Friday, December 13, 2013

Long Ago Long Beach Christmases

            In the December 19, 1948, Southland Magazine, Katherine Bushong reminisced about the first Christmas program held in Long Beach in 1885.  The Methodist Sunday School, housed in the chapel of the newly built Tabernacle, invited the entire village to the event.
            Mrs. Bushong, who was Katy Robinson then, remembered that it was chilly outside, but when people entered the building they were greeted by lights, warmth, friendliness and the wonderful smell of a fresh tall fir tree.  Real candles glowed on the tree, which was also strung with fluffy popcorn and bright red cranberries.  As the children sang Christmas songs, there was the sound of sleigh bells.  The jingling became louder and louder until suddenly Santa Claus came through the doorway.  Once the children told Santa (W.W. Lowe) that they had been good all year, he gave every youngster a bag of candy and nuts.
            That same year, a Monterey cypress tree was planted in the southwest corner of Lincoln Park (then known as Pacific Park).  In 1914 it was decorated with tinsel and colored lights. It became known as Long Beach's living Christmas tree.  There, under that tree, an annual Christmas program was presented until the tree died in the late 1920's.

            In December 1889 Southern California experienced  torrential rains and the flat area between Long Beach and Wilmington was under six feet of water.  The water rushing in the rivers was so swift that every bridge except the old Macy Street covered bridge in Los Angeles was swept away.  The 2600 acre Nadeau vineyard, east of Florence was devastated by the overflow of the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Rio
Honda rivers.  Nearly everything on the Nadeau property was swept away in the flood including kegs of wine.  Some of the ranchers living on the flood plain partially recouped some of their losses by this windfall of wine, which they viewed as an unexpected Christmas gift.  Twenty years later folks still claimed to have some of that wine on tap in their homes. The Nadeau’s never fully recovered from their losses, and switched from raising grapes to sugar beets.
            That same flood put the Southern Pacific railroad out of commission and quite a few Long Beach citizens were stranded in Los Angeles. Many had been out Christmas shopping and couldn’t get home.  What would Christmas be without family and presents?  A boat was sent for the stranded citizens of Long Beach, and they were transported to the high land of the mesa on which downtown Long Beach was situated.  The city was shut off from all outside communication for three weeks until the flood waters receded and things finally got back to normal.  

       On Christmas morning, 1899, Southern California was rudely awakened at 4:25 A.M. not by Santa, but by a severe earthquake.  In Long Beach, the vibrations lasted about fifteen seconds; the shock was heavy enough to shake down pans and other loose articles in stores and houses and stop the clock at the Julian Hotel.
       The quake was centered in Riverside County near Hemet. On the Saboda Indian reservation near San

Jacinto, six Indians were killed and four fatally injured when an adobe building, in which they were holding Christmas celebrations, collapsed.  Almost every house in Hemet had their chimneys shaken down and china broken.  Beds and bureaus were moved by the tremor and stoves overturned.  Small fissures were visible in the streets and water pipes were snapped.  The County hospital which had just been built was a total wreck, though patients escaped injury.
       Several aftershocks followed, with people afraid to return to their beds.  Coming during the final days of the nineteenth century, many could not help but wonder if this tragedy was a portent of the century to come.