Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Long Beach's Castle By the Sea: The Pacific Coast Club

Opening celebrations 1926

         Visitors to Long Beach after 1926 were surprised to find the city had its own castle perched above the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.  This Norman style structure was the Pacific Coast Club (PCC), a building that became an iconic landmark and symbol of Long Beach through the 1980s.

          Groundbreaking of the prestigious Pacific Coast Club was held on June 9, 1925; fifteen months later, on September 4, 1926, it was dedicated "to the comradeship of men." Medieval jousting and pageantry heralded the dedication.  Men at arms on chargers assisted motorcycle officers in diverting traffic. Trumpeters, dressed as pages, sounded the call for the beginning of the dedication ceremony, while pike-men stood guard on the low battlements of the building.  A few moments before the program started, a squadron of nine naval airplanes appeared over the new structure, at the same instant fireworks began to burst above the clubhouse.
           A massive 3,400-pound cornerstone was guided into its resting place in the buttress east of the main portal. It contained a photograph of the Long Beach skyline, a 1926 coin and the first club roster. The Long Beach Municipal Band played while the color guard of the Coast Artillery from Fort MacArthur stood by as the dedication ceremonies commenced. Curtis D. Wilbur, Secretary of the Navy, spoke to the gathering. Over and over he expressed his surprise at the magnificence of the building. The brief ceremony ended with a prayer for the well-being of the organization as the American flag was hoisted on the lofty Norman tower 200 feet above the beach.
Cornerstone of the Pacific Coast Club
        The formal opening of the Pacific Coast Club was a five-day gala affair that began on October 26, 1926.  As guests arrived, they were photographed by the club photographer and escorted through the building by the reception committee.  Dinner was served in three different dining rooms, while special entertainers and an orchestra performed.  Following dinner five orchestras provided music.

        The idea of the club had been formulated three years earlier, in 1923.  Three groups planned to build clubs on an elaborate scale, the Pacific Coast Club, Long Beach Athletic Club, and the Petroleum Club.  They quickly realized that by combining efforts they could truly build something on a grand scale.  They also shared a joint vision: the club would be the gathering place of the business, professional, cultural and artistic life of the community.
Beach area of club, 1929
        The $1,250,000 club at 850 E. Ocean had two divisions: The club portion, which involved the sub-basement, basement, ground, second and third floors. The other was the hotel or apartment portion, which included apartment suites for resident bachelor members located on six floors. 
    The sub-basement contained the boiler room, club storerooms, the helps' dining room and the service kitchen. In the basement you would find the gymnasium, pool, handball courts, locker rooms for men and women, Turkish baths, a valet, barbershop, beauty parlor, and restrooms. The Grand Hall was located on the first floor as was the lounge, main dining room, the kitchen grill, women's entrance lobby, checking rooms and club office. The second floor featured the women's dining room, private dining rooms, game rooms, women's lounge and billiard room. The third floor was devoted exclusively to the library. There were several types of membership: Life, Charter, Regular and Associate. The cap on membership was 1500.
        The club was the meeting place for the who's who of Long Beach, but members wanted a broader membership base and in January 1928 agreed to sell the club to the Los Angeles Athletic Club for $2 million. There had also been some financial problems.
        "It makes possible the further development of all our amateur health giving activities, which includes golf, polo, yachting, shooting, fishing, ocean bathing, and all forms of sports for women and children," W. M. Gardner told the Los Angeles Times (1/15/1928).  The Los Angeles Athletic Club assumed all of the liabilities of the Pacific Coast Club, and in return, received title to all of its assets. "The consolidation will free the Pacific Coast Club of all financial problems and gives it an unrestricted opportunity to realize its avowed ambition to develop the dormant maritime spirit of Long Beach and make it the yachting center of the world," Besides raising the $100 yearly dues to $150, the new owners brought in additional capital to purchase the adjoining lot for future expansion, and to make some changes to the existing structure.  They also worked with the City of Long Beach in constructing wharves and moorings for yachting vessels. The new consortium retained ownership until 1964 when it was sold to a new group of members of which Richard Rand was listed as owner. Llewellyn Bixby, Jr., Harry Buffum, John W. Hancock Jr.,  Daniel Clock, and Daniel H. Ridder served as members of the governing board.(LA Times 4/19/1964)

Closed up, waiting for demolition, 1988
       On May 5,  1971, the Internal Revenue Service padlocked the club's facilities stating the IRS was owed $16,191.14 in back taxes. Two days later Great Western Savings and Loan paid the back taxes and became the third owners of the once palatial club which still boasted a membership of 1500. The club was also behind $25,000  on a $450,000 loan. As owners, Great Western stripped and sold at auction most of the interior of the club in February 1972. Despite this, Sally Olshane and Josef Janota bought the PCC in 1976 from Great Western, but their  attempts to bring the historic structure back to its glory days failed,  In September 1977 it was auctioned off for $35,378.87 to Long Beach realtor Mark Brown. Though the property was assessed at $5.5 million Brown also took on the $445,000 loan on the structure held by Great Western, In the meantime Josef Janota spent years in complex legal battles trying to regain ownership of the landmark building. In 1982 he regained title to the once-exclusive club building that had been declared a Long Beach landmark in 1979. He worked hard to raise $12 million  to $18 million to recondition the facility into a hotel, club and restaurant, but wasn't successful. When the mortgage holder tried to foreclose in 1983, Janota declared bankruptcy. 
            The future brightened in 1985 when Louisiana oil man Earl M. Harter Jr. of Shreveport fell in love with the building and agreed to purchase it for $7.3 million. But the deal fell through. On April 26, 1988, the sixty-two-year-old castle by the sea fell to the wrecking ball. Despite efforts by Long Beach heritage groups, previous owners and the building's placement on the National Register of Historic Places, it could not be saved. Now the site is home to the Pacific Condominium Tower, built in 1992, it's glorious past all but forgotten.