Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Long Beach's Castle By the Sea: The Pacific Coast Club

Opening celebrations 1926

         Visitors to Long Beach after 1926 were surprised to find the city had its own castle perched above the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.  This Norman style structure was the Pacific Coast Club (PCC), a building that became an iconic landmark and symbol of Long Beach through the 1980s.

          Groundbreaking of the prestigious Pacific Coast Club was held on June 9, 1925; fifteen months later, on September 4, 1926, it was dedicated "to the comradeship of men." Medieval jousting and pageantry heralded the dedication.  Men at arms on chargers assisted motorcycle officers in diverting traffic. Trumpeters, dressed as pages, sounded the call for the beginning of the dedication ceremony, while pike-men stood guard on the low battlements of the building.  A few moments before the program started, a squadron of nine naval airplanes appeared over the new structure, at the same instant fireworks began to burst above the clubhouse.
           A massive 3,400-pound cornerstone was guided into its resting place in the buttress east of the main portal. It contained a photograph of the Long Beach skyline, a 1926 coin and the first club roster. The Long Beach Municipal Band played while the color guard of the Coast Artillery from Fort MacArthur stood by as the dedication ceremonies commenced. Curtis D. Wilbur, Secretary of the Navy, spoke to the gathering. Over and over he expressed his surprise at the magnificence of the building. The brief ceremony ended with a prayer for the well-being of the organization as the American flag was hoisted on the lofty Norman tower 200 feet above the beach.
Cornerstone of the Pacific Coast Club
        The formal opening of the Pacific Coast Club was a five-day gala affair that began on October 26, 1926.  As guests arrived, they were photographed by the club photographer and escorted through the building by the reception committee.  Dinner was served in three different dining rooms, while special entertainers and an orchestra performed.  Following dinner five orchestras provided music.

        The idea of the club had been formulated three years earlier, in 1923.  Three groups planned to build clubs on an elaborate scale, the Pacific Coast Club, Long Beach Athletic Club, and the Petroleum Club.  They quickly realized that by combining efforts they could truly build something on a grand scale.  They also shared a joint vision: the club would be the gathering place of the business, professional, cultural and artistic life of the community.
Beach area of club, 1929
        The $1,250,000 club at 850 E. Ocean had two divisions: The club portion, which involved the sub-basement, basement, ground, second and third floors. The other was the hotel or apartment portion, which included apartment suites for resident bachelor members located on six floors. 
    The sub-basement contained the boiler room, club storerooms, the helps' dining room and the service kitchen. In the basement you would find the gymnasium, pool, handball courts, locker rooms for men and women, Turkish baths, a valet, barbershop, beauty parlor, and restrooms. The Grand Hall was located on the first floor as was the lounge, main dining room, the kitchen grill, women's entrance lobby, checking rooms and club office. The second floor featured the women's dining room, private dining rooms, game rooms, women's lounge and billiard room. The third floor was devoted exclusively to the library. There were several types of membership: Life, Charter, Regular and Associate. The cap on membership was 1500.
        The club was the meeting place for the who's who of Long Beach, but members wanted a broader membership base and in January 1928 agreed to sell the club to the Los Angeles Athletic Club for $2 million. There had also been some financial problems.
        "It makes possible the further development of all our amateur health giving activities, which includes golf, polo, yachting, shooting, fishing, ocean bathing, and all forms of sports for women and children," W. M. Gardner told the Los Angeles Times (1/15/1928).  The Los Angeles Athletic Club assumed all of the liabilities of the Pacific Coast Club, and in return, received title to all of its assets. "The consolidation will free the Pacific Coast Club of all financial problems and gives it an unrestricted opportunity to realize its avowed ambition to develop the dormant maritime spirit of Long Beach and make it the yachting center of the world," Besides raising the $100 yearly dues to $150, the new owners brought in additional capital to purchase the adjoining lot for future expansion, and to make some changes to the existing structure.  They also worked with the City of Long Beach in constructing wharves and moorings for yachting vessels. The new consortium retained ownership until 1964 when it was sold to a new group of members of which Richard Rand was listed as owner. Llewellyn Bixby, Jr., Harry Buffum, John W. Hancock Jr.,  Daniel Clock, and Daniel H. Ridder served as members of the governing board.(LA Times 4/19/1964)

Closed up, waiting for demolition, 1988
       On May 5,  1971, the Internal Revenue Service padlocked the club's facilities stating the IRS was owed $16,191.14 in back taxes. Two days later Great Western Savings and Loan paid the back taxes and became the third owners of the once palatial club which still boasted a membership of 1500. The club was also behind $25,000  on a $450,000 loan. As owners, Great Western stripped and sold at auction most of the interior of the club in February 1972. Despite this, Sally Olshane and Josef Janota bought the PCC in 1976 from Great Western, but their  attempts to bring the historic structure back to its glory days failed,  In September 1977 it was auctioned off for $35,378.87 to Long Beach realtor Mark Brown. Though the property was assessed at $5.5 million Brown also took on the $445,000 loan on the structure held by Great Western, In the meantime Josef Janota spent years in complex legal battles trying to regain ownership of the landmark building. In 1982 he regained title to the once-exclusive club building that had been declared a Long Beach landmark in 1979. He worked hard to raise $12 million  to $18 million to recondition the facility into a hotel, club and restaurant, but wasn't successful. When the mortgage holder tried to foreclose in 1983, Janota declared bankruptcy. 
            The future brightened in 1985 when Louisiana oil man Earl M. Harter Jr. of Shreveport fell in love with the building and agreed to purchase it for $7.3 million. But the deal fell through. On April 26, 1988, the sixty-two-year-old castle by the sea fell to the wrecking ball. Despite efforts by Long Beach heritage groups, previous owners and the building's placement on the National Register of Historic Places, it could not be saved. Now the site is home to the Pacific Condominium Tower, built in 1992, it's glorious past all but forgotten.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Los Altos, its library and Lloyd Whaley

On February 21, 2017, Los Altos Neighborhood Library at 5614 E. Britton Drive in the Los Altos area of Long Beach celebrated its 60th birthday.  It is my pleasure to give you a look at that day in 1957, the neighborhood it served and the man responsible for much of the development of Long Beach.

Los Altos Library

Artist rendering of the Los Altos branch library
            In February 1957, the Long Beach library’s bookmobile which parked one day a week at Bellflower and Stearns was replaced by a brand new $132,000 library. The Los Altos Library opened February 21, 1957, with a selection of 15,000 books and had enough room to add 20,000 more.  Special features, according to the Independent Press Telegram included “acoustical tile ceilings, air conditioning, and a return book slot for the convenience of patrons.” 
A bookmobile served the community
before the branch was built
         The Los Altos library was the first new library since the new North branch had been built in 1951, with four more (Bret Harte, Dana, Bach & Bay Shore) in the planning stages with a long range goal of giving all Long Beach residents a library within a one mile reach of their home. Los Altos was also the city’s first library which “started from nothing.” Other branches had started in small rented spaces before moving to permanent quarters and had ample time to accumulate appropriate reading materials.  Building a library full of books from scratch was a challenge.  Los Altos needed technical books to support Douglas Aircraft personnel; reference works to help college students; and general literature to support the reading demands of the public both young and old.
Moving in
           The library opened with three librarians, one who worked with children, and another with teens and adults. The branch librarian was responsible for overall operations and outreach to community groups. There were also two clerks, a page and maintenance worker. Those used to using the bookmobile were greeted with a familiar face, Mildred Snider, promoted to branch librarian.
            On Saturday, February 23rd, 1957, Los Altos patrons formed long lines at the new library, many there for the branch's first children's program. Four special events were scheduled for the library's first full week of in operation. Miss Nina Boyle, film librarian came from the Main library to conduct a cinema night on Monday; Tuesday a book review program was hosted by Mildred Snider, assisted by Mrs. Harriett Covey, Mrs. Alice Titus, and Miss Alice Walsh. Mrs. Mary Pearson, Main library recordings librarian, presented a music program on Wednesday. And on Thursday Miss Blanche Collins, assistant librarian in charge of branches, served as moderator for a book discussion. 
Mildred Snider shown
in 1977 at the dedication
of the new Main library
which she planned
           Two thousand four hundred thirty-five books were loaded the first day. "The library was not prepared for the tremendous and sustained book hunger manifested by the people of this area," City Librarian Edwin Castagna wrote in the library's 1956-1957  annual report. So popular was the branch that it had to limit the number of books loaned per person. Before the branch had been opened a month it became obvious that a staff of seven was not able to handle all the work.  Two new staff members were assigned, bringing the staff up to nine. Despite the lack of books, Los Altos was second only to the Main library in circulation loaning 262,982 items the first year.  Staff also answered 29,911 reference question, filled 4793 reserves, hosted 133 adult meetings, 121 school visits and 44 story hours that first year. 
           Planned to serve a community of 46,000, the branch was built on land given by developer Lloyd S. Whaley in 1951, with architects William A. Lockett and Richard L. Popper hired to design the brick structure with 6,900 square feet of floor space.  In December 1955 plans for Los Altos were approved by the City Council.  Ground was broken on July 19, 1956, opening Thursday, February 21, 1957.     

Original floor plan for Los Altos Branch Library. 
           Whaley also donated land on the north and south sides of Atherton Street for a park in March 1950. Originally called the Los Altos Recreation Center, the name was changed in December 1954 to Whaley Park. He also donated 11 acres for Scherer Park (430 E. 49th Street) in Bixby Knolls and five acres for Los Altos Park (481 Stearns Street). 

Lloyd Whaley & Los Altos

            In 1935, 29-year-old Lloyd S. Whaley left the farm life he knew in Nebraska and headed west.  He took a job as a laborer in the Port of Long Beach’s lumberyards.  While working there he befriended local contractors and suppliers and soon found himself designing, building and selling “speculative” houses near Jordan High School.  This was just the start of what would become a tremendous real estate career.  In 1939, Whaley founded the Home Investment Co. and purchased land in West Long Beach from rancher Jim Tolbert.  Will-O-Vere Park, Whaley’s first major housing effort, was built in the early 1940s north of Willow Street and west of Santa Fe Avenue.  He named the developments' main drive “La Vere” after his wife, and dubbed a street ‘Rodloy” for his sons Rodney and Lloyd Dale. Within 15 years he built 5000 homes, 525 rental units, and 35 commercial buildings, most in the Long Beach area.
       During World War II, Whaley developed the Wrigley Terrace and Wrigley Heights neighborhoods, and transformed the rolling knolls east of Long Beach Boulevard and north of San Antonio Drive into Country Club Manor, Ridgewood Heights and Ridgewood Manor.  Because of restrictions on materials for wartime home builders, Whaley met his customers halfway by supplying them with a concrete garage foundation that could be finished when the war was over.  He later took care of his materials problems by establishing the Whaley Lumber Company at Cherry Avenue and Artesia Boulevard in North Long Beach.  The one-time lumberyard laborer also acquired two logging operations and sawmills in Northern California.
Plans for Los Altos Manor. Lloyd Whaley on right.
    When the war ended, Whaley quickly positioned himself to serve the army of home buyers who soon would be getting their discharge papers.  In April 1946, Whaley purchased several parcels of land from Susanna Bixby Bryant and created the area of Long Beach which would become known as Los Altos.  Housing development with names such as Los Altos Terrace, Los Altos Manor, University Manor, Park Estates and Los Altos Village popped up on land once called “Alkali Flats” because of the strong alkaline content of its mostly marshy soil.  But Whaley didn’t forget the woman who sold him the land.  In honor of Mrs. Bryant he named the new Los Altos Village post office the Bryant post office.  He also named Bryant Road, his most exclusive street in luxurious Park Estates, after the same family.
        On May 9, 1948, developer Lloyd S. Whaley disclosed plans for his huge Los Altos Park subdivision on Pacific Coast Highway, northeast of Recreation Park.  With architect Hugh Gibbs, Whaley was planning a $13 million business and residential community which would include a civic building, church, theater and 10-story hotel.  The principal street in the new Los Altos community was to be named for Barbara Britton, a Long Beach girl who won fame in motion pictures.  Britton Drive would connect the new shopping center with a 12-acre elementary school site.
Los Altos Hardware store. 1951.
        In November 1948, Whaley broke ground for the first phase of his residential element --- Los Altos Terrace and Los Altos Manor.  The Terrace and Manor combined had 1477 residences and a business center on Bellflower Boulevard.  In fact Bellflower Boulevard would be the separating line between the two developments.  Homes started at $7850 and included a stove, refrigerator and a new invention --- the garbage disposal.  Whaley’s plan for Los Altos would win him first place in the National Association of Home Builders regional building contest, and second place in the national contest.
       By August 1949, construction had begun on the new shopping center to service Los Altos Terrace and Manor.  The center, with a 141-foot frontage on the 2100 block of Bellflower, was designed with a large parking area at the rear.  In addition, it came with a new-fangled concept --- air conditioning. The first structure in the new center was a $145,000 supermarket and drug store.  A restaurant, gas station and a smaller market were already in operation.  Plans also included a large variety store, hardware store, barber and beauty shop, baby shop and a shoe repair business.
Aerial view of the Los Altos Shopping Center site in 1953;
Bellflower Boulevard bisects the photograph.  In the foreground
 is Stearns Street.  On the south edge of the site, 
new Britton Avenue is crossing the vacant land. 
     The second phase of residential construction was Los Altos Park, located near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and East Anaheim Street.  Residences here were individually designed and custom built.
            Whaley didn’t just limit himself to the Los Altos area.  In 1949 he began developing “Country Club Manor” in the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach.  Two-bedroom homes started at $8300 and featured fireplaces, double garages, landscaping, dinettes, floor furnaces and wood shingle roofs.  No down payment were needed if the buyer was a G.I. and loans were available at 4% interest.  Nor did he limit his building to Long Beach. As president of Mesa Development Company, Whaley built the multimillion-dollar Paradise Valley Country Club and luxury home complex just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.


            In December 1952, while laying out yet another Whaley development in the Los Altos area remains of a 1500 year old Indian village was unearthed.  Parts of two skeletons, beads, tools and arrowheads were found when ground was broken for a new subdivision 300 yards east of Bellflower and a quarter of a mile north of Stearns.  Remains of skunks, crows, coyotes, lizards, rats, mice, frogs and snakes were also unearthed. Trade goods with desert tribes from Palm Springs were also found, but nothing that showed Spanish influence. Archaeologists from the Southwest Museum and Long Beach State College believed the site was part of Puvungna, an ancient “holy” city. 
      The Native Americans who inhabited Puvungna were called “Tongva” which means “people of the earth.” These Indians later became known as Gabrielinos, after the San Gabriel Mission.  According to researchers the tribe had a principal god named Chungichnish who emerged full grown from a spring on present day Rancho Los Alamitos. Southern California Native Americans, devoted to their belief in Chungichnish, made yearly pilgrimages to Puvunga (which can be translated as “The Gathering,” or “The Place of the Crowd.”) to honor their major god, as well as the sacred spring where they believed life on earth first emerged.
           Later research determined the center of the village was 2 miles square bounded by present day Willow Street, Anaheim Road, Palos Verdes Street and Los Alamitos Boulevard. 

       Whaley, who died in 1973, would build more than 11,000 single-family residences in Long Beach, or as his advertisements like to tout, “150 miles of homes.”  He was always willing to take risks.  His business plan was simple: “Borrow a lot of money and hope to hell you can pay it back.”

Watch a You Tube video of Lloyd Whaley and the development of Los Altos

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Own-Your-Own Apartments

             By 1921 Long Beach had leaped to the forefront  as one of the most progressive cities in the United States, accomplishing a marvelous record of growth by trebling its population and property valuations and multiplying its bank deposits by five in the past decade. It had also acquired a world-wide fame as a place of beautiful homes, and a desirable place to live.  In February 1921 it took another leap forward by holding a week long industrial fair to show its potential importance in commerce and manufacturing. The manufacturing growth started in 1907 when the city dredged and opened a navigable gateway to the sea to induce Craig Shipbuilding to construct a shipyard in Long Beach.  Much development followed this municipal enterprise and in 1921, at the time of the industrial fair, Long Beach had 150 industries, with $16,500,000 ($218 billion today*) invested, giving employment to 6000 with an aggregate monthly payroll of $1,250,000 ($16.6 billion). (Source: Los Angeles Herald 1/29/1921).  The city's future got even brighter when oil was discovered on Signal Hill on June 23, 1921.  
            As a result of this tremendous growth, a construction frenzy in own-your-own apartments hit the downtown area in 1922---the Cooper-Arms, the Omar Hubbard, St. Regis, and the Sovereign were the largest.  Smaller projects included the American on 4th Street, the Artiban and Palace.    
          The idea of owning a piece of property as a group was a novel idea, but one that was making headway.  One ad stated:
         The people of the world are beginning to realize that an object can be accomplished more easily and with less expense by working with their fellow citizens.  This pertains not only to a community apartment but also to business and all things in general.  If the people of this country were entirely dependent upon their own personal libraries for all they read, they would not stand in such a high rank as an educated nation.  The community library makes it possible for every one to have access to books on all subjects.  This is only one of the many institutions that prove the feasibility of a community apartment building. (LB Press 9/26/1921)

            The city prided itself with keeping up with modern innovations---only the latest technology and ideas for this expanding city. One of these ideas, according to the Long Beach Press (11/28/1923), was the own-your-own apartment concept.  Long Beach, the newspaper stated, was the first city in the nation to institute the own-your-own apartment idea. But the following year the newspaper admitted the concept had originated in New York 40 years earlier, so perhaps Long Beach could only claim the distinction of being the first city "west of the Mississippi" to institute the idea. (LB Press 7/30/1924). In any case, Long Beach was in the forefront of the movement the Los Angeles Times reported (7/13/1924) stating: "There is no city in the country that is ahead of Long Beach in this particular type of building."

              Today many may not be familiar with the term "own-your-own" confusing it with the newer term "condominium." They are similar in that they are both fee simple ownership with individual tax bills and deeds.  One big difference is parking.
Loynes Garage
When the own-your-owns were built in Long Beach in the 1920s mass transit was the norm and owning your own car a concept new to most. Later "own-your-own auto palaces" like Motor Home
, Inc. on Atlantic between Ocean and First  sprang up, so apartment dwellers who owned autos could park.  The Loynes garage, which opened at Chestnut and Second in 1922, was also anxious to serve the growing influx of automobiles to the downtown area.  The $80,000 ($1.13 million) structure was said to be the second largest garage in the state. In 1940 it was leased to the city and became the city's municipal garage.  It was torn down a few years ago for redevelopment.


           Of Tudor Gothic Design, the $800,000 ($10.6 million) Sovereign, built opposite the famous Hotel Virginia on Ocean and Magnolia, was the first of the own-your-own apartment buildings in Long Beach. Frank P. Wright and Pearl West, the promoters of the Sovereign, were credited with coining the phrase "own-your-own apartment." When Wright came west he found a dearth of homes, and rental costs high because of the lack of housing. He remembered Chicago where many wealthy people had gotten together and purchased apartment buildings, each family owing a floor or two.**  He believed this Chicago social club idea could be developed commercially. His business partner, Pearl West, thought the idea had merit and the two decided on a pioneer venture---the Sovereign “own-your-own” apartment. They approached Fred Knight, a local attorney, who worked out the legal aspects to the proposal, and sales of the Sovereign began in 1921.  Because of problems with financing, excavation did not begin until September 8, 1922; the building was finished in September 1923.
          The individually owned apartment idea met with great success and others quickly entered the market.  Though five other own-your-owns were completed in Long Beach before the Sovereign, the Sovereign remains the first creation using the cooperative own-your-own idea.
            The 11-story structure, designed by local architect W. Horace Austin, contained 76 two, three and four room apartments, each with outside exposure, tiled bathroom, large dressing room with full length mirror and the latest design of disappearing bed.  On top of the structure was a ballroom, amusement room and sun parlor.  A beauty shop, grocery store, barber shop, French cafe and drug store were businesses located on the Windsor Place side of the Sovereign.  Asking price for apartments in the Sovereign was not advertised.

            The first own-your-own to be finished in Long Beach was the $400,000 ($5.3 million) Artiban Apartments at Ocean Boulevard and Atlantic (10 Atlantic), designed by architect Harold Cross (who also designed the Grant Hotel in San Diego).  Ground was broken for the nine story, seventy apartment homes on May 12, 1921.  At the time construction began 75 percent of the apartments had been sold (5 were still available).  Each apartment consisted of from two to seven rooms with individual telephones, tiled baths and kitchens, choice of disappearing beds, vacuum cleaner system, and automatic ice-less refrigerators.  There was a sun parlor, social hall and promenade on the roof; a banquet room,  kitchen, showers and dressing rooms, storage rooms, refuse incinerator, and the latest laundry equipment in the basement; the floor of the lobby was tile, the woodwork of mahogany, and the walls and ceilings “tiffanied” or hand stenciled in oil colors.  At the east of the building was a sixteen-foot court with flowers and fountains.  The Artiban was turned over to its apartment owners in April 1922.

St. Regis

      Because of the financial problems in getting the Sovereign started, owners E. J. and Bryon Burgess insisted on delaying sales of their apartments until the first floor of their own-your-own, the St. Regis, was completed.  Ground was broken in September 1921 for the 7-story (with basement) structure.   It contained 76 apartments and an ocean bluff location on Second  Place and East Ocean Boulevard.  Cost of the building was to be $660,000 ($8.74 million) with apartments ranging in price from $4,250-$14,400 ($56,300-$192,000).  The individual apartments were two to three rooms, including kitchen, bath and dressing rooms.  The two or three rooms could be converted into a four, five or six room suite at the option of the owner.  Buyers had a choice of either mahogany or gum woodwork.  An ice-less refrigerator system, breakfast nook, tile kitchen sink and tile floors in the bathroom were also featured.  Oscillating, disappearing beds were a built-in feature.
     The St. Regis, opened for occupancy in November 1922. It  was advertised as having all the advantages of a high class club, electricity, power, water, etc., all paid for from an assessment of 3% per year based on the purchase price. 

Omar H. Hubbard
            On March 9, 1922, the 11-story Omar Hubbard apartment building began to rise from the southwest corner of Broadway and Cedar (310 W. Broadway), where two houses and a fruit market had stood a short time earlier.  The death of the building’s contractor, Joseph Dowl, slowed construction on Southern California’s first reinforced concrete building.  Dowl’s son, Lloyd, ably took on the job of completing the $700,000 ($9.27 million) structure designed by Los Angeles architect Donald Parkinson, but failed to meet the October 15, 1922 advertised deadline.
           The latest in apartment house features was incorporated into the design of this own-your-own apartment building. Plate glass windows, oak floors, automatic refrigerators, incinerators and steam heat complimented the design.  Besides swings, settees, potted palms and hanging ferns, the enclosed roof garden had a large fountain containing an assortment of fish.   All 118 apartments had outside views, were guaranteed fireproof, furnished in mahogany and ivory and sold for between $3885 to $7500 ($51,400-$99,300 )
        Sixty-seven year-old Omar Hubbard was the man behind the building.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1899 from Brainerd, Minnesota, giving up a thriving law practice because of his wife Didama's poor health.  Arriving in Long Beach in 1913, he purchased three lots between Eighth and Ninth streets on Pacific Avenue, for $50 each. His interest in real estate piqued, and he partnered with Homer Laughlin on several big real estate projects, including the Arcade Market Building on the southwest corner of Magnolia and Broadway. He owned a home at 1250 East Ocean, which he sold when he moved into his new apartment complex.  Mrs. Hubbard’s health improved in the warm Southern California climate, but she died on May 11, 1932, at her home in the Omar H. Hubbard Apartments. Her husband followed her in death five years later.
            The building too would meet its death on April 3, 1976, to make way for a museum that was never built---an art museum, designed by famed architect I. M. Pei.

            Ten old buildings owned by Mr. & Mrs. Larkin Y. Cooper were removed from the northwest corner of Ocean and Linden to clear the site for the Cooper-Arms building.  The buildings, whose removal was said to be the biggest single job of its kind ever contracted for in Long Beach, were relocated on four lots on Alamitos north of Anaheim.  They were to be remodeled, and sold under the name of Leolin Terrace.  Leolin was an old family name which had been handed down in the Cooper household for 400 years.

       Two of the largest buildings on the site, the California Ocean View Apartments and The Palms were moved together so they could pass under the electric wires at the same time.  An entire story was taken off the California Ocean View to make it possible to move it under the Edison Company’s power lines.  Once in its new location it was remodeled into a modern 25 room apartment.  When Cooper purchased the California Ocean View in 1902 it was ranked as one of the largest and most popular hotels in the area.  Year after year it was the winter home of visitors from all over the country.  It was here that Mr. Cooper met his wife, Effie, which was why he wanted to preserve the structure. 
         The Palms started as a three room inn and gradually became a 14 room apartment house.  Originally owned by Jack Boyd, Boyd decorated the floor with inlaid squares to cover secret nooks. He also placed paintings on the wall that turned out to be doors.  One of the first African Americans in Long Beach, known simply as Henry, worked at the Palms, he was so highly esteemed that one of the guests remembered him in her will. (LB Press 10/29/1922).
            Originally christened  "Carma Leon Grande," Spanish for beauty, strength and grandeur, the name of the 12 story, 1 1/3 million dollar ($17,200 million) structure was changed to the Cooper-Arms.  It was advertised as the "largest and finest" apartment structure west of Chicago.  The project was officially launched in July 1922, but construction did not begin until March 7,1923.  It was the fifth own-your-own building in the city.  It was "technically" finished in March 1924, but it wasn’t until July 1924 that owners finally settled in.  Apartments were furnished with ice-less refrigerators, incinerators, dining nooks, water coolers, marble terrazzo corridors, bathrooms, kitchens, roller screens and balconies affording a view of the ocean.  A number of exclusive shops and a restaurant were on the ground floor, the rents from these businesses going to the apartment owners for the upkeep on the building.  It was hoped the revenues would equal the total maintenance expense.
            Mr. Cooper was a former Kansas feed and grain dealer and local land developer, with a bent to heraldry.  On the marquis of the Cooper-Arms was a coat-of arms with the quote: “Beata Domus Coniuncta Sub Uno Tecto” which translated as “Happy families united under one roof.” The price of the apartments was not listed in any advertising, but a document in the Long Beach History Collection at the Public Library lists a selling price of $7500 ($101,000 ) for Apartment #209 in April 1925.

            Erected on Fourth Street between Cedar and Chestnut (323 W. Fourth), "American Homes"was the sixth own-your-own project in Long Beach.  Four stories in height, with a large solarium on the roof, it contained 47 individual apartment homes costing between $3000-$5000 ($42,400-$70,700), a price to attract the "average" family.  It was designed "not to dazzle and bewilder with its splendor, but to impress with its outstanding usefulness, its pleasing and homelike atmosphere." F. H. Butterfield, architect and builder, was responsible for the Italian Ionic style, combined with California stucco.
       Sales began in November 1922, with sixteen apartments selling in one week. Val Lester, the exclusive selling agent for the American Homes, told the Daily Telegram (11/26/1922) he attributed the rapid sale of the apartments to the reasonable price, and the fact that it was close to theaters, the shopping district, beach and schools.  Building began in February 1923 and was completed by the fall of 1923. 

            Built in 1913 and described as one of the “most elegant structures ever erected in Long Beach,” the Palace Hotel, across from the Virginia Hotel at Ocean and Magnolia (15 S. Magnolia) was converted into an own-your-own in 1923.  Touted as being “one of the most exceptional buildings on the Pacific coast, because of its unusual construction,” the Palace’s apartments were said to be noiseless as well as fireproof.  There were forty-four apartments in the building; the rooms were large, airy, and completely furnished (with substantial mahogany furniture and high grade carpets). The kitchens were white enameled; the bathrooms large, with woodwork, ceiling and upper walls in white enamel, and floors and side walls of tile. Each living room came equipped with a full size disappearing bed with beveled mirrors and large clothes closets. Prices ranged from $4,000-$12,500 ($55,500-$174,000).
 The Palace was purchased by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency and in August 1966 was demolished as part of the West Beach urban renewal project.

Villa Riviera
          One of the landmarks of Long Beach is the Villa Riviera,  the last of the 1920s own-your-owns to be built in the city. Designed by architect Richard D. King, the 16-story, $2 million ($27.7 million) building was the second tallest building in the Southland after Los Angeles City Hall.  It's Chateauesque Gothic architecture blended in with that of its neighbor the Pacific Coast Club which opened in October 1926.
Pacific Coast Club & Villa Riviera
      Pacific Coast Club members were happy to see the shabby, old St. Anthony Apartments, erected in 1912, replaced with a structure more to their liking.  The St. Anthony was moved five blocks, finding a new home at 530 Alamitos Avenue in 1927.  Designed by architects W. Horace Austin and Harvey Lochridge, the St. Anthony still stands, its history largely forgotten.
    Ground was broken for the Villa Riviera in early December 1927, The project was supposed to be completed in a year, but various problems caused delays. Instead the Villa opened in April 1929. Built on the eve of the Depression, the structure came into the hands of a mortgage company during the early 1930s.   
      In October 1937, Twentieth Century Fox chairman Joseph M. Schenck and a group of investors purchased the Villa Riviera,  for $1,500,000 ($24.8 million).  Schenck's former wife, actress Norma Talmadge became its General Manager. Their new building contained 150 units, including hotel rooms and single, double and triple apartments.  Their plans included extensive improvements, such as adding a ballroom overlooking the ocean (on what had once been the sundeck over the garage at the rear of the building).  It would be especially "swanky," designed to compete with the best dinner dance rendezvous spots in Los Angeles, newspapers reportedTalmadge made extensive renovations to the building in the years the Schenck group owned it. She removed the fireplace from the ballroom and replaced it with a mural, removed the sconces and replaced them with the present day chandeliers. She also built a duplicate of the Ambassador Hotel ballroom on top of the roof top patio.   .
         Though the new owners accomplished much, all their plans were not to be.  On September 24, 1940, the Villa Riviera was sold at auction for $610,000 ($10.3 million) to the Title Insurance and Trust Company, the Schenck investors had defaulted on their loan. 
       For more on this iconic structure which became famous as "the home of the admirals" for housing more families of the Navy high command than any other building in the world, go to the Villa Riviera website.   (Ana Maria McGuan contributed to this Villa Riviera narrative). 

            Own-your-own apartments continued to be the rage throughout the 1920s, with million dollar apartment hotel buildings such as the Californian, the Stillwell (later called the Willmore), the El Bolivar, the Royal Palms and the Ambassador joining the Sovereign, Omar Hubbard, St. Regis and Cooper-Arms.  To purchase a bachelor apartment in the Stillwell your typical investment would be $2850 ($500 more if you wanted it furnished). If you wanted to rent out your apartment you could make a net profit of $84.27 per month, or $1011.24 per year, "a net annual profit of more than 30 per cent on the original investment," according to the Stillwell ads.

Bixby Court, originally Auburn Court

     Smaller and less costly own-your-owns were also being built such as the Bonnicastle (now called Casa Bonita) on Sixth Street, the Chancellor and Auburn Court (now Bixby Court) on First Street, and the Knickerbocker at Second and Hermosa. 
      Not all were happy about the development taking place in the city.  On May 5, 1923, Marie C. Brehm *** resigned as a member of the City Planning Commission because "someone must save Long Beach."  She joined former commissioner Mary Foster, who had resigned for similar reasons a few weeks earlier.  Miss Brehm was angered at the lack of height limitations of buildings going up along Ocean Boulevard. "It is wicked", she said, "to shut out the rest of the town from an ocean view by building a row of twelve and sixteen story apartment houses between Broadway and the beach."  She also stated there was not much need of a planning board when the council continually overruled its recommendations. (Press Telegram 5/5/1923)
            On May 8, 1923, the Council did deny permission to erect a sixteen story own-your-own apartment house, the Sten Apartments, on East Ocean boulevard between Seventeenth and Eighteenth places.  Though the City Planning Commission had granted permission, the Council overruled their recommendation because current zoning laws allowed only three story limits in that area.  They argued that the block of vacant land south of Bixby Park, which the Council intended to keep free of buildings, marked a natural boundary for twelve story buildings which should be confined to the district from Cherry avenue west.

             Today many of the buildings discussed here are designated Long Beach Historic Landmarks and will hopefully be preserved and appreciated for many more years to come.

* Calculations from website Measuring Worth, based on 2015 data.

The Long Beach History Collection has a pamphlet describing the original Chicago plan Wright discussed filed under Apartment Houses - Sovereign.

** Marie Brehm was also the first woman nominated for Vice President on the Prohibition ticket (see my October 2013  blog on her.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ocean Center Building


        A new 14-story, 197-foot-tall downtown high-rise, the Ocean Center Building, opened in the closing days of 1929, built on the site of the old Pacific Electric depot station.  Designed by Raymond M. Kennedy who worked for  architects Meyer and Holler, the unusually shaped Spanish Renaissance style building was formed by an octagonal tower, surmounted by a pyramidal roofed penthouse which contained the elevator and ventilation equipment.  Originally there were 190 offices in the structure and garage space for 160 cars.  Located at the northwest corner of Ocean and Pine (110 West Ocean Boulevard), two sides of the building fronted on major streets, the third overlooked the ocean, and the fourth was bounded by the fifteen-foot-wide Ocean Way, leading to the Pike amusement zone.
        For fifteen years Walter Lowrie Porterfield (known as W. L.) had been battling to get his high-rise built.  He had crossed swords many of the powered elite in the city.  A moneyed man himself, Porterfield sold his interests in the Home Telephone Company in 1906 for a reported million dollars, which he vowed to spend  to develop Long Beach.  He was involved in the building of the Hotel Virginia, bid against Henry Huntington and the Pacific Electric for the electric rail line franchise for Long Beach,  he was a partner in the First National Bank, and as a member of  the school board was involved in a scandal related to a contract for school desks.  In 1910 he began to push for a new horseshoe shaped pier in Long Beach, on property he owned.  He also owned extremely desirable property adjacent to the Pine Avenue Pier and the Pike.  It was here he wanted to build his Porterfield (later called Ocean Center) building.  Finally, in 1928, everything seemed to be in place.
Built on the site of the Pacific Electric Depot
Groundbreaking of the $1,100,000 structure, took place on January 25, 1929.  Part of the city’s historic Pine Avenue Pier had to be demolished to make way for the new skyscraper. W.L. Porterfield, told the Sun newspaper (January 26, 1929) that the pier had to be removed because the abutments and part of the railings extended more than a foot over the city property line onto Porterfield’s property. Porterfield’s plans placed the building exactly to the property line so that “every inch of the valuable ground will be used.” The forepart of the pier also had to be torn down to move in building equipment. Porterfield added that the pier was already scheduled for removal to make room for a new breakwater and new Rainbow Pier, a pier Porterfield had been pushing since 1910.
In June 1930, the Ocean View miniature golf course opened in the Ocean Center Building. Occupying approximately 12,000 square feet, the course was ingeniously laid out to accommodate eighteen holes. There were real sand hazards, water holes and unusual curves and angles.  Fairways were covered with a type of woolen felt fabric, a precursor to today’s astro turf. Located on the Pine Avenue side of the building, the course had windows extending from floor to ceiling offering a three-sided view of the Pacific.
      Today the Ocean Center Building arcade on the lower level is the only original structure left of the Pike Amusement Zone which flourished on the beach in Long Beach  from 1902-1979.

     Porterfield, who died in 1948 at the age of 83, is buried at the Forest Lawn/Sunnyside Mausoleum.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Miss Universe and International Beauty Walk of Fame

A Forgotten History Now Being Discovered

First Miss Universe, Armi Kuusela, crowned by actress Piper Laurie, June 1952

Years before the Hollywood Walk of Fame Long Beach had its own Walk of Fame – a line of concrete sidewalk slabs dedicated with great fanfare to the beauty queens once crowned in the city.  They remained the city’s primary reminder that Long Beach was the birthplace and host of the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants from 1952-1959 and of the Miss International Beauty contest from 1960-1967, with an unsuccessful revival in 1971.

My August 2015 blog on the Miss Universe and International Beauty contests (which you can look up here) led to reader Cindy Cuevas contacting me. Cindy’s folks used to live across the street from the Lafayette Hotel where the contestants stayed.  She remembered the concrete slabs, but couldn’t recall where they were on Pine Avenue.  She wondered what had happened to them.

I was able to tell her that the Walk of Fame graced the front of the JC Penney store at 600 Pine Avenue for more than 20 years.  It was Long Beach’s Penney’s store owner Vernon Fay who arranged to have the Walk of Fame installed in front of the store when it opened at Fifth Street and Pine Avenue in 1956.  I believe the earlier slabs (1952-1955) were mounted in front of the Lafayette Hotel, and were moved in 1956 when Conrad Hilton, who owned the Lafayette at the time, decided to add a new addition to the original 1929 hotel.   The earliest plaque is that of Miss Finland, Armi Kuusela who in June 1952 became Miss Universe of 1953.  The last is New Zealand’s Jane Hansen, chosen Miss International Beauty for 1971.

The slabs, which include Miss USA winners, remained in front of the JC Penney’s until 1979 when they were removed to make way for the Long Beach Mall.  Their fate remained uncertain, but city officials did preserve the Walk of Fame at the request of the city’s Cultural Heritage Committee, and the slabs were stored in the Public Service warehouse at 1601 San Francisco Avenue.   

What happened to the 2-foot-square chunks of concrete containing the name and year of reign (and sometimes handprint) of a pageant winner?  Detective Cindy found out!  Through a Facebook post Cindy Cuevas discovered they were at the J. King Neptune’s Restaurant at 17115 Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach.  How did they get there?  Cindy asked the current owner of the restaurant and he didn’t know. 
Miss Universe, Miss USA & International Beauty Contest Walk of Fame

Jill Thrasher, librarian at the Sherman Library in Newport Beach, checked city directories for me. She found that King Neptune Sea FDS opened at 17115 Pacific Coast Highway in 1983 (before that it was Barney’s Bar-B-Q), so it appears the beauty contest slabs may have been installed around 1983.  Marshall Pumphrey, of the Long Beach Heritage Museum, remembered the old owner of King Neptune’s was a collector of odd and unusual items. 

Those are the clues.  Can anyone help fill in the blanks?  How did a memento so treasured by Long Beach end up in Sunset Beach?  Why weren’t the slabs preserved in the city that created the beauty pageants still being held today?

17115 Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach
The plaques that proudly honored the beginning of the two beauty pageants can be visited at J. King Neptune’s restaurant in Sunset Beach.  Many who dine there probably have no idea of the proud relics of Long Beach history that somehow ended up somewhere else.  They are in sad shape, fading away like the memory they once sought to preserve.

Please leave a comment below if you have anything else to add to the story. 

Finally, a thank you to Cindy Cuevas, for her questions and help in solving the Mystery of the Beauty Contest Concrete Plaques.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Slave to Soldier to Long Beach

Since February is African American History Month,  I thought I’d share the story of a forgotten former slave, Harry Stubblefield,  who fought in the Civil War and ended up in Long Beach. 

            In researching my next book, Died in Long Beach: Cemetery Tales, I came across a nondescript grave in Long Beach’s Sunnyside Cemetery that contains the remains of a fascinating person.   

                When African American Harry Stubblefield (1843?-1/23/1913) passed away in 1913, the Long Beach Press noted that he was born the property of a wealthy Kentucky tobacco planter, who had one son. When this son, a prominent physician, married, his father gave him Harry as a wedding gift.  In 1890 this physician died and his widow Sina came to Long Beach and, according to the obituary, brought Harry with her. Former slaves often took the surname of their one-time owner, which was the case with Harry.  The obituary also pointed out that Harry was 102 years old, something that could not be substantiated.
            Further research added more to an interesting story.  Clues led me to the physician’s name---Peter--- and that Sina’s given name was Catherine.  Census records from 1850 showed that Peter’s father, G. W. Stubblefield, owned 14 slaves in Rockingham, North Carolina, varying in age from 1-60. There were 11 males (7 listed as black, 4 as mulatto) and 3 females (2 black, 1 mulatto).  The four mulatto males ranged in age from 5-10 years of age. One of these mulattos could have been Harry.  Was Harry related to the Stubblefield family in more ways than name only?
            The 1850 census also showed that Peter was not an only son as Harry’s obituary stated.  Peter had three brothers, and three sisters.   It also seems that Peter’s father was active in Kentucky during the Civil War providing provisions (and perhaps slaves) for the Southern cause.
             When he was barely twenty Peter left North Carolina to serve as a private with the North Carolina volunteers in the Mexican-American War (which lasted from the spring of 1846 to the fall of 1847).  Sina later claimed his pension as a war widow.  Perhaps the carnage he saw inspired Peter to become a physician. The next record I found was in the 1860 census when Doctor Peter Stubblefield was in Weakley, Tennessee, married to Tennessee native Sina Boyd. 
             Early African Americans came to Tennessee from the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina, including Harry when he came to Tennessee from North Carolina with Peter and Sina Stubblefield.  An 1826 law prohibited them bringing Harry into the state for anything besides the direct use of his labor.  Fortunately for Harry, slaves could not be sold in Tennessee.
             Could Peter have taken a different side during the Civil War than his father and brothers? Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.  Some living in the state were strongly pro-Confederacy, while others were Unionist.  The 26 eastern counties tried to secede from Tennessee, but Confederate troops were sent to prevent it.  However, portions of Tennessee provided many troops for the Union as well as waging guerrilla warfare against Confederate interests in the state.  Which side did Peter really favor? I took this question to the Tennessee Library and Archives.  The Archives' staff said that when captured by Union forces, Confederate soldiers were given the option of being sent to a prisoner of war camp, or they could swear allegiance to the United States and fight on the Union side.  The Tennessee Archives researchers said there were quite a number of soldiers who served on both the Confederate and Union side.  This seems to be the case with Peter.
            According to the United States Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, 1890, Peter served as a Lieutenant from 1862-1865.  There is also a listing (in Tennessee, Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865) for P. B. Stubblefield serving in the Confederacy as a Second Lieutenant, 9th Regiment Tennessee Infantry, Company G. The names of two of his brothers are also listed next to his. 
            What of Harry?  Before July 17, 1862, it was illegal for African Americans to serve in the army.  On this date the Confiscation Act allowed African Americans to be employed by the (Union) military and another law specifically allowed free blacks to be recruited. The first African American unit was the First South Carolina (Union) Volunteers – mustered in on August 25, 1862. 
            Records show Harry enlisted in the Union Army as part of the 4th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery unit from Tennessee. Harry’s unit was organized from the 2nd Tennessee Heavy Artillery (African Descent). It was designated 3rd Heavy Artillery on March 11, 1864 and 4th Heavy Artillery on April 26, 1864.  United States Colored Troops fought in all theaters of the war, but mainly served as garrison troops in rear areas. Harry’s unit saw garrison duty at Union City, Tennessee, until September 2, 1864, and then moved to Fort Donelson, Tennessee, until October 11, 1864.  Their next post was Fort Halleck, Columbus, Kentucky, until June, 1865.  The unit moved to Arkansas in June, 1865, and saw duty at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, until February, 1866. The unit was mustered out February 25, 1866.
                By the end of the war, there were almost 179,000 African Americans serving in 166 regiments – about 10 percent of the Union army. Unfortunately, not much else is known about Harry and his term of service in the 4th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery unit.
             Much information can be gained from pension records, but I have yet to find a pension record for Harry.   African Americans faced many obstacles in applying for a pension. It was difficult and expensive, and African American applicants were often poor and illiterate. Furthermore, the Pension Bureau often appointed special investigators to verify claims. According to researchers, African Americans were investigated about twice as often as whites and these investigations were more thorough and took longer. Furthermore, claim agents (who often assisted in the application process) often took advantage of African American soldiers by submitting fraudulent claims. Finally, the difficulty African Americans had in providing essential dates, including dates of birth, marriage, military service, wounds, and illnesses, led to frustration and suspicion on the part of pension bureaucrats.
            After the war, the 1870 U. S. Census has 43-year-old Dr. Peter Stubblefield living with his 34-year-old wife Sina, in Weakley, Tennessee, along with 27-year-old Harry (mistakenly transcribed as Harvey) and 7-year-old Sallie Stubblefield. Both Harry and Sallie are noted as being “black.” Harry’s profession was given as “domestic servant.”  Could Sallie have been Harry’s daughter, or just another of the former Stubblefield slaves?
            In looking at the 1880 U. S. Census Peter and Sina Stubblefield were still living in Weakley, Tennessee. Harry was working for and living with them. Sina’s 37-year-old brother John Boyd, and her 30-year-old brother William Boyd were also residing with them.  Sallie seems to have left the family.
            Unfortunately a fire destroyed most of the 1890 U. S. Census, but I did find Sina in the 1900 Census living with her brother John Boyd, a real estate agent, and his family in Long Beach, California.   Harry, however, wasn’t mentioned as being with her, nor was he listed in any other census records from 1900. 
            From Long Beach City Directories it appears Sina’s brother John convinced her to invest in real estate, and in 1905 she was managing the Roselle Apartments at East Seaside Boulevard at the foot of Linden Avenue.  The apartments had been named for her niece Roselle Boyd, John’s daughter. 
            In the 1910 U. S. Census 75-year-old Sina was still living at the Roselle Apartments.  Harry Stubblefield (age 66) was listed as one of her tenants.  Interestingly, Harry’s race is given as “white.”
            Harry isn’t listed in any of the Long Beach City Directories so I can’t say for sure when he joined Sina in Long Beach.  Sina (1/31/1834-12/13/1911) died in 1911.  Her body was taken to Weakley, Tennessee, to be buried next to her husband, Peter (3/20/1827-2/28/1890) at the Obion Chapel Cemetery.  What of Harry?  Most likely he continued to reside at the Roselle until his death in 1913.  It seems he had those who cared enough about him to give him a decent burial and a simple headstone.
            Wouldn’t it have been interesting to ask Harry about his life as a slave? Was he the child of one of the white plantation owners?  How did he come to fight for the Union during the Civil War and why did he come back to live with the Stubblefields once the war ended?  And was Sallie Stubblefield his daughter, and if so what happened to her?       
            Mysteries remain.  Hopefully I’ll uncover more about Harry before I finish writing Died in Long Beach: Cemetery Tales.