The Living Room, how Larry Mills brought teens together in Goleta

Teens outside The Living Room in Goleta, California.

AJ Henning

Teens outside The Living Room in Goleta, California.

The Living Room was a community center and performance space for teens in Goleta that started in the early ‘90s. It was a place for any and all teens to hang out, play music, and meet new people without the presence of drugs or alcohol.

Larry Mills, who now lives in Utah with his family, is the man who started The Living Room. He has five children and got the inspiration for The Living Room from his oldest daughter. When she was in high school, he wanted to create a place where she and her friends could hang out on the weekend. He continued to be motivated by providing teens with a place to have fun without the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“You know, if they have something to do they’re constructive, if they don’t, they’re usually destructive,” he said.

Larry founded a non-profit organization called DANCE, or Drug Alternative Nights Counseling Events. Through that, he found funding and insurance to start The Living Room. The Living Room’s first location was the old United Food and Commercial Workers building, a labor union that was no longer using it. “We called it that for a while because, you know, people knew where it was because of the sign,” Larry said.

There was finally a contest to figure out an official name for the space, and they landed on “The Living Room.” “By then we’d accumulated all these couches and chairs and stuff,” Larry said. “It looked like a living room, so that’s the name that was chosen.”

The Living Room originally took place at Boys and Girls Club, where they rented DJs until two teenagers who went there, named Sam and John, wanted to put on a punk show. They did the show at The Living Room. They decided that they needed to integrate more live bands, and the place turned into a performance space for musical groups.
Larry said, “They let me rent the facility and then we had our first punk show there and it turned out really good. Kids came and it wasn’t destructive; it was fun. And we decided at that point we probably need to integrate more bands, rather than DJs.”

Larry mentioned that one of the initial challenges of running The Living Room was that very few people had heard about it. Larry went to the three main high schools in Goleta and Santa Barbara and talked to the student body governments to let them know about the available space. “I’d talk with them, ‘you know we have the facility, we have the insurance, we have the sound equipment, we have the security. All you guys have to do is plan events.’ I said, ‘It’s yours.’”

The other challenge that presented itself was people showing up to The Living Room drunk, sneaking in drugs, or smoking in their cars. To find a solution to his anticipated worries, Larry created The Living Room Card. The card promised that you would respect the people, and the property, come sober, and not bring any drugs or alcohol. To get into The Living Room you would have to show your card and pay a dollar fee.
“And it kind of turned into a pretty neat thing. Because there wasn’t a lot to do in Santa Barbara, the kids didn’t want to ever get kicked out of The Living Room. They knew that if they broke the rules, they couldn’t come back,” Larry said.

“The whole idea of the club was to have something that kids wanted to come to and could afford to come to,” he said. “I didn’t want money to be the issue. And that’s why we formed a nonprofit organization.”

The rent ended up being hard to meet and they had to move buildings many times, which also proved to be difficult. Larry said, “I tried and tried and tried to find another place for us to be. I went to the city of Santa Barbara, the city of Goleta, the county of Santa Barbara. They all appreciated what we were doing, but nobody would step up and make a facility available or help us out renting a facility.”

There have been attempts by organizations and people since Larry moved to Utah to restore The Living Room, but nothing has been successful yet. “I know there were several people because I kept in contact with them for quite a while. [They] were trying to resurrect the living room, but nobody could ever find the space,” he said.

The memory of Living Room is sustained in the people who played there, the people who visited and experienced it, and in Larry Mills, the founder of this facility that lasted ten years.

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