W.E. Willmore, an Englishman, was the first to dream in Long Beach. Only he called it Willmore City in 1880 when he took an option on 4,000 acres and carved it into farming lots of 5, 10, 20 and 40 acres and advertised the land for between $12 and $20 an acre. For $100 Willmore would pepper your property with 70 orange trees on each acre. The venture failed and Willmore was gone by 1884.
The Long Beach Land and Water Company, a consortium of Los Angeles businessmen, picked up the property and kept Willmore’s street plan while improving the water system, constructing a wharf and hotel and starting a horse-car line to the seashore. They called the resort town Long Beach and people came. Some even stayed and the population climbed to over 500 by the end of the century. When the Pacific Electric Railway line extended to Long Beach in 1902 things really took off.
Writers reporting on Long Beach enthused that it was the “most attractive coast town in the State.” A seaside amusement park with an ocean plunge and rollercoaster was a big draw while other scribes gushed that “there are beaches and beaches; but in the whole of North America there is not another like the magnificent twelve-mile beach, of almost imperceptible slope, hard and smooth as a floor, which stretches from San Pedro to Alamitos Bay.”
Long Beach was booming but also transforming. The Los Angeles Dock and Terminal Company began dredging channels and building jetties to carve out a large navigable port. In 1921 one of America’s richest oil fields was uncovered on Signal Hill and Long Beach was a full-blown port city - today it is the second largest container port in the United States.
Progress was rudely interrupted at dinnertime on March 10, 1933 when a tremor in a fault in the ocean off Newport Beach rattled the town and collapsed many poorly constructed masonry buildings and 120 people died. After picking itself up Long Beach went right on expanding into the general urban malaise of the 1970s, growing into one of America’s 50 largest cities. In those 1970s the Pike, the historic oceanside walkway, was ripped up, formally closing the books on the city’s days as a “beach town.” New attractions to bring back visitors to the ocean included the arrival of the RMS Queen Mary and Howard Hughes’ wooden airship, the Spruce Goose, that was the largest flying boat ever built. Where the Pike used to meander Formula One race cars began running in the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Started in 1975, it is now the longest running major street race in North America. The Aquarium of the Pacific arrived in the 1990s.
The cityscape of Long Beach has been shaped by the earthquake generations ago and recent downtown renewal. Few buildings remain from before World War I but we will seek them out and see new ones on our walking tour that will begin at the feet of someone who has seen it all come and go since he arrived in 1915...
Pacific Avenue at southwest corner of Broadway
The Long Beach Land and Water Company donated this open land in 1905 and it was known as Pacific Park in its early days. In 1915 a statue of Abraham Lincoln was sited here and it became Lincoln Park. The memorial is a replica of one along Lake Michigan in Chicago crafted by Irish-born Augustus Saint-Gaudens, America’s most celebrated sculptor in the 19th century. He earned that reputation on the strength of his Civil War commissions and his rendering of Abraham Lincoln in 1887, depicting a thoughtful President rising to speak, is considered the finest portrait statue in America. A copy of the work also graces Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield and another copy stands in London in front of Westminster Abbey.
WITH YOUR BACK TO “STANDING LINCOLN” TURN RIGHT ON PACIFIC AVENUE. AT OCEAN BOULEVARD TURN LEFT AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO PINE AVENUE.
Ocean Center Building
110 West Ocean Boulevard at southwest corner of Pine Avenue
When the Ocean Center Building was constructed in 1929 it was truly that - a retail and office palace on the shoreline. Out the lower entrance was alluvial sand and a boardwalk known as the Pike with games and a bathhouse. The boardwalk was paved with concrete and illuminated by strings of lights so it became the “Walk of a Thousand Lights.” But as the Army Corps of Engineers tinkered with the Los Angeles River and shored up the Long Beach Harbor the sand was no longer washed away and grew so wide it was developed with roads and commercial complexes. Today you can’t even see the Pacific Ocean from the bluff that once hovered directly above the sea. Architect Raymond Kennedy designed the Ocean Center with Mediterranean influences, cutting it into the bluff while rising to the top of the city’s height limit at the time. The crest of the structure contains an octagonal tower that once held a fifty-foot concrete tower and lantern which were removed after the Long Beach earthquake of 1933.
CONTINUE A FEW MORE STEPS ON OCEAN BOULEVARD TO...
200 East Ocean Boulevard
Fred B. Dunn, a local banker, put up the money for this luxury resort hotel in 1926. He planned to spend $2,250,000 but when the 15-story tower with 300 guest rooms and 232 feet of prime beach frontage was completed the bill was more like $3 million. Albert R. Walker and Percy A. Eisen, two of the most celebrated architects in Los Angeles, provided the Spanish Renaissance design where guests could enjoy a roof garden, high-end shops and a 500-seat dining room called the “Hall of Galleons.” Despite the great expectations, Dunn sold the hotel after less than a year for a reported $1,750,000. The Great Depression and the Long Beach earthquake of 1933 sent the new owners into bankruptcy and hotel magnate Conrad Hilton was able to acquire the property in 1938 for $150,000 and $35,000 in back taxes as the first of his chain’s hotels in California. The hotel changed ownership several more times before it was concerted into a retirement hotel in 1967.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO PINE AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT.
First National Bank
101 Pine Avenue at northwest corner of 1st Street
Long Beach Boulevard to the east was expected to be the town’s “Main Street” but things kept appearing on Pine Avenue instead - the first hotel was on this block, the first school was erected on Pine Avenue and most of the major stores eventually landed here. Long Beach’s first bank was located here as a three-story commercial structure. Robert Farquhar Train and Robert Edmund Williams, a Brit and a Canadian respectively, formed a busy architectural practice in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century and they doubled the height of the original building in 1906 while adding a French Renaissance flair. The six-foot corner clock came along the following year. The architects used a pressed yellow brick on the two sides facing the street but you can peek around the sides and see common red brick employed on the non-display walls.
Security Pacific Building
110 Pine Avenue at northeast corner of 1st Street
Architects Alexander Curlett and Claud Beelman, who gave Los Angeles some of its most elegant buildings, contributed the Beaux Arts design for this 13-story landmark in 1924. The client was the Security Trust and Savings Bank that had formed three years earlier from the merger of National Bank of Long Beach and the Long Beach Trust and Savings Bank. Following the early convention of creating skyscrapers in the image of a classical Greek column the tower features a base (the three-story Corinthian columns), a shaft (the dark red brick cladding) and a capital (the ornate cornice).
Dr. Rowan Building
201 Pine Street at northwest corner of Broadway
This Art Deco building was raised by the Charles W. Pettifer Construction Company for the Bank of Italy, just before the San Francisco bank morphed into the Bank of America, in 1930. Look above the completely compromised ground level to see a riot of green and purple and bronze terra-cotta tiles - the most exuberant decorative tiles in Long Beach. The building was never really known for the bank on the second floor and instead carries the name of a dentist who operated from one of the retail spaces on the first floor. Rowan, who pioneered dentistry on credit in Southern California, liked to advertise that his dentures could be had “for less than a pair of high heel shoes” - a dig at his neighbor in the building, Nisley Shoes.
TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY.
Insurance Exchange Building
205 East Broadway at northeast corner of The Promenade
Although it has been known as the Insurance Exchange Building for the past 80 years the eight-story building has a much more playful origin story than its stodgy name implies. Brothers Way and Lorne Middough ran “The Boys Shop” three block down Broadway to the west and met so much success a new store was required. The Middoughs planned for a two-story structure here in 1923 but local government leaders asked the brothers to build much higher to help out with needed courtroom space in town. The mini-tower was completed in 1925 and the entire front was covered with bas-relief figures of children’s sports, which you can still see. The theme was carried though the other exterior decorations; inside was a gymnasium available to kids while their mothers shopped. In the late 1920s the courts moved out and the stock market crashed and the Middoughs had to sell their prize building although the business trundled on as Middough Meier.
213 East Broadway
This Spanish Mission style building has seen a parade of businesses set up shop here since it opened in 1917 including a combination pool and barber shop, sporting goods stores, a foot clinic and various beauty salons. Most recently it has been converted into a theater for the California Repertory Company.
224 East Broadway
This three-story survivor stubbornly holding its corner against a vacant block of parking spaces is one of the oldest commercial buildings in downtown Long Beach. William C. Price built the Romanesque Revival style structure in 1905 to be his “Psychic Temple,” designed as “the first building in the world dedicated to psychological work.” Either Price solved all the world’s mental woes or gave up trying because he sold the property in 1911 for $2,910.09 and after that it operated as the American House hotel with mixed-use space on the ground floor. The ornamentation has been stripped from the century-old facade but you can still the impressive Romanesque arches that are nowhere else in town.
235 East Broadway at northwest corner of Long Beach Boulevard
William Horace Austin designed so many buildings around Southern California in the first decades of the 20th century that he was called “The Dean of Architects.” Austin had a long list of Long Beach credits, including City Hall, but almost all are gone today. His 12-story, 162-foot Pacific Tower still stands, however, designed in the Beaux Arts style and fashioned from brick and stone.
TURN LEFT ON LONG BEACH BOULEVARD.
Acres of Books
240 Long Beach Boulevard
Bertrand Smith started selling books in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1927. He moved to Long Beach in 1934 where the business evolved into California’s largest second-hand bookstore with an inventory of over one million books. Acres of Books moved here in 1960 and operated until 2008, cultivating an A-list clientele that included such luminaries as Upton Sinclair, Eli Wallach, Diane Keaton and Ray Bradbury who waxed poetic about the store in his essay, “I Sing The Bookstore Eclectic.”
Long Beach Main Post Office
300 Long Beach Boulevard
One of the things the federal government attempted to ease the Great Depression of the 1930s was to construct post offices. Many of them adopted the popular stripped down classicism of the Art Deco style like this one from 1934. Highlighted by a central tower, the post office was constructed with large masonry blocks and dressed in terra-cotta.
TURN LEFT ON 3RD STREET.
The Arts Building
236 East Third Street
Ira Clifton Copley began his working life in 1890 in his father’s gas light company and led efforts to make his hometown of Aurora, Illinois the first city in the world to have electric street lighting. Copley shortly afterward divested himself of interests in the utility and shifted to publishing small town newspapers and then went into politics. He served six terms in the United States House of Representatives and when he left in 1923 he resumed buying newspapers with a vengeance, more than 20 in Southern California. In 1928 he added the Long Beach Sun to his stable and sent staff architect Francis D. Rutherford to build this office. Rutherford delivered a Spanish-flavored Art Deco headquarters for the paper, which Copley sold in 1932.
Farmers and Merchants Bank
302 Pine Avenue at the northeast corner of 3rd Street
C.J. Walker was the president at First National Bank until he started the bank that would stay in his family for over 100 years in 1907. Farmers and Merchants has been here since its grand opening on April 7, 1923. The ten-story Renaissance Revival tour de force was created by Alexander Curlett and Claud Beelman; it was one of many banks along Pine Street but is the only one depositors from 80 years ago would recognize today. The steel-framed building ten stories high and sheathed in terra-cotta is considered the town’s first skyscraper.
TURN RIGHT ON PINE AVENUE.
Walker Department Store
401 Pine Avenue at northwest corner of 4th Street
Ralf M. Walker began his retailing empire in Los Angeles before setting out to conquer all of Southern California. He went to Long Beach first, in 1933, and gave away 5,000 roses at his grand opening. Gabriel S. Meyer and Phillip W. Holler, architects known for their flamboyant Hollywood theaters designed for Syd Grauman, provided the festive appearance of this former emporium. When “The Friendly Store of Long Beach” ended its run it sat vacant for many years but found new life as luxury loft condominiums, restored to its Art Deco splendor.
The Kress Building
449 Pine Avenue on southwest corner of 5th Street
Samuel Henry Kress looked on his stores as public works of art and he retained a staff of architects to achieve that end. He took as much pride in the appearance of those stores as the nickels and dimes that piled up in his coffers. There would eventually be 264 Kress five-and-dime stores throughout the United States and many of them adopted the Art Deco style in the 1920s and 1930s. The Long Beach location was Kress store Number 152 and opened in 1929. Kress had plenty of competition on Pine Avenue including Woolworth’s and J.J. Newberry and Penney’s but it stood out among its low-slung neighbors with its seven-story tower. The Kress chain was liquidated in 1981.
TURN LEFT ON 5TH STREET. CROSS PACIFIC AVENUE AND TURN LEFT ON CEDAR AVENUE.
453 Cedar Avenue at southwest corner of 5th Street
This is where the city’s first residential neighborhood developed in the first years of the 1900s. Many of the buildings from that era have been energetically altered or cleared altogether. This house, whose architectural influences straddle the Victorian and Colonial Revival periods of popularity, maintains most of its original features. The roofline, bay windows and fish-scale shingles harken back to showy Queen Anne buildings and the columns and balustrade are hallmarks of the more classically influenced Colonial Revival style.
435 Cedar Avenue
This is one of the best-preserved examples of the fine residences that lined Long Beach streets hard by the central business district in the early 1900s. The large California Craftsman-style house was designed in 1906 by George L. Hoodenpyl, an attorney who also happened to be a trained architect. The client was 35-year old Charles H. Windham, who ran sugar and coffee plantations in Central America. Both would enter local politics - Hoodenpyl would become city attorney and Windham would serve two terms as mayor.
Silver Bow Apartments
330 Cedar Avenue
In a neighborhood of mostly frame houses this three-story apartment building, which appears modest today, was a revelation when it was raised in 1915, boasting a Renaissance Revival style and using high quality building materials - the stairs in the entranceway are white marble. It stands as one of the oldest surviving brick apartments in Long Beach.
Stillwell/Hotel/The Willmore Building
315 West Third Street at northwest corner of Cedar Avenue
This 11-story Italian Renaissance tower was developed as a luxury residential hotel in 1925. It operated as such until 1952 when it became an “own-your-own building” as early condominiums were called. It was renamed to carry the name of William E. Willmore who bought the 4,000 acres that would one day become Long Beach in 1880. He was dreaming of a farming and ranching community that would be called Willmore City. That didn’t pan out and Los Angeles moneymen ended up with the property for use as the Long Beach Land and Water Company.
The First Congregational Church
241 Cedar Avenue as southwest corner of Third Street
When this red brick building opened in 1914 it was the largest church in Southern California. The price tag was $210,000 with a good chunk coming from the family of Joachim Bixby, known as the “Father of Long Beach” as he owned the ranchero from which the town was carved. Architect Henry M. Patterson of Los Angeles drew up the plans for the Italian Renaissance church whose art glass windows set the Los Angeles Times to gushing that they “are among the finest to be seen in the West” and the church’s “architecture and appointments are without peer in Southern California.” Comments like that helped the congregation, that had formed in 1888, to swell to over 1,700 members, making it the fifth largest Congregational church in the United States.
City Hall/Civic Center
333 West Ocean Boulevard at foot of Cedar Avenue
This has always been the site of Long Beach government, although this is the third look the complex, which has always contained the town library and government center, has taken, each in step with its architectural times. The first City Hall was in a classically flavored temple known as the Tower Building. It was replaced in the 1930s with a trendy Art Deco structure and when that building became overwhelmed by a booming Long Beach it was replaced in the 1970s by the concrete-and-glass tower seen today.
FROM CITY HALL, TURN AND WALK OVER TO THE STATUE OF “STANDING LINCOLN” AND THE START OF THE TOUR.