Friday, August 7, 2015

Miss Universe & International Beauty Contests

Miss Universe - Beginnings
            Early in 1951 Long Beach was elated.  The city had been selected over Catalina Island and Hollywood to host the 1952 Miss Universe pageant --- the world's first international beauty contest.  Excitement increased when Universal-International Pictures announced they were co-sponsoring the pageant and would offer the winner a seven-year film contract.  In addition Miss United States and four runner-ups would also be given film contracts
            June 1952 was an exciting time in Long Beach --- world attention was focused on the city and the lovely women arriving for the pageant.  On June 28 tension mounted as the judges couldn't seem to make up their minds as to who was the most beautiful woman in the world.  Finalists were called back twice because of a tie vote, but finally the 10 judges agreed on 18-year-old Armi Kuusela of Finland.
            Actress Piper Laurie crowned Miss Kuusela with a $500,000 coronet
Piper Laurie crowns Armi Kuusela
once worn by the czarinas of Russia and handed her a scepter and robe.  Runner-up was Elsa Edsman, a brunette from Honolulu, Hawaii.  Daisy Mavraki, Miss Greece, was third; Judy Dan, Miss Hong Kong, fourth; Renate Hoy, Miss Germany, fifth.
            The contest was a sell out, standing room only.  3700 people packed the auditorium including press representatives from all over the world.  All in all there were 30 contestants representing every continent and all major nations except Russia and her satellites.  The women were judged on the basis of their appearance in evening gowns and bathing suits.  Ironically, there was a sign posted in the auditorium which read "people in bathing suits not allowed."
            All was not smooth sailing.  Charges were made that "Miss Finland" had been selected as a publicity ploy to promote the Olympic Games to be held in Helsinki the following month.  Contest organizers denied the charges.   Miss Universe wouldn't remain a Miss long.  While on a tour of the Philippines in March 1953, Armi Kuusela met a millionaire Filipino whom she secretly married in May 1953.  Her mother was appalled, saying her daughter was too young.

2nd Miss Universe Pageant
            By the time the 2nd Miss Universe Pageant rolled around it had become far more than just a beauty contest --- it was now big time show business.  The main purpose of the event was to choose the most beautiful girl in the world, but during each of the four 3 ½ hour shows in which the contestants were viewed by judges and audience, stage, screen, radio and television performers were there to entertain.
            The four day event held July 14-17 1953, was an extravaganza.  The
first two nights, while judges were debating their choice for Miss U.S.A., the international contestants appeared on stage in their native costumes.  Each Miss U.S.A. contestant donned a bathing suit and evening gown, stepping forth from a 30-foot high sea shell called the “Kingdom of Pearls.”  The first evening hosted a tribute to President Eisenhower, with a chorus singing a special melody “The Whole World Likes Our Ike.”  Behind the singers a 30-foot high portrait of the president, painted in fluorescent paint, was displayed.
            The second night featured the crowing of Myrna Hansen of Chicago as Miss U.S.A. and the final evening saw Miss France, Christiane Martel, declared the most beautiful woman in the world.  The 5 foot 3 inch, 125 pound, Miss Universe received a motion picture contract, car, $2500 wrist watch and a Miss Universe trophy.  Like her predecessor, who married a wealthy Filipino, she didn’t remain single for long.
            In January 1954, Christiane Martel filled out a marriage license application to wed Ronnie Marengo, son of a well-to-do Stockton department store owner.  On the form, however, she listed her age as 17.  If this was the case, she had misrepresented her age when she entered the Miss Universe Pageant.  The rules were explicit: all contestants had to be at least 18-years-old.  Would she be forced to relinquish her title and would Myrna Hansen, the 1st runner-up become Miss Universe?  Miss Universe officials declared Martel would remain Miss Universe unless an official protest was registered.  When asked if she would challenge the legality of the crown held by the French beauty, Myrna Hansen said she would not.  The contest had been based on points and if Christiane looked old enough to get most of the points she deserved the title, Miss Hansen replied (Press Telegram 1/9/1954 )
            After two months Ronal Marengo filed for annulment and Christiane Martel filed for divorce. Marengo accused her of leaving him because she missed the bright lights and headlines of Hollywood.  Christiane denied the charges stating her husband was too immature --- next time she would marry an older man.  Her sister, Georgette, later joined her in America meeting and marrying Hollywood director Vincent Minelli, Judy Garland’s former husband.  Christiane headed for Mexico and in 1956 became a major star in Mexican movies for Azteca Films.

Miss Universe Troubles - 1957
            You couldn’t be a Mrs. and still compete as a Miss.  That’s what Miss Universe officials told Maryland’s entry in the Miss U.S.A. portion of the Miss Universe pageant, Leona Gage. Trouble was the wedding ring on her finger wasn’t discovered until after she was declared Miss U.S.A. and it was just her luck that this was the first year in the six-year history of the pageant that contestants were required to be single.   
            Rumors that the new Miss U.S.A. was married began spreading after an anonymous tip to a Baltimore newspaper. Denying, almost hysterically, that she had not been married, Leona Gage was forced to confess when her own mother admitted that Leona was married at 14.  Not only was she married but she had two children ages 2 and 3.
            Unfortunately Leona’s confession came too late to help runner-up and the new Miss U.S.A., Charlotte Sheffield of Utah, in the contest.  Sheffield had missed the preliminary elimination contests in the Miss Universe Pageant (held July 11-21, 1957) and couldn’t compete.  It was the first time since the pageant began that a Miss U.S.A. was not among the 15 finalists in the international competition.
            Though she had to give up her crown and prizes, Leona Gage came out a winner after all.  She accepted a contract with the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas to become a member of the chorus line for $200 a week. She was also offered a role in an American International movie and was paid $1000 to appear on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town television program.  Her own story was enough to make a movie out of.
            The 18-year-old Mrs. Mary Leona Gage Ennis confessed she had been married twice. The first time was when she was 14 when she met an airman named Edward Thacker at a town in Oklahoma in November 1953. She couldn’t recall the town and couldn’t say where Thacker lived.  The marriage lasted only one day and was annulled, she said.  A girl friend had talked her into it.  Three months later she married 28-year-old airman Gene Norris Ennis.
           Follow up stories on Leona were also fodder for the tabloids.  In February 1958, she divorced Gene Ennis because his idea of a good time was to go out for a beer with the boys.  She would marry her third husband, Nick Covaevich, a fellow Las Vegas dancer, in November 1958.  But trouble was brewing for Leona.  Mary Callie Hill, the blonde beauty she had defeated for the right to represent Maryland in the Miss Universe contest, sued her and the sponsors of the Miss Maryland pageant for $30,000.  In 1960 Leona was jailed for child neglect.  She remarried a fourth time, and in 1963 took an overdose of barbiturates.  One of her children was placed in a foster home after she left the child with a baby sitter, and didn't come back.  In 1964, she was booked into the prison ward of County General hospital after her second suicide attempt. She had also been found in possession of marijuana.  After psychiatric treatment, she was placed on five years probation and next turned up in a skid row burlesque.  She again sought psychiatric treatment and a short time later reappeared in the news one more time --- for her fifth divorce. (Press Telegram 3/10/1968 )

            But the Leona controversy wasn't the only story about the 1957 contest that  had tongues wagging.   When a dark-haired, 18-year-old Peruvian beauty named Gladys Zender was crowned Miss Universe 1958 everything seemed fine.  Later it was discovered the newly crowned world queen was under the age limit.  Not only did pageant rules require contestants to be single, but they had to be between the ages of 18 and 28 at the time of the contest.  Gladys Zender was only 17 years, 9 months old.  But she would retain her title, thanks to “age” custom in Peru.  In that country it was the custom for anyone reaching the age of 17 years, 6 months to be considered 18.  After much debate, pageant officials declared Zender’s application had been made in good faith.  The title would remain in Miss Peru’s possession.  A Brazilian attorney, however, wasn’t happy with their decision.  He asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the selection, because if she was disqualified the title would pass to Miss Brazil, Terresinha Morango, the beauty pageant’s first runner-up.  The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.  Gladys kept the crown.
            Gladys, who spoke only a smattering of English, became a busy girl.  She toured South American, Canada, Europe and the United States for Max Factor cosmetics.  When her contract with Max Factor ended in February 1953 she began a six-month tour of the United States for Catalina swimwear.  Each tour brought her $5,000 in cash.  She didn’t get too homesick, however, because her father refused to let his daughter participate in the tours unless her mother went along as a chaperon.  Her dad  almost brought her home to Peru when he learned she had to appear publicly in a swimsuit.  Though he didn’t feel it was “proper,” the $5,000 helped convince him.
            Pageant rules were tightened so future years wouldn’t be like 1957.  It became the responsibility of the state and foreign sponsors to verify candidates were single and definitely aged 18 to 28.  But, all in all, the publicity had been good for the pageant.  For 48 hours Long Beach had been on the front pages of the world press.

Church or Beauty Contest?
            What did you do if you were Catholic and the church said you couldn’t compete in the Miss Universe pageant?  That was the dilemma Sue Simone
Were bathing suits immoral?
Ingersoll, Miss New Mexico, had to face in the summer of 1959.  The archbishop of New Mexico believed that parading the female body was immoral and told the statuesque redhead she had to choose between her religion and the beauty contest.  He didn’t care that Miss Ohio, Miss Louisiana, Miss Hawaii, Miss Belgium, Miss Italy and most of the South American contestants were also Catholics.  New Mexico was his jurisdiction and he issued the law.

            The archbishop did give in a little.  He conceded that if the bathing suit review was held in private, allowing only the families of the contestants and the judges to be present he would be satisfied.  If she defied him, she and her family would be deprived of the sacraments of the church.  Would Long Beach officials change the way the bathing suit portion of the contest was held?  No.  On July 19, 1959, Sue Ingersoll openly defied the Archbishop of New Mexico by appearing in the pageant bathing suit parade, but the attention surrounding her decision was too much for her.  On July 20th she decided to quit the pageant and head for home.  She had had enough of the media exploitation of her situation.
            Miss Japan, Akiko Kojima, a 22-year-old Tokyo fashion model won the 1960 Miss Universe crown in 1959.  But cries of “discrimination” were hurled at officials from the fathers of Latin American beauties Miss Bolivia and Miss Cuba.  They felt the judges were selecting winners on American standards instead of international ones.  They called for an equal number of judges from the United States, Latin America and Europe.  In August 1959, two semi-nude photographs of Miss Universe contestants appeared in a national “off-color” magazine.  Miss England was seen bobbing to the surface of a hotel pool with her untanned bosom bared.  The editors alluded to “uninhibited water frolicking” at the world’s largest international beauty contest.  Further back in the magazine were color photos of Mariana Gaba, 1957 Miss Illinois, posed artfully in a back yard setting, nude from the waist down.

New Pageant
            All of this was too much for Long Beach officials. Oscar Meinhardt, executive producer of the worldwide spectacle, announced that in the future play clothes would take the place of swimsuits in a new competition.  In addition, contestants would be presented in evening gowns and colorful native costumes.
Long Beach port mural dedication 1960
            Catalina Swimsuits, who owned the Miss Universe and Miss U.S.A. titles, were willing to allow their play suits to replace their swimsuits in a new competition and to renew the contract with Long Beach; however, they wanted $150,000 for use of the title and all television rights.  This was too much for Long Beach officials who pointed out the city had spent more than $500,000 and considerable time in establishing the name throughout the world.  They refused to pay.  Instead Long Beach decided to start a pageant of her own --- Miss International Beauty.  Catalina Swimsuits, meanwhile, found a new home for Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe in Miami Beach.
            In October 1959, Long Beach announced that 46 foreign countries --- 12 more than had been represented at any previous pageant – would be represented in the 1960 International Beauty event.  Contest officials credited the increase in participants to the decision to eliminate the bathing suit competition.

International Beauty Pageant
            In August of 1960, the largest group of foreign lovelies ever to appear in any worldwide beauty contest made their way to Long Beach.  Fifty foreign nations had sent their prettiest girls to compete in the new pageant --- Miss International Beauty.  Play suits had been substituted for bathing suits as an inducement to attract more beauties.  Some nations had previously barred girls from competing in skimpy, tight-fitting bathing suits.  So now the girls would wear skimpy, tight-fitting play suits instead.  Gone, however, were the 50 candidates for the Miss U.S.A. contest that had always preceded the Miss Universe pageant.  It had moved to Miami Beach along with the Miss Universe pageant.
Long Beach Mayor Wade greets contestants
Aug. 1960
          Twenty-one-year-old Miss Colombia, Stella Marquez, had the honor of becoming the first Miss international Beauty. A financial award of $10,000, a $3500 ring, a $300 diamond wristwatch and a trophy added to the tribute.  Stella claimed she was stunned by her victory because a month earlier at Miami Beach's Miss Universe Pageant she had finished in 6th place. She was also sure she had flubbed her chances in Long Beach because earlier in the competition she had forgotten which city she was in telling the audience that she was "so happy to be in this beautiful, tropical paradise of Miami."  However, Long Beach judges chose to overlook this "sin" of mentioning Miami and awarded her the title anyway.
             Deluged with requests from Hollywood agents for screen tests, Miss Marquez wasn't sure which way to turn.  She said she had never considered being an actress; working in Colombia's diplomatic service had always been her dream.  She also wasn't sure if the strict nuns at Marymount College in New York, where she had majored in language and psychology prior to entering the Miss Colombia contest, would let her back in.

Long Beach - The International City
          Though Long Beach had decided not to renew its contract with the Miss Universe Pageant, it had replaced it with its own worldwide beauty contest --- Miss International Beauty.  Picking up on this "international" theme, the City Council decided to promote itself as the "International City."
            Douglas Aircraft loved the idea.  The aircraft company saw its DC-8 as a powerful magnet in drawing influential world leaders to Long Beach.  In 1959 alone hundreds of distinguished foreign visitors including a prime minister, several cabinet members, three crown princes, and high legislative officials had visited the plant spreading the fame of Long Beach throughout the world.   In April 1961, City officials approved a design for new signs --- 8 feet 9 inches wide and 6 feet high --- to be erected on poles leading into the city.  Instead of neon lighted signs simply spelling out the name of the city, the new markers had an outline of a DC-8 and an ocean liner encased in plastic.  Above and below these new city symbols were the words: Long Beach - The International City

Beauty Pageant Hoax
            The International Beauty Congress (IBC) was rocked by scandal in 1961 when a 15-year-old Long Beach girl (who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish) succeeded in passing herself off as Miss Costa Rica.  For 20 hours, the Millikan High School junior, Reona Herz, bamboozled pageant officials, an airline, police, a hotel and television personalities into believing she was Miss Costa Rica.  The plucky teenager, whose mother, Ella, worked for the Board of Education and whose father, Morton, was a teacher at the Burnett Elementary School, was so convincing that she was admitted to the pageant without a passport, birth certificate, credentials or luggage.  Carrying on her hoax so magnificently, she was chased by police when she tried to leave the La Fayette Hotel.  Thinking she was the real Miss Costa Rica, too nervous to remain for the competition, police officers told her to think of the honor of her country.  Finally Reona broke down and cried “I want to go home.”  Hostesses and police finally released her when her parents arrived and established her true identity.
Gemma Teresa Cruz,
Miss International 
            Miss Herz, who never had been to Central America, picked Costa Rica as her country because the real Costa Rican entry canceled out at the last moment.  Reona and her friends, bored during the summer, decided it would be fun to see if some Long Beach girl could get into the contest posing as a foreign delegate.  Reona told officials and other contestants that she didn’t speak Spanish because she had spent most of her life in New York and only won the contest when she visited her father in Costa Rica.  Surprisingly, people she knew did not recognize her in her Costa Rican costume.
            Costa Rica’s newspapers prominently displayed a photo of “the beautiful imposter,” saying they owed her a debt of gratitude for publicizing their country throughout the world.  What she had given them in publicity would have cost them thousands of dollars to buy.  Still embarrassed by her charade, Reona declined Costa Rica’s offer to bring her to their country and become a real Miss Costa Rica presiding over the International Soccer Games in San Jose.  She also repaid the IBC for her lodging and food at the Lafayette and returned all her IBC gifts.
            (Stam Van Baer of Holland would win the IBC crown and reign as Miss International Beauty for 1962).

Paying for the IBC  

            Was the International Beauty Congress a big joke, worthless to the city and the harbor?  According to Long Beach Harbor Commissioner William A. Harrington, it was.  Harrington also challenged the legality of using harbor money to subsidize the summertime show.  Harrington said he was not satisfied with the city attorney’s ruling that it was legal for the city to give funds to the Beauty Congress and had consulted a private attorney who said that there was a big question as to the legality of using Tideland Trust funds for the project.   Since 1955 the Harbor Department had spent $128,400 on the pageant and its predecessor, the Miss Universe contest.  Harrington said the port got no benefit whatsoever from the event.  
            Despite Harrington's comments in 1962, the pageant continued, but in May 1966 it was decided not to hold a contest in the summer of that year, but to wait until the spring of 1967.  It seemed the IBC followed too closely to the Miss Universe pageant in Miami, which was a tough act to follow.  This was especially hard for Long Beach officials to swallow, since Long Beach had been the original location for the Miss Universe pageants.  Now many contestants would jump from the Miss Universe show to the IBC event, but television audiences were bored seeing the same girls twice.  Advertising revenues to pay for the IBC decreased. By holding it in the spring it would be the FIRST beauty pageant of the year.

Good Bye Long Beach
            On February 23, 1968, Robert Pierce, International Beauty Congress president, announced the International Beauty Congress for 1968 had been canceled; expected television revenues had failed to materialize.  The pageant relied heavily on TV revenues for funding and the networks were unable to program the pageant on dates available in the Long Beach Arena or Auditorium. 
             In 1967 the 15-year-old beauty pageant had been held April 18-30, the first time it had been staged in spring instead of summer. IBC promoters said the prime reason they switched the dates was to get increased TV coverage.  There were too many other beauty contests competing for television time in the summer, they said.  This year, 1968,  the contest was scheduled April 24 through May 4, but there was just too much competition for TV time from the national political conventions and Olympic Games.

            Vice Mayor Robert Crow said the IBC had “run its course,” and no more city money should be spent on it.  Crow got his wish.  On March 5, 1968, the city’s contract to give the IBC $54,000 for the 1968 contest was declared “null and void.”  The council also instructed IBC officials to dissolve their corporation, though these actions did not necessarily mean the end of the International Beauty Pageant, since the city had title to the name and could stage it through some other organization.  This did not appear too likely, however, since others besides Crow felt the pageant had reached an end.
            In February 1969, Japan asked if they could hold the pageant.  Long Beach agreed.  The IBC survived in Japan.  In 2000 a Japanese film crew returned to Long Beach with Japanese IBC officials to learn the history of their organization.  They knew it was 40 years old, but were amazed that it had started in Long Beach.
            What of the women who had been chosen "queen" in Long Beach?  A Press-Telegram article in March 1968 gave fans an update ( PT 3/10/1968 A15-1):
  • Armi Kuusela, Miss Universe 1952 from Finland was now one of three former IBC and Miss Universe queens living in the Philippines. She was now Mrs. Virgilio Hilario and the mother of four children.
  • Christine Martel, Miss Universe 1953, from France had married the son of a former president of Mexico and was reported doing occasional movies in Mexico.
  • The USA's Miriam Stevenson, Miss Universe 1954, had married Don Upton, a composer who worked in television on Columbia, South Carolina.  They had two children.
  • Hillevi Rombin, Miss Universe 1955, from Sweden had married hotel magnate David Schine. They had five children, including a set of twins.
  • Iowa's Carol Morris, Miss Universe 1956, was reported married to a Texas oilman and living in Texas.
  • Peru's Gladys Zender, Miss Universe 1957, was till single and living in Peru.
  • Luz Marina Zuluaga, Miss Universe 1958, from Colombia had had 460 babies christened after her and 260 poems written in her honor. She lived in a 10 bedroom castle in Colombia with her physician husband.
  • Japan's Akiko Kojima, Miss Universe 1959, had recently married a famous Japanese movie star.
  • Stella Marquez, the first Miss International, 1960, from Colombia was married to Jorge Araneta and lived in Manila.
  • Stam Van Baer, Miss International 1961, from Holland had married Dr. Gene Myer of Long Beach.  They had one child.
  • Tania Verstak, Miss International 1962, from Australia had married Peter Young. They had one child and lived in Western Australia.
  • Gudrun Bjarnadottir, Miss International 1963, from Iceland was still single, working as a fashion model in Paris.
  • Gemma Teresa Cruz, Miss International 1964, from the Philippines had married Antonia Aranieta Jr.  The two had started a magazine concerned with social reform and had a daughter, Fatima, almost 2 years old.
  • Ingrid Finger, Miss International 1965, from Germany was a fashion model and had recorded a number of songs in West Germany. She was still single.
  • Mirta Massa, Miss International 1967 (there was no pageant in 1966 )  was from Argentina. She was still single and living in Buenos Aires.

Both Miss Universe and Miss International Beauty contests are still being held. They both owe their roots to the City of Long Beach, California.

For a COMPLETE LIST OF CONTESTANTS in each contest held in Long Beach go to Long Beach Public Library's website click the Long Beach History bar on the left to get to the Long Beach History Index.

Photos from Long Beach Public Library, most taken by Rudolph Spika donated by his daughter Stephanie Spika.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Long Beach's First Baseball Star

Here's the low down on George Stovall, the first 
major league baseball player to call Long Beach 

       On July 4, 1904,  Long Beach’s own George Thomas Stovall, played his first major league baseball game for the Cleveland Blues.  It was a double header and George scored two hits in four times at bat in the morning game, and three hits in four times up in the afternoon contest.  The first baseman was off to an auspicious start, definitely earning his $150 a month salary.

  In 1899, 21-year-old George Stovall decided his future lay in California.  He went to work on the Wilhoit ranch, on Perris Road near Anaheim Road, but baseball was his true love.   Before coming to Long Beach in 1899, George ( born in Leeds, Missouri on November 23, 1877)  played on the J.J. Foster’s, a semi-pro team in Kansas City. The Foster’s however, got bad press when one of their players, Jesse James Jr., was arrested for having participated in a train robbery. Though James was acquitted, George along with brothers Sam and Jesse formed a new baseball club, without James. However the club was christened the Leeds Train Robbers and played under that name for some time. Upon arriving in Long Beach George Stovall was a member of “town teams” which played on “the flats” in the vicinity of Third Street and Pico Avenue; on a diamond in the neighborhood of Fifth Street and Maine Avenue, and later in “Athletic Park,” which was just east of California Avenue between Seventh and Tenth Streets. George organized a Sunday ball club which played a series of games against San Pedro, Wilmington and other cities on diamonds in the west part of town. Their club was called the Long Beach Brownies. 

      The first local team, the Long Beach Nine, had begun playing back in 1893, and the team often recruited anyone willing to pick up a bat just so they would have a full contingent of players. Such was the case with the 1899 Long Beach High School baseball team. The high school had just opened the previous year graduating a mere 15 students in 1899, the year George joined the team. It was hard to get enough players together to form a team, since many of the students lived in outlying areas and had to travel a great distance to get to the new school.  According to Long
Long Beach High School
Beach historian Walter Case, George was allowed to play on the local high school baseball team, even though he wasn't a student.  His days on the team were numbered, however, when the older and worldlier George purchased a bucket of beer for his team mates after a game with Whittier. Such an action in alcohol free Long Beach was not to be tolerated. George was quickly dismissed from the team by Long Beach school authorities.

          In the spring of 1901, the 23-year-old got a break in professional baseball, joining the Seattle team of the Northwestern League as a pitcher, but George hurt his arm in spring training and was released to Pendleton, Oregon, in the Inland Empire League where he played first base. In 1902 he started with the Walla Walla, Washington team in the Inland Empire League, but a month later the league expired.  In Salt Lake he and other Inland Empire players organized a team they called the “Mormons” and started east on a barnstorming tour.  While in Lincoln, Nebraska, the team attracted the notice of a fan from Atlantic, Iowa, who wrote home that Atlantic, then in last place in the Iowa Southwestern League, would do well to release its own players and sign the “Mormons” for the rest of the season.  His advice was taken; Stovall and his team won seven of the eight games they played for Atlantic.  Then that league, too, collapsed but George found a home with Cleveland. He remained with the club for nine years, and in 1911 was made manager. From 1912 to 1922 he managed teams in Kansas, Ohio, Florida and California and became President of the Association of Professional Baseball Players of America.

     He never forgot his friends and family in Long Beach.  In 1909, while wintering at home before the professional baseball season started, he gladly agreed to give the local high school baseball
1909 Poly High baseball team
team some pointers.  A new high school had opened that year, Polytechnic, replacing the older Long Beach High School.  His coaching tips were certainly appreciated, as members of the team stated in the 1909 Poly High School  Yearbook: 

     "It was perhaps a question in the minds of some Long Beach baseball fans as to the reasons for the team's unusual good batting average this season.  The coach is to blame for this...Mr. Stovall, who now plays first base for the Cleveland Indians handed out large packets of advice every night for three long weeks and what the team doesn't now know about the game of baseball, Spaulding doesn't publish in his rule book."

     The Poly team that year - Douglas Coughran, Pat Fulton, Husky Young, Scandinavian Pete, Whittier Fleckinger, Harry Galbraith, Tommy Boland, Sam Wotten, Spitty Frazer and Paul Enlow - lived on success. In the yearbook they added: "There is one very good satisfaction obtained through this year's ball team; we have got the townspeople standing behind the high school and ready to help with finances and lusty yells, All through the assistance of Mr. Daily who was able to secure the coaching of George Stovall."  (By the way, there were 102 high school graduates that year, a big increase from the 15 who graduated in 1899!)

One of George’s greatest claims to fame occurred in 1913 and earned him the nickname “Firebrand.”  Umpire Charles Ferguson called Stovall out on a third strike in the sixth inning of a Browns-Indians game. Stovall snatched Ferguson's hat off his head and threw it on the ground, then spit on the umpire's coat, according to the May 6, 1913 New York Times.  American League president Ben Johnson was outraged.  “There isn't room in the American League for players who commit offenses against public decency," Johnson said of Stovall's action. "I am astounded that any manager should create such a scene by losing his self-control in the presence of a large assemblage of patrons of the game. The American League will not countenance such conduct for a minute." Player-manager Stovall was fined $100 and suspended for three weeks. He was later fired by the team in October of that year and replaced by Branch Rickey.
For many years, George and his wife Emma, whom he married in 1904,  lived at 915 Cherry Avenue in Long Beach, making frequent visits to their ranch in Casa Grande Valley, Arizona. Upon retiring from the world of baseball George worked in the oil fields, in his spare time he coached the Loyola baseball team and managed the Houghton Park Baseball Club of Long Beach. He died November 5, 1951, in Burlington, Iowa.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Cinderella Ballroom

How many people are still around that remember Long Beach’s landmark dance hall the Cinderella Ballroom? It was located on the Northwest corner of Hart Place and East Seaside Way. From 1923 to 1966 the building known for its laminated stressed wood arches and romance graced the Pike. It was here that many couples met for the first time, dancing the night away to the music from the big bands. Others simply enjoyed the music by tuning in on their radios Tuesday evenings from 9-10 p.m. on KFWB---live from the popular Cinderella Ballroom in Long Beach. 

Everyone going to the Cinderella had to be aware of the rules. If they weren’t they could end up with a six month jail sentence, a fine of $500 or both.  “Hanky panky” of any sort was not allowed in any dance hall in Long Beach. In the early 1920s certain dances, such as the shimmy and the bunny hug, and any cheek to cheek dancing was blacklisted. Men could not dance with their right hand upon any portion of their female dancing partner except her back between her shoulder line and waist, or with their left hand in any position except extended from the body and holding the right hand of their partner.  Females could not dance with their left hand upon any portion of the male partner except his right arm, or with their right hand in any position except extended from the body and holding the left hand of her dancing partner.  Minors under 18 had to be accompanied to public dances by chaperones, specifically parents or guardians, not one of their older siblings. Also forbidden was “spooners' corner,” darkened areas of the dance hall.  To alleviate this, a Long Beach ordinance required a 16 candlepower light for each 36 square feet of floor. This left no twilight zone for couples who “sat out” dances.  All dances ended at midnight, except for New Year’s Eve.                      

Originally called the Arcadia Dance Hall, then the Rosegarden Dance Pavilion, the name Cinderella Ballroom was the name that stuck, perhaps because many a “Cinderella” somehow managed to meet her “Prince Charming” on the dance floor, despite all the city regulations.  
     In the 1920s and 30s ballroom dancing competitions were the rage and people flocked to the Cinderella Ballroom for the chance to win not only money, but a coveted trophy. The evening of April
15, 1928, was one to make ballroom history---not for a dance competition but for an attempted robbery of $12,000 in cash. 
     Police had received a tip that an attempt was to be made to blow open the safe of the ballroom.  With revolvers ready, and their pockets filled with extra bullets, the officers waited, expecting that the robbers might resort to gun play. Shortly before dawn, long after the ballroom had closed, officers saw a trio of men rip the screen from a window. When told to halt, the intruders whipped out their revolvers and opened fire. For ten minutes the shots were exchanged, one robber fleeing leaving behind his two wounded companions, one of which, Earl C. Davis, died shortly after with eleven bullet holes in his body.

     Sadly the music stopped in April 1966 when the city purchased the landmark at 311 E. Seaside for $135,375.  It was to be torn down to give better access to the Long Beach Arena and the Municipal Auditorium.  Though that spelled progress for many,
loyal followers of the Cinderella were heartbroken and petitioned the city for a new Cinderella in the area.  In late July 1966, a new ballroom opened in the Veteran’s Memorial Clubhouse.  But things were never the same---people got older, ballroom dancing became passé and finally the Veteran’s building itself fell in the way of progress. 
     Today only memories remain. Ironically, ballroom dancing has once again become trendy.  Ah, if only the Cinderella was still with us.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Some Early Long Beach Churches


In 1887 a Congregational church was organized with sixteen members, including Margaret & Jotham Bixby.  Margaret Hathaway Bixby, the daughter of a Congregational minister, persuaded her husband to erect a building which could seat 150 on what is now the corner of Third and Cedar.  Called "Cerritos Hall," its first activity was on April 17, 1887.  Presbyterian minister Wardell of Wilmington conducted the service, assisted by Baptist minister L.W. Hayhurst and Methodist minister S.J. Fleming. In a letter to the Times dated April 21, 1887, the writer stressed the new hall was not a Presbyterian Church. Margaret Bixby didn’t want it to be looked upon as a church dedicated to any particular religious faith or form of worship.  Instead she wanted it to be used by any religious denomination and for secular purposes as well. The first pastor was Rev. A.J. Wells, who served for one year, followed by Rev. R.M. Webster of Wisconsin who remained for six years.  Rev. Jenkins took the helm for a few months until Rev. Sydney Kendall came from Canada.  He remained until 1899 when Rev. Charles Pease of Massachusetts was called to serve.
  In 1897, the hall no longer needed for secular purposes, the Bixbys formally gave the property to the Congregationalists and a new building was planned. On October 12, 1902, the new $7000 edifice opened for business.  It had been an interesting lesson in design for the old Cerritos Hall had to be incorporated into the new, while at the same time staying open for services.  Designed by architect Henry Starbuck in what was called the “mission style,” the porches were broad and the entrance wide.  The base of the church walls was an arroyo of cobblestones rising to almost five feet.  The rest of the exterior was done in cement, while the roofs were covered with tile shaped shingles.  The new portion of the building consisted of a 48x48 foot auditorium, with a gallery overhead. This formed a nucleus around which smaller rooms, such as classrooms and a 12x24 foot library, were gathered.  The south wall of the auditorium was attached to the old hall which served as a Sunday school; together they could seat nearly 1000 people.  The parsonage had been moved to the west side of the church and remodeled and connected with the church by lattice work.
  On opening day the ladies of the church were out in force decorating with flowers and palms getting ready for the 4 p.m. formal dedication. An elaborate program was in the offing with Rev. Horace A. Day conveying the dedicatory prayer and Dr. George A. Gates, president of Pomona College, delivering the sermon.  In addition a chorus of twelve “of the best singers in the city” accompanied the musical portion of the program.  The audience then joined in singing an original hymn, written for the occasion by Rev. H.A. Reid of Pasadena. Rev. Charles Pease, pastor of the church then spoke briefly of the church and its growth, while Rev. Sydney Kendall, a former pastor, gave a scripture lesson.
     In 1914 the current  Italian Romanesque style church,  was completed at a cost of $210,000.


The Quaker Friends Church was among the earliest churches established in Long Beach.  A Friends’ Bible class was organized in February 1888 and the little congregation met in Cerritos Hall until the Quakers built their own church at the southeast corner of First and American in 1889.  Their first house of worship was a small frame building enlarged a few years later to house the growing number of parishioners; but the continued growth of the congregation soon outpaced the structure.  A new lot for a new church was purchased at 6th and American and the new edifice dedicated with a simple but impressive service conducted by Rev. Thomas Armstrong on Sunday, August 3, 1902.  The new church was described by the press as “a commodious structure, well arranged to meet the needs of the congregation.”  It contained a basement to be used for social purposes, a kitchen and dining room.  The ground floor housed a Sunday school room, as well as an “audience” room, separated by a sliding door which could be opened to provide additional space.  The new structure had cost over $6000, and on opening day the debt still owed was over $1200, but $750 donated during the celebratory ceremonies lowered the debt considerably.
  Not long after its completion the Pacific Electric Company located its car barns in the neighborhood, so the Quakers decided in 1904 to move to 4th Street and Elm Avenue.  In 1923 an even larger house of worship was erected at 9th and Atlantic.

First Christian

     On December 1, 1894, Long Beach pioneers met at the home of Elmer and Fannie Bacon on East First Street and organized the First Christian Church.  They did not obtain a regular pastor, however, until October, 1895 when the Rev. L.O.  Ferguson was appointed and guaranteed a salary of $25 per month.  The congregation worshiped in Pickle’s Hall on East First street until two lots were leased at the southeast corner of Third and Elm where a building was erected in the spring of 1897. In 1903 the church purchased the property at the southwest corner of Fourth and American and the building at Third and Elm moved to that site. 
     In 1936, Rev. Francis A. Wight recalled the early days of the church and how William Erwin Willmore, the founder of Long Beach, was converted in a tent revival meeting.  Later that same night, with the flickering light of lanterns held high by devout churchman, Willmore was baptized in the ocean.
      In 1989 the church bought the Christian Science building at 4th & Elm and moved to that location.


     A group of newcomers from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, led to the founding of Long Beach’s first Baptist Church.  The Shoenberger’s, Alairs and Albrickson families had all been members of the same Baptist Church in Detroit Lakes before moving to Long Beach.  In Long Beach the families found five other Baptists and started a church. The group met in the living quarters back of Mr. Alair’s hardware store on Pine Avenue.  Eventually a Sunday school was organized in Pickle’s Hall at the southeast corner of First and Locust.  A little later, $150 was appropriated from the church board and the services of Rev. C.W. Gregory were procured.  Gregory preached his first sermon in Long Beach on April 23, 1894, and on May 20, 1894, the church was officially organized. Its history records that members at that time were Mr. and Mrs. Alair, Mr. and Mrs. Shoenberger, Miss Lizzie Albrickson, Elder S.C. Blitch, who preached occasionally; four others of the Blitch household; Mrs. Laura Owens, A. Phelps, Mrs. Hattie Spradlin, J.T. Talbert, W.J. Morrison and A.H. Owens. 
     On July 14, 1895, a little frame structure was erected and dedicated as the First Baptist Church; on March 14, 1899, the church, which then had 100 members, was incorporated. Near the end of 1899 the Baptists bought the Chautauqua Hall property at 4th and Pine for $3000; $750 was spent on improving the building already on the site.  This church was dedicated as the First Baptist edifice May 8, 1900.  In 1905 the property was sold for $20,000.  The southwest corner at 4th and Locust was then purchased, for $11,900 and construction of a new church was started there in 1906. This was the home for the church for the next 44 years until a new structure on the corner of 10th and Pine was purchased on May 13, 1948, for $137,000.

Christian Science

     In 1896 small groups began gathering in various homes to study Christian Science philosophy. As the movement grew the need for a larger meeting place became apparent. In 1902 a small cottage called “The Barnacle” was rented and used as a place of worship and as a reading room. In 1904 the First Church of Christ Scientist was incorporated and organized with 17 members. Various meeting places were rented and outgrown until in 1912 two lots on Elm north of Fourth street were purchased and construction began on a modern $90,000 edifice designed by Los Angeles architect Elmer Grey.
      In 1989 the First Christian Church of Long Beach purchased the building for their services. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, now holds services at 3629 Atlantic Avenue in Long Beach.

Church of the Golden Rule

      In January 1895 a group of Long Beach residents decided they needed an “independent” church.  They proposed founding a church with a platform so broad and liberal that anyone, pagan, Christian or Turk, could accept it.  The only qualification needed was brotherly love and a willingness to “Do unto others even as you would have others do unto you.”  They didn’t want to interfere with any of the other churches in the community, but they had found like-minded folk who did not agree or affiliate with any of the different sects.
      Sunday, April 8, 1895, the new church held its first services at the Congregational church to hear Rev. R.M. Webster install pastor W.P. Haworth as minister to the only church of its kind in the world.  Officers were also installed: President, John Roberts; usher, Winfield Smith; recording secretary, O.H. Harlan; treasurer, Mrs. E.H. McCracken; musical director, Miss Bertha Truax; corresponding secretary, Miss Mignonette Bellew; vice president, Mrs. Mollie Richmond.   In July they introduced a new feature into their social gatherings---dancing!  On January 5, 1896, they celebrated their first anniversary at Forester hall, but nothing further is heard about the organization.  They failed to appear in the city’s first City Directory in 1899. 

Methodist Church

July 22, 1900, was a great day for Long Beach Methodists, no longer would they have to have services in the Tabernacle, which stood at the northeast corner of Third and Locust, they had a new house of worship on the northeast corner of Pine and Fifth.  The new Methodist church which had its first services that day, could seat nearly 1000 people, and the lot, costing $1050, was entirely paid for.  The cost of the building, according to the July 23, 1900 Los Angeles Times was $5487, with furnishings costing $2342. Ceremonies were held during the annual Chautauqua.  The church had a debt of $28,000 hanging over it which was reduced to less than half by the contributions of the congregation and Chautauquans at the dedication services.
The cornerstone of the church had been laid September 26, 1899; in it was a time capsule which included a Bible, copies of numerous denominational publications, lists of names of officers of the official bodies in connection with the church, names of subscribers to the church fund and copies of Long Beach papers.

Services on the morning of the dedication started with an organ recital by Ada Kinman.  Mozart’s “Gloria” was presented by the choir and scriptures read by Rev. Spring of Garden Grove, and Rev. F.V. Fisher of Ventura, a former pastor of the Long Beach Church.  The offertory was sung by Miss Chingren, Mrs. Enderly and Mrs. Neece.  The sermon was preached by Rev. Dr. R.S. Cantine, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.  He spoke of the account of the loves and the fishes, and the miraculous feeding of the multitude.           His address was brief, and after its completion, a half-hour was spent in receiving subscriptions for the lifting of the church debt.
The church would remain in this location until August 1909 when a new structure was dedicated at Fifth and Pacific.  At a cost of $150,000 it was hailed as the most beautiful and costly church in the city.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

  On August 22, 1900, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church at Fifth and Locust was dedicated.  The Rev. W.E. Jacob had taken charge of the Episcopal mission in Long Beach in 1897, riding on horseback between San Pedro, Wilmington and the village here. He had been keep busy conducting mission meetings in all three places.  He was still in charge of Episcopalian activities in Long Beach when the new church opened, but resigned in December 1910, when he was succeeded by Rev. Charles T. Murphy.  Fifteen clergymen from various parts of Southern California attended the Wednesday morning dedication, according to the August 25, 1900 Los Angeles Times. Rev. Archdeacon True of Los Angeles led the dedication ceremonies which were followed by a luncheon.
E.T. Harnett was senior warden of the mission from its inception in 1897, a position he held for more than 50 years.  The $5,000 church, designed by Henry F. Starbuck, a Long Beach resident, was later taken over by the First Christian Church when a new Episcopal Church was built at Seventh and Locust in 1918.

A welcome gift came from the estate of railroad magnate Charles Crocker in 1906. Crocker, who had a major interest in the Long Beach Land and Development Company, also purchased property in Long Beach in the late 1880s.  In 1901, Alice King’s mother contacted Crocker’s heirs and reminded them of the undeveloped Long Beach property and mentioned that the church would like to take over one of the lots.  It seemed the property was to be sold for delinquent taxes. Unaware they even owned the land, the heirs quickly paid the taxes but told the church the property couldn’t be divided because the heirs were under age. Five years later Alice King took up her dead mothers cause and contacted them again.  Though both lots had been sold a $2000 donation was given by thankful Crocker’s heirs to the church. (LAT 2/27/06)


Up until 1900 there were fewer than 200 Catholics in Long Beach and most attended services in Wilmington.  In the fall of 1902, however, it looked like Long Beach Catholics would have their own church.   On October 19, 1902, a crowd estimated to be around 2000, gathered to witness the laying of the corner stone of St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church at 6th and Olive.  It was Bishop George Montgomery who led the ceremony, blessing the cornerstone and filling a time capsule with copies of local newspapers, a synopsis of church history and some coins and badges.

  The project was launched by a group of Roman Catholics including Mrs. J.M. Morris, Judge H.C. Dillon and Mrs. John Ena who convinced the local Catholic bishop to build a church in Long Beach.  Mrs. Morris sought the assistance of real estate agent Frank Shaw who donated two acres on Quality Hill.  Since this location was too far from the city, it was sold and a 100x100 foot lot on Sixth and Olive was purchased.  Next to this Thomas Wall owned a 50x150 foot lot which he donated for the resident priest’s home.  Mrs. Morris herself owned 56x200 feet next to Wall’s property which she also donated to the church.  On June 21, 1902, it was decided that a church would be built, and at this first meeting $750 was raised. In the next few weeks $1500 more was added to the coffers and on August 23rd the plans of Los Angeles architect Munsell were accepted and L.J. Kelly appointed superintendent of construction. Like the Congregational Church, it too was in the mission style and was expected to cost around $3,500.  It was dedicated on July 19, 1903.
It was built to hold about 300 parishioners with the choir loft, at the rear of the building, seating about 150. In the south end a stained glass oval window costing $200 had been donated by H.C. Dillon.  At the other end of the church was a similar window, paid for by the people of the parish. By the time of dedication the church had almost been paid for.  The money raised mainly by church fairs.  However, everyone was so tired of church fairs that the church board had voted to do away with them. The rest of the money would be raised by individual subscriptions, alone.
The dedication service began at 10:30 a.m. on July 19, 1903. A crowd of devout worshipers had filled the structure to its limit, and from outside men climbed on carriages and peered into the windows.  The high altar, with its burning candles and incense was beautiful and impressive.  A solemn high mass was celebrated by Bishop Conaty from Los Angeles.  Rev. Ramon Ferrer of Wilmington was assigned acting priest.
Additional property was acquired and a new building started in 1913. A parish school was later built.

Information from the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Herald. Photos courtesy Long Beach Public Library

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Burnett District and the Terminal Railroad

A little known, but very historic area of Long Beach has recently come under discussion.  The Burnett school which believed itself to be named for Peter Hardeman Burnett, the first governor of California, was renamed the Bobbie Smith Elementary School in September 2014, after charges that Peter Burnett was an alleged racist.  But somewhere along the line it was forgotten that the area of the city once known as Burnett was actually named after Thomas Burr Burnett, the general manager of the Terminal Railroad, whose rail line opened the future metropolis of Long Beach to the world.


            Since 1888 there had been talk of a third transcontinental railroad line from Los Angeles, by way of the rich mineral fields of Southern Nevada and Utah, to Salt Lake City.  The franchise to build the line was finally awarded to the Los Angeles Utah and Atlantic Railway. For two years the railway did nothing, and in 1890 the Los Angeles Terminal Railway Company asked for the lapsed franchise and land grants of the do-nothing railway.  The city of Los Angeles granted the new franchise with one stipulation: a levee had to be built by the railroad on the east bank of the Los Angeles River.

Terminal railroad accident at the Municipal cemetery 1929
            The Los Angeles Terminal Railroad Company was formed in September 1890 out of the Long Beach and San Pedro Railroad Company and the Los Angeles Pasadena and Glendale Railroad.  Thomas B. Burnett was general manager, W.H. Workman, W. Winthup and D. McFarland directors.  In 1890, the Terminal Railway acquired Rattlesnake Island at San Pedro from the Dominguez family as a terminus for their rail line (eventually changing the name of the island to Terminal Island).  Despite the protests of some that a rail line along Ocean Avenue would destroy the beauty of the town on April 5, 1891, the Long Beach Board of Trustees granted the Terminal Railway a franchise to build a line along the beach front, bringing the cars directly to the hotels.  The citizens of Long Beach celebrated the momentous event by having a banquet and torchlight procession. 

Driving of the Golden Spike - The Road is Dedicated

            On November 7, 1891, twelve carloads of people flocked to the Long Beach seashore to witness the opening of the new railroad.  Flags were flown from housetops and a large crowd of people awaited the visitors.  A stop made at Pacific Park allowed many more to board the train before it reached the terminus on Rattlesnake Island.

            At the end of the line, passengers disembarked. They were given time to see the site of the city’s proposed new wharf.  They then returned to Long Beach, got out and mingled with the crowd.  A dedication ceremony followed with a golden spike driven into the rail line  by Miss Lucia Burnett, daughter of the general manger of the rail line.  The spike was a facsimile of the regulation railroad spike, but made of gold; it was engraved with the inscription: “Last spike driven by the Terminal Railroad at Long Beach, Cal.” (Los Angeles Times 11/9/1891) The mallet then passed to W.H. Goucher, President of the Long Beach Board of Trustees, and Mayor Hazard of Los Angeles, each of whom gave the spike a couple of blows and drove it home. 

(What happened to the spike?  Around 1911 two boys pried it out of the rail track, thinking it was pure gold.  The police recovered the spike and placed it in the junk room at police headquarters where it was discovered in 1913. It was then put on display at the Chamber of Commerce.  What happened after that remains a mystery.)  

            After all the grandiose speeches came what everyone was waiting for --- the barbecue.  A hungry crowd of 1500 rushed from the speaker's stand to the large tables set up in Pacific Avenue alongside the park.  Two plank tables resting upon piles of railroad ties extended 200 feet along the thoroughfare.  They were heaped with smoking meats, stacks of white bread, coffee and apples.  The men carved meat while dozens of boys and girls carried the portions to the eager guests.  There was plenty of meat (beef, mutton and pork), bread, coffee and apples to go around.  The Long Beach band and Ahrend's band of Los Angeles furnished the music.  The festivities ended with a grand ball.  Some visitors brought home the bones from the barbecue as souvenirs.

A Trip Over the Terminal Railway Described

            A preview run of the rail line was held October 23, 1891, when manager Thomas B. Burnett arranged a trip for 200 farmers in Los Angeles for a convention to travel over his new line to Long Beach.  The line, just completed the day before, was ready for a trial run.  Nine cars were comfortably filled with the farmers, their wives and children as they anxiously anticipated this unforeseen honor.  Burnett had promised to make the trip in 30 minutes, the fastest time ever made to Long Beach.  But after the train had gone three or four miles at this high rate of speed, Burnett called a halt and ordered the train to go a little slower.  It seemed the farmers were not used to going at such a high rate of speed as the railroad men and some were getting a little squeamish.  As it was, the trip was made in 50 minutes and everyone arrived healthy and happy.  The farmers were greeted to a rousing reception; the band played and crowds cheered as the farmers left the train for their complementary lunch.  Following lunch carriages were available to give those who did not care to stroll on the beach a ride about the city.  When it came time for the train to leave, the farmers gathered on the depot platform and gave the new road and the people of Long Beach a round of cheers that could be heard for blocks around.

             A July 1898 article in an issue of Terminal Topics, the monthly magazine of the Los Angeles Terminal Railway, described a rail trip from the Terminal Station in Los Angeles to Long Beach and on to Terminal Island.  The cost of the fifty-mile round trip from Los Angeles to Terminal Island was 50 cents.  There were two terminals in Long Beach, one at First and Alamitos (Alamitos Beach), the second on the northeast corner of Ocean and Pacific.  Two miles out of town there was the Burnett Station. Passengers who did not leave the train at Long Beach found themselves whirling along the ocean to Terminal Island, described as “a new and very attractive resort, where neither money nor labor is being spared to make a most charming place of amusement and recreation for the people.”  From Los Angeles the train passed through “a luxurious country of gardens and dairies, acres of blackberries and strawberries, green alfalfa fields and waving corn, passing flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.”  Four trains daily and five on Sunday made it easy for a businessman to summer at the beach and continue to work in Los Angeles.

Burnett Railway Station

     Two miles out of downtown Long Beach, farmers south of Signal Hill decided they needed their own rail depot. The area was known for its beautiful flower fields, and taking their daily pickings into Long Beach meant that many of the  fragile blooms would be damaged before making it to the Los Angeles market. They petitioned the Terminal Railroad for their own station. Thomas Burnett, general manager of the Terminal Railroad,  complied and a depot was built (northwest corner of California and Burnett).  Originally called the Signal Hill Station, it took on a new name in February 1897 (Los Angeles Herald 2/28/1897). It seemed the post office didn't like compound or hyphenated names for their post office stations. Many remembered Thomas Burnett, who had suffered a stroke the previous year, and wanted the new station named for him, to honor his achievements.  Signal Hill station became Burnett. Within a few months the area around the depot began to be referred to as Burnett.  Burnett, was on high ground overlooking the entire city of Long Beach, the harbor and Catalina Island, lay just south of what is now the intersection of Willow and California.  A school, the third in the Long Beach district was established in 1888. Known as the Signal Hill School, the name was changed to Burnett Elementary in the late 1890s.  

Burnett Station

     The fact the area had its own rail station proved a boon to the area.  What was home to truck gardeners gradually gave way to housing. 
 In July 1903, the Evening Tribune reported a building boom in Burnett with land selling for $1000 an acre.  A number of families had recently arrived from “Indian Territory” (as Oklahoma was known then).  This influx of new immigrants meant that two new rooms had to be added to the school house.
            Burnett was a prominent farming community.  At one time three miles of farm land separated it from Long Beach, but with the all the real estate activity houses were quickly replacing agriculture.
            Burnett was the first station out of Long Beach to the north on the  railroad line.  Its fertile soil and climate meant that flowers and fruits could be raised year round.  It was not unusual for the railroad to pick up 400 pounds of flowers and berries each day to take to market.  A large cannery operated on the forty acre Densmore Ranch in Burnett.  4000 gallon cans of blackberries and 600 cases of jams and preserves of figs and other kinds of fruit were put up during the season.  
     In August 1913, Los Angeles businessman C. Dean Mc-Phail, bought a large section of what became known as the Burnett Villa Tract for development.  Gradually the area known as Burnett would be absorbed into Long Beach, with only the name Burnett Street, Burnett school, and Burnett library remaining to mark the history of the district.
     On March 22, 1920 (Long Beach Press 2/23/1920), residents of the Burnett district decided they were satisfied with "Burnett" as the name of their school.  While other schools in the district were changing their names from the area of the city where they were located to names of historical personages, Burnett decided to remain Burnett. 
     Over the years Thomas B. Burnett was forgotten. He had only been involved with the Terminal railway for 6 years when in 1896 he suffered a stroke and remained bedridden until his death on August 15, 1901.  If he had lived his name may have been as well known as Henry Huntington.  It was his ambition to see the Terminal railway become a link in a transcontinental system, which it did become when it was absorbed the the Salt Lake railway which later became the Union Pacific.  He was a mover and shaker who died at the too young age of 57.
     History can become confused, which is the case of Burnett school and library.  The Long Beach School District in looking for a famous Burnett to keep the name of the school the same, found Peter Burnett, California's first governor. Thomas Burnett's short history with the railroad and Long Beach was forgotten.  It's too late to change the name of Burnett school back to the "real" Burnett behind the name, but fortunately the City of Long Beach is keeping its Burnett Branch Library name, despite an article which appeared in the Press-Telegram in October 1957 saying the library was also named for Peter Burnett.  History can also become embellished, such as the story told by a Burnett resident to reporter Walter Case in the 1930s. Case was told that the Burnett station had always been named Burnett and that the only reason it was constructed was because area farmers said if built they would name the station after the Terminal Railroad's general manger.  Let's remedy the errors today, remembering the real history of the Burnett area and railroad man Thomas Burr Burnett.

In case you're wondering...I'm not related to either Peter or Thomas Burnett...nor is my husband. And if you're curious about the Get-Out-And-Push railroad, the first into Long Beach---that's another blog!

For more about Burnett and early Long Beach go to my website
for the blog: From Farms to Subdivisions.