Coffee house was – literally – a Paradox

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

The Village Theater, a theater-in-the-round in Tustin’s Jamestown Village shopping center in the 1960s, was the forerunner of The Paradox, a folk jazz coffee house, where Steve Martin and other young Orange County entertainers often appeared.

(Read the follow-up article by clicking here.)

Steve Martin’s memoir, “Born Standing Up,” describes the early days of his career, his work at the Bird Cage in Knott’s Berry Farm and how he turned his magic act into a comedy routine.
He also mentions several folk music coffee houses that operated in Orange County during the 1960s including Prison of Socrateson Balboa Island, the Meccain Buena Park, the Paradox in Tustin and Rouge et Noir in Seal Beach.

The idea of Steve Martin entertaining at a coffee house in Tustin has raised a lot of questions. What and where was the Paradox? Almost no one in Tustin today remembers the coffee house, which took over the Jamestown Village Theater location after its final curtain.

C. T. Gilbreath, a builder of fine homes and the Jamestown Village shopping center, was a theater buff and included a small theater at the rear when he planned the shopping center. Audiences sat in red director’s chairs arranged in a semicircle around the stage.

Opening in 1963, the playhouse attracted full houses in its early years, but eventually interest waned and the little theater closed around 1968.

The Paradox, which opened soon after this, gave many Orange County musicians their start. Steve Noonan, Greg Copeland, and Jackson Browne, all from Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, interned there.

As both a performer at the venue and an emcee at the club’s hootenanny nights, Noonan worked with Tim Buckley, Penny Nichols, Mary McCaslin, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jennifer Warnes, Kathy Smith, and Jimmie Spheeris as they were launching their careers.

Earl Scruggs, probably the best banjo player who ever lived, was another Paradox alumnus. He invented (or at least popularized) the threefinger picking style used in bluegrass music. He also wrote what is probably the second-most-famous banjo tune ever, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” which was featured in the Bonnie and Clyde movie. He also wrote and performed the theme for The Beverly Hillbillies TV show, and appeared as a guest star on the show a number of times.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band gave its first performance at the Paradox before going on to bigger and better things including the Johnny Carson show. Some 40 years later in 2007 they were recognized with a Grammy Award.

Margaret Pottenger, proprietor of The Jabberwocky, a popular shop for teenage girls, is one of the rare people recalling the theater, only because she held fashion shows there. However she has no recollection of the Paradox.

Stephen Gilbreath, son of C. T. and manager of Jamestown Village today, doesn’t recall ever going to the Paradox even though he was a Tustin High School student during its heyday. Apparently Tustin High School students were not into folk jazz.

Today, no sign of either the Village Theater or the Paradox remains in Jamestown Village. The location at the rear on the south side of the complex is occupied by a beauty salon and spa. Other popular Orange County folk jazz coffee houses suffered similar fates. Prison of Socrates is now a pizzeria while the Mecca became Aloha Family Billiards.


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