Sunday, February 22, 2015

Long Beach's First Baseball Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of George’s greatest claims to fame occurred in 1913 and earned him the nickname “Firebrand.”  Umpire Charles Ferguson called Stovall out on a third strike in the sixth inning of a Browns-Indians game. Stovall snatched Ferguson's hat off his head and threw it on the ground, then spit on the umpire's coat, according to the May 6, 1913 New York Times.  American League president Ben Johnson was outraged.  “There isn't room in the American League for players who commit offenses against public decency," Johnson said of Stovall's action. "I am astounded that any manager should create such a scene by losing his self-control in the presence of a large assemblage of patrons of the game. The American League will not countenance such conduct for a minute." Player-manager Stovall was fined $100 and suspended for three weeks. He was later fired by the team in October of that year and replaced by Branch Rickey.

For many years, George and his wife Emma, whom he married in 1904,  lived at 915 Cherry Avenue in Long Beach, making frequent visits to their ranch in Casa Grande Valley, Arizona. Upon retiring from the world of baseball George worked in the oil fields, in his spare time he coached the Loyola baseball team and managed the Houghton Park Baseball Club of Long Beach. He died November 5, 1951, in Burlington, Iowa.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Cinderella Ballroom

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

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

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

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