Sometimes I come across a piece of ephemera from my collection that sends me down countless wormholes and side stories that I seem to lose all track of time and place. Such is the case with Bud Averill’s Airport.
The restaurant was the second Bud Averill restaurant at the same location. The first establishment, known as “Bud” Averill’s Paradise Cafe. Featuring dining, dancing and in-house entertainment from Averill himself playing a THEREMIN. This is where I lost track of the world.
Cyrus Edward “Bud” Averill, Jr. was born in Elberton, Washington on February 14, 1896. It is said that Averill was the first WWI volunteer from the state of Idaho, but I cannot find any corroborating evidence. After he was discharged from his duties in naval aviation, Averill homesteaded north of Casper, Wyoming, where he joined the Powder River Orchestra.
During the early 1920s, Casper, Wyoming was a booming oil town desperately lacking entertainment. Averill and a group called Arminto’s Jolly 7 were brought to town on a multi-month engagement at Oil Center Hall starting March, 1921. A baritone tenor vocalist by trade, Averill would sing the top hits of the day and became something of a hit in the region.
Averill would sing as pre-show entertainment for stage productions such “The Idol of the North” starring Dorothy Dalton as “the beautiful dance hall girl on the frontier of civilization.”
For the next few years Averill would hone his skills in the Casper area, slowly adding comedy to his performances and eventually become a vaudeville-style performer. Bud Averill, serious vocalist was all but forgotten for a while and Bud Averill “the world’s funniest human” was captivating audiences in Wyoming, Montana and Utah. He and his wife, Virginia Nelson, moved to Salt Lake for a brief period before settling in California.
A brief tour of Los Angeles, as part of a show called “Revue of Revues” opened a new world of possibilities for Averill. In 1929 alone, he appeared (in chronological order) as a serious vocalist for the KEJK dance orchestra; a lead performer in the show called “Rose Garden Revue” at the Million Dollar Stage in downtown Los Angeles; a vaudeville performer on radio station KPLA; and a cast member in the all-talking melodrama called “The Isle of Lost Ships” at the RKO Theatre (8th & Hill Sts). He was also a coach for the Los Angeles Orpheum ensemble and appears as if he did some uncredited vocal work on multiple motion pictures.
A tour of the United States followed in 1930. Bud Averill and His 18 Sensational Songsters (Some Steins! A Table! Songs Ringing Clear!) joined several other acts as a traveling vaudeville show. There were dates from Montana, Utah, Oklahoma, St. Louis, New York and several others.
Other shows and radio gigs followed in 1931 and 1932. It may be somewhere in this time that Averill discovered the ethereal sounds of the theremin. The theremin is an instrument played without any physical contact, making it extremely difficult to play. The instrument was only a few years old in the 1930s after it had made its way over from the Soviet Union. There were only a few thereminsts in the United States and around 1930 & 1931, it reached oddity status on the stage and radio. There are no known stories of when and how Averill learned to play, but soon he would be showcasing his skills.
By the summer and fall of 1933, Averill’s talents were mostly being showcased on radio station KRKD at 3:15 in the afternoon. He was also doing shows around Los Angeles. After a stint with his orchestra at the Boos Brothers Beer Garden, Averill opened a new restaurant called Bud Averill’s Paradise Gardens in October 1933. The new place located at 674 South Vermont Avenue and featured “legal” beverages and delicious sandwiches.
The music for the new place was provided by, you guessed it, Bud Averill. Originally he and his orchestra were the main focus but plans changed and the focus would be on him and his theremin playing. Now we are back to where we started. A matchcover from the Paradise Cafe (Gardens) features an illustration of Averill playing his magical music machine. One can only guess how diners reacted to the sounds of the theremin as they ate their sandwiches and drank their not-illegal drinks.
The restaurant would stay open for sometime and eventually go through a name and theme switch to become the Bud Averill’s Airport restaurant this piece was supposed to be about. Information is sparse about when the switch occurred and when Bud Averill’s Airport (named for his aviation days) closed. I found evidence that it was named the Airport in 1943 and was open during World War II but I would guess it probably didn’t last much into the 1950s.
There was another Bud Averill owned and operated restaurant called Carmel Gardens by the Sea at the corner of 2nd & Broadway in Santa Monica, California. Information about this place is even more sparse. Only experts mix their drinks.
The matchcover says they had dining, dancing and entertainment. The time frame for this place looks about the same as the other(s), with a similar design to that of the Airport.
Seeing as there just isn’t much information to be gleaned from the internet about these restaurants, lets get back to what sidetracked this whole piece to begin with – the musical stylings of Bud Averill.
Throughout the remainder of the 1930s, Averill would continue to perform, tour and host a radio show – this time on KMTR at 11:30pm with the cleverly titled “Bud Averill’s Dance Band.” In 1938, Averill moved to KMPC and hosted a “Toast to the States” with songs about every state in the nation (all 48 of them) in alphabetical order. A year later, he was on KFWB with a 10pm show.
In 1941, Averill released a set of three 78RPM records of his theremin recordings of Stephen Foster songs with the following titles: “Beautiful Dreamer”; “Old Folks at Home”, “Massa’s in De Cold, Cold Ground”; “Old Black Joe”; “My Old Kentucky Home”; “Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair”. The songs were recorded in Hollywood and featured Bob Thompson at the organ.
Averill remained active during World War II. Too old to serve, he volunteered his time elsewhere. He teamed with Hayden Simpson to write and record “U.S.S. Los Angeles.” All proceeds from the recording were donated to the athletic and silver service funds. By this point, Bud had been an active Hollywood songwriter composing tunes for movies and radio.
The summer of 1947 saw Averill in the middle of a controversy and lawsuit. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) banned Averill’s latest jingle “Union Pacific Steamliner,” ruling that the song wasn’t really a song as much as it was an unpaid advertisement for the railroad. Similar songs by other composers entitled “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” “El Rancho Vegas,” “Rum and Coca-Cola,” and “Love in a Greyhound Bus” were accused of doing the exact same thing but were allowed to remain on the air.
Averill thought this unfair and brought forth a lawsuit against NBC.The suit sought a large sum of $1,000,000 in damages. Averill asserted the song was copyrighted April 15 and published in sheet music, so it must be a real song. He alleged that advertisers have called NBC and its affiliates for the song, but the network refused such requests. Reports of the outcome of the lawsuit are nowhere to be found, so I am guessing it ultimately led nowhere.
Off and on tours continued for Averill throughout the remainder of the 1940s and into the early 1950s. He and his theremin would return to his old familiar Salt Lake and Wyoming homes for special appearances.
A foray into the fairly new world of television followed in 1951, with the short-lived “Pardon My French.” He would continue to appear sporadically on local Los Angeles television shows. But Averill’s star faded as the 1950s progressed and he passed away on July 20, 1956 at the age of 60. The cause of death is unknown.
Averill is completely forgotten now, but he was truly a unique entertainer with a set of skills few could ever duplicate.