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.