April 27, 1990
The Slotopia dude, Ryan Magill, may be wondering what all the fuss is about.
What could go wrong with a little party and a few thousand of your closest friends at the beach?
He may have been surprised at the backlash the community had when word got out.The first viral party gone bad I covered was almost exactly 19 years ago, the 1990 Poly Royal.
It officially marks my transition to old fogeyhood.Until then I thought had more in common with Poly students than city officials.
Though to be fair to the local students, there were a lot of out of town folks flooding the streets. It was an unofficial tradition that Poly Royal weekend was a good weekend to go home if you didn’t have a commitment to stay in town. Arrest records would later show that three quarters of the arrests were out of town partiers.
I was working the night shift on Friday.
The evening was warm and the local liquor stores had been advertising beer kegs in their windows. The stores had been banned from using the term “Party Royal” after the University trademarked the term and threatened legal action. There had been some rowdy parties the year before and they hoped to put a lid on it.
The first inkling of trouble was just before 9 p.m. a when three students were attacked at their apartment on Murray Street by a group of men wielding baseball bats. They had come back to settle a score from the night before.
As I drove through the area it seemed like there was an unusual number of people cruising around with beer in their hands looking for the next exciting thing.It didn’t take long; a speeding bicyclist on Fredricks Street collided with a car drawing spectators to the lights and sirens. As paramedics and police offered aid, a few in the growing crowd, started throwing rocks and bottles.Sometime near 11 p.m. a group of helmeted police officers tried to break up the throng milling in Hathway Street and California Blvd. at the Campus Bottle Shoppe. The officers were far out numbered and the effort just compressed the crowd into a smaller space.
The crowd ignored orders to disperse. The police fell back and regrouped.At some point the crowd became a mob, began chanting “Free beer, free beer” and broke the windows on the liquor store and began looting. An employee fought back using champagne bottles as clubs.
Private cars were attacked; bottles and rocks from the railroad tracks would sail randomly through the air. I was hit in the back of the leg at one point, leaving a half circle bruise in the shape of a Budweiser bottle.
Others were hit in the head and fell to the pavement.At one point a roving gang threatened to beat any photographer who took their picture.
It was a lawless, fluid situation alternating between danger and an surreal air of levity.
Usually journalists let their work speak for itself but I would like to take a moment to point out that several people took personal risks to report this story.
Jeff May photographed both nights of rioting and Robert Dyer covered the second.David Eddy, Tony Hazarian, Dan Parker, Gary Taylor and David Wilcox all took to the street to report.
There were a few hours where civilization was a long way from California Blvd.Police called in reinforcements, used tear gas, fire hoses and handcuffs to eventually break the crowd up.
The sad story would repeat the following night with the addition of Molotov cocktails, dumpsters being set on fire and more injuries and arrests.As an alumnus I felt betrayed and no longer proud to be a Mustang. I could no longer pretend that the town I called home could avoid the world’s bigger problems.In the end there were 127 arrests and at least 100 were injured.
The tradition of Poly Royal had been driven off a cliff in a drunken stupor.