Monday, February 6, 2017

Los Altos, its library and Lloyd Whaley

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

Los Altos Library

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

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

Lloyd Whaley & Los Altos

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


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

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

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