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 will celebrate its 60th birthday.  It is my pleasure to give you a look at that day, 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.

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.

Thanks to Dr. Yoshio T. Nakamura (and Junji Nakamura) we have a You Tube video of the 1960 pageant

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.