgirl’s late owner Skip Arthur to ensure the Playgirl would not open somewhere else. Some questioned the need for that additional payment since the Playgirl, which did not serve alcohol, was not very profitable and was likely to close anyway.

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