Category Archives: Mr. Long Beach

MR. LONG BEACH: ‘My Daddy is a Photographer…”

Since today is Father’s Day, Mr. Long Beach’s kids – the Little Beachers – gave their dad the day off. They are writing this week’s column. Here it is, exactly as the words came out of their mouths.

Eight-year-old Little Beacher, Alex:

“My daddy is a photographer and writes a lot of stories and takes a lot of pictures. I think my dad’s favorite part about work is taking pictures. My dad has been working at this newspaper for about a year. Before he worked here, he worked at a different newspaper in Long Beach.

“My dad is a great dad because he is really nice. My dad has taught me a lot of things like how to use the TV remote and how to fly his drone.

“Once, I went to work with him to take pictures. He gave me a camera and let me take pictures, too. It wasn’t really too exciting. He barely had to do anything. Once, Daddy put his camera on a timer and took pictures of us.

“Daddy has a drone. He can put his GoPro camera on it and then he can take pictures in the sky. He takes pictures of lots of different things.

“I am proud of how smart my dad is. He is really smart.

“My favorite part about my daddy is that he plays with me.

“A perfect Father’s Day would be to go to Legoland and buy Daddy a bunch of Lego sets he likes. I would get him a pick-a-brick and Dipping Dots ice cream and lots of other things. I think he likes Legoland and it would be fun for both of us.

“When I’m a dad I’m going to be really smart and have kids and buy a lot of really cool stuff.”

Five-year-old Little Beacher, Emily:

“My dad takes pictures and puts them in the newspaper. He pushes a button on his camera to take the pictures. I really like my daddy because he be’s really really nice to me and he takes lots and lots and lots of pictures of me and my brother.

“He is not the boss of anyone at work. I don’t know what his bosses are like, I am just guessing they just be nice.

“The hardest thing Daddy does at work is have meetings and the easiest thing is take pictures. I think the funnest thing my Dad does at work is take pictures of doggies and catties.

“The best thing my daddy does is be nice to me.

“A perfect Father’s Day would be the best hug ever or bears, a bear hug. We would go to Disneyland. Then, I would tell him to take pictures at places, maybe at the park.

“At work, my daddy takes pictures. On Fridays, he takes pictures of football.”

MR. LONG BEACH: Two Homes on the Hill Causing Headaches for Cities

Hill Street is steep, and at an incline of almost 30 degrees, it’s fun.

The Signal Hill roadway borders Long Beach and, according to calculations I did on my iPhone, rises about 135 feet in just over a quarter mile.

Years ago it was the spot to see Model Ts climb the steepest hill in the area. Crowds came to watch famous racers prove their cars had the muscle to reach the top.

The incline, informally know as Shell Hill early last century, has not only served as an impromptu proving ground for cars, but also a street luge track and jogging path for runners looking for a steep challenge.

Halfway up the hill sit two houses, or rather, two headaches for the cities of Signal Hill and Long Beach.

The twin homes were built about 10 years ago but never occupied. They are now boarded up and one shows signs of fire damage. The buildings are in Long Beach, although their sidewalk and street are in Signal Hill.

Trying to piece together what happened, Signal Hill Deputy City Manager Charlie Honeycutt thinks that the builder was issued permits from the city of Long Beach but never contacted Signal Hill.

He said the two cities usually talk to each other about issues on the border, but in this case, that didn’t happen. In fact, Signal Hill discovered the buildings when the city manager saw the foundations being framed.

“There is a series of issues with those homes,” Honeycutt said. “Essentially, they were built without inspections and there is still no water and sewer or natural gas utilities.”

Honeycutt’s first concern was that driveway access from Hill Street would be a safety issue. In fact, he said the developer did two traffic studies, but neither engineer would agree to sign off on access. He said the traffic study showed that an SUV couldn’t turn out of a driveway without turning over the street’s center median island.

The next solution was to get access to the back of the homes. But, for that to happen, the developer had to purchase more land.

Long Beach City Councilman Patrick O’Donnell said the builder got construction approval from Long Beach, but never got utility approval from Signal Hill.

O’Donnell explained that over the past couple of years the city has been to court several times over these homes. He said every time it goes to court there is a new owner who makes a promises to do a specified action within a certain amount of time but then never completes that action.

The councilman, seemingly frustrated, said, “We’ve been too nice, for too long, and we’re done with being nice.”

The latest court documents show that the city of Long Beach filed a complaint against 6 Angels LLC and B.D.R. Inc. for continuing violations of the Long Beach Municipal Code.

According to an agreement finalized in April, 6 Angels needs to complete a number of things, including extending Orizaba Street to the back of the homes for vehicle access and extending all utilities to the property.

“We’ve gone to court now for what should be the final time,” O’Donnell said, and if all the actions that have been specified by the judge are not completed, “The homes will be torn down.”

MR. LONG BEACH: What’s in a Name? Ask Dolly Varden.

Earlier this week the owners of downtown Long Beach’s The Varden re-installed their historic “Bath in every room” sign atop the early 20th century boutique hotel.

Co-owners Larry Black and Charles Knowlton ended eight months of restoration with a media event that included food, the vice mayor and a big crane lifting the landmark sign into place on the building long known as the Dolly Varden.

I’ve seen the sign for years and always wondered – who was Dolly Varden?

According to, Long Beach’s Dolly Varden was “an eccentric circus performer” who had a wealthy admirer.

“Supposedly, he built the building for her,” Black said, and she lived on the top floor of the hotel in a number of the rooms.

Long Beach doesn’t have the only Dolly Varden around, however.

All the iterations of Dolly Varden seem to stem from Charles Dickens’ historical novel, “Barnaby Rudge.” It features the Varden family – Gabriel, a locksmith with a manipulative wife named Martha and their daughter Dolly.

In 1867, the first baseball team to get paid to play was the Dolly Vardens – a female African-American team who started playing professional baseball two years before the first men’s team. The ladies played in long skirts and corsets.

Why name a team the Dolly Vardens? At the time a fashion craze was sweeping Britain and the United States – the Dolly Varden costume. The clothing featured brightly patterned dresses with flowers and a skirt. The outfit was finished off with a Dolly Varden hat, usually flat and trimmed with flowers or ribbons. It was an 1870s version of the fashions in Dickens’ novel.

If all this seems a bit fishy, it gets even fishier. There is a trout common to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean named after Dolly Varden. The first recorded uses of the name was in Northern California.

In an account by David Starr Jordan, yes, the same Jordan who’s name is on a Long Beach high school, a landlady in Soda Springs saw the brightly colored, spotted trout in the 1870s and said, “Why, that is a regular Dolly Varden.” The name stuck.

A Midwest-based folk/rock band shares the name, too. The Chicago quintet Dolly Varden took its name from what they call “a rare and beautiful species of trout.” The songwriters in the band both had fathers who were avid fisherman and “dreamt of one day catching the elusive Dolly Varden in an icy Alaskan lake.”

Ten hours north of Long Beach is the city of Dolly Varden, Nev., a desolate place sitting in the Dolly Varden Mountains near Utah. The area consists of 16 mineral claims and not much else. The Dolly Varden mine was opened in 1872 and was one of the richest copper mines in Elko County.

Going even farther north, a Canadian silver company of the same name focuses its energy on the development of the historic Dolly Varden Silver Mines in British Columbia.

Whether you like the Dickens, trout, minerals, baseball, folk rock or Long Beach boutique hotel version, there seems to be a Dolly Varden for everyone.

MR. LONG BEACH: Bloom, Love, Hate: Life Under the Purple Canopy

“Don’t even talk to me about these trees … I hate them!”

That was the greeting I received a few years ago while photographing jacaranda trees on Petaluma Avenue.

The woman, who refused to be identified, continued: “If you live on this street you hate ’em because all they do is track in mud and dirt and everything else.”

That’s when I realized the jacaranda trees aren’t just pretty. They create real angst for Long Beachers that have to live under the purple canopy.

There are certain annual rituals when you’re a photojournalist in Long Beach. Every April, it’s fast cars; in June, it’s graduations; and in May, it’s the jacaranda trees.

This year, I wanted a different view of the blooming trees, so I sent my drone high above the 3600 block of Petaluma Avenue in East Long Beach.

The jacaranda is a native to tropical and subtropical regions of Central America, South America, Cuba, Hispaniola and the Bahamas. The ones in Long Beach were planted when developers built homes in the middle of the last century.

The residents of Petaluma Avenue have a love-hate relationship with the trees.

Jarred Gienapp has lived under the trees his whole life. He says they’re messy, but they’re pretty when they’re blooming. About the purple blooms he said, “Fifty-fifty – they’re nice and they give you a headache at the same time.”

Steve and Pamela Colucci have lived under the purple trees for 12 years.

As the words, “What do you think about these trees” were coming out of my mouth, Steve emphatically said, “We hate ’em.” He said he had to buy a blower to keep the blooms under control.

His wife, Pamela, added: “They’re pretty to the visitors that drive down the street, but they’re really stinky.” And, “You can’t have carpet if you live on this street,” she said.

Steve Colucci laughed as he recalled what the street looked like when they bought their home: “It was beautiful. It was green. It was October.”

During their first spring in the home when the rain of purple blossoms started, Steve recalls thinking, “Are you kidding me?”

MR. LONG BEACH: Willow Springs Park is Open… Parts of it.

The hilltop plaza at Willow Springs Park is an area map made from decomposed granite and tumbled glass. The map was made by local artist Steve Elicker.  This view is looking north, Orange Avenue is on the right.

The hilltop plaza at Willow Springs Park is an area map made from decomposed granite and tumbled glass. The map was made by local artist Steve Elicker. This view is looking north, Orange Avenue is on the right.

Q. I see a bunch of tattered signs on Spring Street advertising “Willow Springs Park.” What’s going on with that? – Jody Collins

A. Willow Springs Park is a 47-acre site bounded by Orange and California avenues on its sides, Spring Street to the north and Willow Street to the south – excluding the cemeteries and a small private lot.

According to District 7 Councilman James Johnson, when Willow Springs Park is completed, it will be the largest park to open in Long Beach since El Dorado Park. And, it will be the largest park on the west side of the city.

The park shares its name with the streets that bound it, named for the numerous willow trees and natural springs in the area.

Parts of the park – Longview Point and Farm Stand 59 – are already open, but the majority is yet to come.

Longview Point is, as Johnson put it, “The highest point accessible in the entire city of Long Beach, with gorgeous vistas of Catalina Island, the Pacific Ocean, downtown Long Beach and the Hollywood sign – on a very clear day.” Of course, there’s a giant hill to the east that’s pretty big, but who looks that way? The high point is covered by an area map made by local artist Steve Elicker. It’s an aerial view of Southern California made from decomposed granite and tumbled glass. A parking lot on Orange Avenue gives you access to a trail that leads to Longview Point.

Farm Lot 59 is a 1-acre farm at 2714 California Ave. run by Long Beach Local. According to, they “grow food and flowers the old-fashioned way using our hands, without pesticides and chemicals.” Produce grown at the farm is available after June. They also sell to local restaurants, caterers and bartenders.

What’s next?

Johnson told me two things are on the horizon – a visitor center and a community garden education center.

The city set aside $1 million for the park, along with several grants, to fulfill the master plan. One of the things the plan calls for is a visitor center.

An old train station in the 1400 block of San Francisco Avenue will be moved to the park, most likely off California Avenue, and used as a visitor center. The station was built downtown in 1907 and moved to its current location in 1936.

The community garden education center will be one-acre area to teach young people about agriculture next to Farm Lot 59.

Johnson added, “It’s not a pie-in-the-sky project. When you have the money, you have the land, you have environmental approvals and you have a plan, all you need is the time to get it done … and that’s where we’re at.”

El Dorado Park filming update

A month ago I wrote about a single-family home being built in Area II of El Dorado Park for a movie.

The building is gone now, but at the time rumors were swirling that it was for a remake of “The Amityville Horror.” The production company refused to give me any information but, when the house was finished it was a clear, dead ringer for the house in the 1979 classic.

This version, simply titled “Amityville,” will star Jennifer Jason Leigh as a single mother who moves in to the spooky house with her three kids.

It’s set to be released in January.

MR. LONG BEACH: There’s an App for That

Where is this old sign with the old-timey phone number? Send your answer to First person to answer correctly wins a prize.

Where is this old sign with the old-timey phone number? Send your answer to and win a prize.

I’m a geek. So this week I thought I’d put my geekdom and love of Long Beach together.

Here’s a look at some useful Long Beach area iPhone apps:

The City of Long Beach has been getting “techie” in the last few years releasing a bevy of GO apps. The only one I’ve used is GO Long Beach. I reported a damaged street sign and a damaged parking sign near my house a few years ago. Both items were fixed in a few days. I even got an email updating me on the status of the work.

GO Long Beach: This app basically allows you to rant to the city. Click “new issue” and complain away. It also has a handy list of city phone numbers and a link to code enforcement. What I’d like to see in this app is construction updates. When will Redondo Avenue be finished? How long until I can walk along the bluffs again?

GO LB Pets: This app includes Pictures and info about pets available for adoption from Long Beach Animal Care Services. Also there’s info about city dogs parks and emergency vets.

GO LBPL: The cool feature in this app is the search. You can look for books by name, author or publisher. The results will tell you what library has the book, if it’s checked out and when it’s due to be returned.

GO LGB: This app inclides basic airport information with airline phone numbers and parking rates. It also has flight tracking. What this app is missing is maps to parking lots and a link to WebTrak, the cool feature on their desktop site that allows you to see a real-time map of the aircraft over Long Beach.

Vote LB 2014: The app shows voter information for the City Clerk’s Office. This app has a moving countdown akin to a bomb in an action thriller. You can also find your voting place and track results on election night.

Lakewood and Signal Hill won’t be left out; they have city apps, too.

Lakewood’s app is simply called “Lakewood,” and Signal Hill’s is “mySignalHill.” Both apps’ main purpose is to report problems, from abandoned shopping carts to graffiti to high tall weeds and dead vegetation.

As far as local attractions go, The Aquarium of the Pacific’s app is a nice guide to have with you when visiting the fish. The only problem: Cell service is horrible inside most of the exhibits.

The Port of Long Beach has the LB Bridge app, which keeps tabs on the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project. You can check road closures and view live construction cameras.

Cal State Long Beach’s radio station K-Beach has a live streaming app – no frills – that just lets you listen to the school’s station.

And lastly, the hospitals. If you need to get to the ER, but somehow have the time to shop around for the best wait times, Lakewood and Los Alamitos Medical Centers have apps for you. Both hospital apps are exactly the same and both let you check the ER wait times and even start the check-in process.

What’s missing? What apps would make life better in Long Beach? Let me know what you’d like to have on your phone and I’ll share it with our readers.

MR. LONG BEACH: Horses Hiding behind Homes

Q. In the Wrigley area near Birney Elementary School, Spring Street dead ends at the river. Right before its end, there is Deforest Avenue on the left, and then an entrance to what looks like some horse property on the right. There’s like a dirt road that goes along behind the properties. Does anyone know if these are horse easements as regarded under the city law and if the road that goes along behind them is public? I’d like to see the horses and their people, but don’t want to trespass. – Becky Cook

A. The area is actually the back of the 3000 block of San Francisco Avenue near the Los Angeles River. It’s an easement owned by the County of Los Angeles’ Flood Control District currently being used by homeowners – mostly for horses.

I went out to the area and ran into Jackson Shaw. He owns a home and a big red barn on the street. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, because he just happens to be chock-full of history.

First, a bit about Shaw; He works for the FAA inspecting small aircraft before they are shipped out of the country. He is also a helicopter pilot. Shaw said he saw the distinctive red barn during approaches to Long Beach airport and decided he wanted to live there.

After a year of persuading the owner to sell, Shaw, his wife and five horses moved in. He gathered neighbors and started the Wrigley Heights Equestrian Association.

In 1975, the city of Long Beach granted a Horse Overlay District for two blocks of homes on the west side of San Francisco Avenue between Spring and 32nd streets. The ordinance allows single-family residences to keep up to five horses on at least 8,000 square feet.

Here’s where it gets confusing. The area behind the homes, where the horses are kept, is L.A. County property – it’s not owned by the residents. Even though it’s county land, it’s still subject to Long Beach city zoning.

Kerjon Lee, public affairs manager with L.A. County Public Works, told me that for the the county, city and equestrian association have been working to figure out a way for the homeowners to buy the property.

According to Shaw, for five years L.A. County Public Works met with the association for five years trying to figure out a way for the residents to purchase the land, then one day they told him they decided not to sell. Then about three years ago, the county recontacted them and said, “Now we’re ready to sell,” Shaw said.

They have been in talks ever since, but Shaw said about 12 months ago, the county told him about 12 months ago that in 2002 the city of Long Beach had zoned the area for public use in 2002, so and that designation would be a problem in allowing them to buy the property. He said that has brought “everything to a scratching halt.”

In the late 1980s, the 3100 block lost its horse zone when Kirk Hankla purchased the whole block with the intent to raze the structures and build new homes. His company, International City Mortgage wasn’t able to complete the project.

In the 1990s, Gensemer Construction bought the lots and built and built 18 two-story homes constructed around two cul-de-sacs. The design, which limited lots to 5,000 square feet, no lounger meet the 8,000 square foot requirement for horses.

Shaw no longer has horses, but he still loves his barn.

“It’s really just a different world back here,” he said. “From the front nobody knows, nobody complains.”

So, to get back to Becky’s question. It appears you can walk back there and look at the horses. You won’t be trespassing any more than the people keeping the horses on the property.

MR. LONG BEACH: Drink Up, The Water’s Fine… Officials Say.

The City of Long Beach's groundwater treatment plant. Water from ground wells is treated and filtered, then mixed with imported water and sent to storage facilities.

The City of Long Beach’s groundwater treatment plant. Water from ground wells is treated and filtered, then mixed with imported water and sent to storage facilities.

Q. Is the city water safe? I’ve been drinking it since I moved here almost seven years ago, with no apparent ill effects, but recently several people have expressed shock that I fill my glass straight from the tap. One was certain it’s unsafe. Are they right? – Nancy Hall

A. According to local water officials, it’s safe to drink up.

“We consistently meet or exceed all federal and state requirements. There are no problems or issues (with our water),” said Matthew Veeh, director of government and public affairs for the Long Beach Water Department.

On the surface, water seems like it would be a simple thing – get it from a source, send it though pipes to a house and you’re done. Well, it’s not that easy. In fact, it took two officials at the Long Beach Water Department to explain to me how it works in the city.

Veeh explained that Long Beach residents get a blend of water out of their taps – 60 percent groundwater and 40 percent imported. The foreign water is a mixture from the Colorado River and the state water project. The groundwater comes from under our feet.

The groundwater is pumped to the water department’s facility on Redondo Avenue near the airport where it’s treated. It’s then mixed with the imported water and sent to tanks on a hill near the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Redondo Avenue. After that it goes to customers.

But where did the reputation of bad water in Long Beach get started?

To explain this I needed a second water man – Tai Tseng, director of operations for the Water Department.

Tseng told me about an ancient redwood forest deep under Long Beach. He said the trees are about 800 to 1,000 feet under the city – unfortunately, that’s right where our groundwater is located. He explained that the trees sit in a portion of the aquifer, and when water soaks in the trees it leeches out the tannins and gives the water a yellowish color, like tea.

Before 1984, the Water Department removed the color with bleach. This gave the water a chlorine-like smell similar to pool water.

Today, the Water Department removes the tint with coagulants that absorb the color. Tseng stressed that no matter how the color is removed, it only affects aesthetics, not water quality.

“People have preferences,” Tseng said. “Maybe the water is not what they prefer when it’s compared to bottled water and some may translate that to not being safe.”

As far as safety, Veeh assured me the department tests the water for contaminants regularly – “weekly, sometimes daily,” he said.

Considering that Long Beach water costs about half a penny ($.0047) per gallon and Arrowhead spring water sells for about $1.30 a gallon, I’ll stick with the tap.

Train station update: A few weeks ago I wrote about an old train station in the 1400 block of San Francisco Avenue. The station was built downtown in 1907 and moved to its current location in 1936. Art Cox, the city’s superintendent of street maintenance, has confirmed plans are in the works to move the station to Willow Springs Park at Longview Point. They hope to move the building sometime in the next year.

MR. LONG BEACH: Long Beach’s gets Billing as Scene Setter

Q. What is the house-like structure being built in the middle of El Dorado Park between Spring Street and Wardlow Road north of the archery range? 

A. The wood-frame house being built in Area II of El Dorado Park is for an upcoming feature film. According to Tasha Day at the Long Beach Office of Special Events and Filming, the permit says the movie is titled “Blocked In,” although that may change. It’s being made by Red Door Productions.

I called the phone number on the filming permit and spoke with Carrie Cantori at the production company – she couldn’t tell me much.

Cantori was very nice and said she wished she could tell me about the film, but had signed a nondisclosure agreement. Not only could she not disclose the plot or the actors involved, She couldn’t even tell me where the film takes place. I’m assuming the story line doesn’t call for the subjects to live in a regional park in Long Beach.

One of my well-placed sources in the city – a person who I’m sure doesn’t want to admit they know me – has assured Mr. Long Beach the set is for the new Amityville Horror movie.

El Dorado Park is no stranger to Hollywood, although mostly for the small screen. Television shows that have been filmed in the park include “CSI: Miami,” “Dexter,” “MTV Parental Control,” “Castle,” “Bones,” “True Blood,” ‘90210,” “Family Tree” and “Rizzoli & Isles,” as well as commercials for Snickers, Mercedes-Benz, Nike, Verizon, Bud Light, Carl’s Jr., Church’s Chicken, Ford, Subway, Chevy, Subaru, VW, Trident, Walgreens, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Mini Cooper. And one Rihanna music video.

When most Long Beachers think of Hollywood coming to town, it’s usually downtown and Virginia Country Club that get all the credit.

Downtown’s art-deco buildings often stand in for Miami. Movies such as “Blow,” “Bad Santa” and “Jerry Maguire” prove how Floridian we can be.

The films “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “American Pie” and “Weird Science” prove that Virgina Country Club’s variety of architecture allows it be Anytown, USA.

And our “Battlestar Galactica”-esque City Hall has, well, been in the 1978 “Battlestar Galactica” movie and in 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot.

Most Long Beachers already know all that, but what about the East Side?

The HBO series “Dexter” filmed all over East Long Beach. His childhood home sits on San Anseline Avenue behind the Target off Bellflower Boulevard, and one of his romps through the Everglades was actually El Dorado Park. The Colorado Lagoon area also served as the park where they found the body of Miguel Prado, an assistant district attorney turned killer played by actor Jimmy Smits. on the show.

In Martin Scorsese’s “Aviator” movie, Howard Hughes comes ashore to meet Katharine√ Hepburn at 72nd Place on the peninsula.

Two Jack Nicholson films had scenes in the area, too. The first, sans-Nicholson, was in “Anger Management” at Bayshore Walk and 64th Place. Adam Sandler’s character ends up at Heather Graham’s house where she goes crazy and takes off her clothes, revealing a Red Sox bra. The second scene, in “As Good as it Gets,” Nicholson takes Helen Hunt to a Baltimore restaurant and stops their budding romance before it gets started. They were dining at what is now Khoury’s Restaurant in Alamitos Bay Landing.

When Matt Stone and Trey Parker brought “BASEketball” to town they spent a lot of time at The 49er Tavern on Pacific Coast Highway near Cal State Long Beach. Some employees even made it in the film.

Emily Scott of the Long Beach Office of Special Events and Filming Special Events and Filming Bureau told me the city issues 400 to 500 filming permits each year – that’s about 800 production days. The only thing that stops filming in Long Beach is the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Long Beach Grand Prix – there is a moratorium on filming April 1-16.

MR. LONG BEACH: History in Storage

Just in case you haven’t been able to tell from my previous columns, I’ll say it now, I love Long Beach history.

Last week my colleague, Greg Mellen, wrote about Marshall Pumphrey, the owner of five shipping containers full of Long Beach historical items. He’s got all kinds of stuff, from old maps of Long Beach to a car from the Cyclone Racer roller coaster to a chair from the Pacific Coast Club.

Pumphrey inherited his goodies from Ken Larkey, operator of the defunct Long Beach Heritage Museum.

Arranging to take Pumphrey’s picture wasn’t easy; he sent me on a very specific course of freeway on-ramps and hidden driveways to get to his loot.

Almost as cool as the stuff Pumphrey has is where it’s located. His stash is tucked away in a strange bit of city owned property sandwiched between I-710 and the Los Angeles River. The only way to get to it is from the freeway. I’m not going to mention the cross street because I promised Pumphrey I wouldn’t give away the whereabouts of his treasure – as it is, I’ve probably said too much.

Following Pumphrey’s directions, I made a sharp right turn off the freeway and into a yard of Long Beach’s forgotten relics. Long Beach history was everywhere.

The first thing I noticed was the road that led into the yard. It was covered with stripes – apparently the place where painters test the striping machines.

Next I saw a pile of dinosaurs and alligators. The metal creatures were intended to be placed in parks and used as bike racks, but the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine felt that they could pose a risk to kids who might want to climb on them rather than use them to lock their bikes. A few were placed on the roof of the Main Library downtown – behind a locked gate. These particular dinosaurs in the city yard had been sitting in the median of Wardlow Road near El Dorado Park until last month. Their purpose was to slow traffic, but they didn’t.

At the far end of the yard, sitting below a pile of dirt with a cross atop it, was the Looff’s Lite-a-line cupola.

The structure originally sat atop Charles I.D. Looff’s merry-go-round at the old Pike.

First, a little background on Looff. He built the first carousel in the U.S. on Coney Island in 1876. Then, in 1910 he moved his business to Long Beach and built a ride at the pike. Looff’s first building caught fire. He rebuilt and eventually put the Lite-a-line game in its place.

Even though it’s gone from Downtown, you can still play Lite-a-line – and win money too. Its current home is 2500 Long Beach Blvd. The new Lite-a-line also has a museum where you can see one of the horses from Looff’s carousel and Pumphrey’s Cyclone Racer car.

At the yard I ran into a carpenter who told me if I liked the stuff here, I should go check out the other city yards.

I set up a tour with Art Cox, the city’s superintendent of street maintenance. What he showed me was just as amazing.

Sitting on the former site of another city yard, facing San Francisco Avenue, is an old train station. According to Cox, the station was built in 1907 next to City Hall – back when the seat of Long Beach government was at Pacific Avenue and Broadway.

The station was moved to it current location in 1936. In between it served as a relief building during the Great Depression and a city materials testing laboratory.

We arrived at a downtown warehouse and Cox went to work looking for the light switch. The first thing I saw was the spire from the recently demolished Atlantic Theater along with pallets of the decorative cement that surrounded the ticket booth. Both are supposed to be incorporated in the library being built where the North Long Beach theater was.

Next I made my way to the back of the warehouse where I found four giant columns and decorative stone artwork.

The columns were from the Carnegie Library that used to be in Lincoln Park. Around the turn of the last century Andrew Carnegie built more than 1,500 libraries the United States. One of them was in Long Beach’s Pacific Park – now Lincoln Park. The Classical Revival style building was damaged by fire in 1972 and torn down.

The stone artwork is pieces of the facade from the Jergins Trust Building. Built in 1917, it was at the southeast corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue. The building housed offices, the State Theater and, for a while, the Superior Court.

Near the end of my tour I asked Cox if he had anything else. He said, “Just some odd things. You probably wouldn’t be interested”. As soon as he said odd I was interested.

Turns out he had a gorilla he rescued from some city buildings as they were being torn down. He couldn’t tell me anything about the gorilla except that it looked, “Pike-ish”

We walked in to a back room near his office and there it was – a four-foot gorilla guarding the city’s golden shovels used for groundbreakings.

MR. LONG BEACH: Old Rail Line Makes Scar across Long Beach

Rails from the Pacific Electric Red Car poke out of the asphalt where Rotary Centennial Park meets Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach.

Q. Was there ever a connecting street from Appian Way directly to Eliot Street, via Third Street? Seems like it would be possible, feasible and well-liked to put one in now. I would think that with the fire station right there, a minute or so could be saved if a fire truck emergency needed to get down East Appian Way. – Justin Rudd

A. It looks like it could/should go through, but I couldn’t find any information about Third Street ever connecting to Eliot Avenue.

After studying the area on Google Maps I started wondering why Third Street was even there. The numbered streets in Long Beach go east/west, but here Third Street goes at an angle – and it doesn’t really go anywhere.

As luck would have it this week I was working on a different story about Long Beach history and came across a 1956 Shell gas station map laying among other historic artifacts at Seaside Printing. According to the map, the stretch of Third Street that Justin referred to didn’t exist, at least not in 1956.

What was there in the first half of the 20th century? The Pacific Electric Red Car’s Newport Beach Line. The train ran 40 miles from Downtown Los Angeles, through Long Beach and ended in Newport. Even though the rails were removed sometime in the 1950s, it took years for development to encroach on the right-of-way.

It seems the street, and other oddities around town, are the result of having to fill a void when the Red Car was shuttered.

The path of the former train is like a scar that stretches across Long Beach – from Belmont Heights up toward Compton. The right-of-way also continues south into Seal Beach where a restored Red Car sits on aptly named, and what I imagine would be a favorite of singer Eddy Grant’s – “Electric Avenue.”

Over the years scar tissue has formed over the right-of-way as it’s been slowly enveloped by the city.

If you get the chance, take a look at a map and follow the old route. You can clearly see streets that abruptly end and parallelogram-shaped buildings filling the void.

The remnants of the once-great transportation system can be seen all over Long Beach.

Starting south and working your way north, the Long Beach Green Belt stretches along the right-of-way from Seventh Street to 10th Street. It was full of native plants until the Termino Avenue Drain Project stripped it to dirt.

Just north of there is an odd triangle where 10th Street, Euclid Avenue and Grand Avenue converge.

A little shopping center with an ever-changing tiny restaurant at the corner of Anaheim Street and Orizaba Avenue gets its triangle shape from the train’s path.

At Orizaba Park a life-size replica of the front of a Red Car made by Signal Hill artist Patrick Vogal sits on the approximate location of where tracks once ran through the refurbished space.

North of there is a fenced-in garden of native plants and a walkway where 15th Street should go through. The passageway, named Trolley Garden Way, is an homage to the historic railway.

Past that is three blocks of gated single family homes along Old Zaferia Way. The street was named for one of the stations along the route.

If you want a peek at the old tracks, they poke out of the asphalt where Rotary Centennial Park meets Pacific Coast Highway.

The easement, which predated the city of Signal Hill, serves as the city’s western border with Long Beach

The rails also make an appearance at yet another traffic triangle where Alamitos Avenue, Walnut Avenue and 20th Street come together. The tracks lead in to a new greenway with bike lanes that ends near the visual deteriorating Orange Avenue Bridge. The only reason the bridge, which holds up the intersection of Orange Avenue and Hill Street, exists was to lift traffic above the trains.

At Long Beach Boulevard the path joins the current Metro Blue Line and heads up to Los Angeles – following much of the route it did when it was built at the turn of the last century.

MR. LONG BEACH: A Hidden ‘Walled’ City (in plain sight) in Long Beach




Q. Driving east on Carson Street near Cherry Avenue – just past Ralphs – there is a railroad crossing. Looking up there appears to be small flags suspended on a wire, well above the roadway, crossing Carson at a right angle. I wondered if they were some sort of wiring for lights, phone, etc., but a closer examination showed the wire to be nylon line of some sort. But it gets better, Mr. LB!  Now I notice one on Cherry Avenue, just before the I-405 north exit, and another one after exiting the I-405 north at Orange, just when you come to the stop sign. Are these guide wires to hold some sort of banner? – Greg Czopek

A. The wires are part of the Long Beach eruv, an intricate set of poles and wires that work together to form a virtual “walled city” around the Bixby Knolls, California Heights and Virginia Country Club area for Orthodox Jews on the Sabbath.

Jewish law states that you can’t carry goods, food or even roll a baby stroller outside of a private domain on the Sabbath. The string connects various areas to form one big “private” domain.

The Long Beach eruv was built by Bixby Knolls’ Congregation Lubavitch 10 years ago.

Before 2004, members of the congregation could walk to the temple on the Sabbath, but other things were forbidden.

With the eruv in place, members can now carry food to friends’ and family’s homes, roll strollers and carry goods – as long as they stay inside the boundaries.

I sat down with the congregation’s Rabbi Yitzchok Newman outside the Long Beach Police Department’s west substation – he’s also an LBPD chaplain. The rabbi explained the importance of the eruv and its role in Jewish life.

The Sabbath is a holy day, a family day, a community day, according to the rabbi. He said, “The eruv defines the area in which the family and community get together.”

It’s made of a 200-pound fish line and is maintained by the temple’s eruv committee. Every week members of the committee check to see that the eruv is intact and report their findings to the eruv hotline. A quick call to 1-888-4LB-ERUV will give you a recorded message about the line’s status.

The line closes 20 gaps in natural boundaries that are defined by the San Diego Freeway on the south and Long Beach Airport on the east. The string continues north after the airport along railroad tracks to Market Street. It then follows railroad tracks down towards Virginia Country Club, circles the west side of the golf course and heads down the Metro Blue Line to the I-405. The eruv follows the freeway back to Cherry Avenue.

The rabbi told me there were challenges getting the line strung, but Long Beach’s is very simple. “Irvine has one and Los Angeles has a major one,” he said.

Long Beach’s eruv is easiest to see at the places Greg mentioned in his question.

Not all Jews adhere to the eruv. In fact, Mr. Long Beach is Jewish and is just learning about it.

Rabbi Newman said that he and the 100 families that use the enclosure “pride ourselves in being a family-oriented community. … It allows us to keep our values and our culture to a much greater extent by having the eruv.”

MR. LONG BEACH: Moving Machinery and the Long Beach Olympics



Q. Several times a month these huge things are escorted down Ocean Boulevard late in the evening by California Highway Patrol with their sirens. What is it and where does it go? – Cookie Braude

A. When I first looked at Cookie’s picture it reminded me of the specially-built vehicle that was used to transport a giant rock across Southern California in 2012.

I asked the public information officer at CHP what they were escorting on the night of Wednesday, Feb. 12. He didn’t know, but sent me to the CHP’s commercial division, which handles these types of things.

The officers in the commercial division told me they escort things all the time, and while this wasn’t anything special, it is big – about a million pounds.

The item in question was a power transformer for Southern California Edison. The equipment was headed from Pier F in the Port of Long Beach to Rosamond.

All together it’s 240 feet long and 20 feet wide. Its highest point is 17 feet off the ground.


Long Beach Olympics

We watch a lot of Olympic in Mr. Long Beach’s house. Every couple of years the kids get in the Olympic spirit – we throw a party, watch the opening ceremonies, and serve food from the host country. Well, every year except 2010. We just couldn’t find any tasty Canadian food.

For the past few weeks my wife has been urging me to write about Long Beach’s various Olympics connections. I’m sure I’ll leave something or someone out. So, in no particular order, here they are:

The Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. I’ve heard many Long Beachers talk about the pool’s role in the Olympics. Some think it was used in the 1932 Los Angeles Games. It wasn’t. The natatorium opened in 1968 and hosted the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials that year as well as 1976. The pool was permanently closed last year because of seismic concerns. A replacement building is being planned.

When the pool opened it was called the Taj Mahal of swim stadiums, but by the time the swim trials returned to Long Beach, in 2004, it was too small. A temporary pool was built downtown that year.

The Sochi Friendship Tree. In 1992, Long Beach received a lemon tree from the most recent Olympic host city. It was grafted from a tree in Russia as part of the sister cities program. The citrus tree is off Seventh Street at Recreation Park.

El Dorado Park was the site of archery in the 1984 Olympics.

Long Beach Marine Stadium. The rowing venue was built in 1923 but was expanded for the 1932 Olympic Games. At the time it was the first man-made rowing venue.

The list of Long Beach Olympians is too long to mention in this column – the obvious ones are swimmer Jessica Hardy, volleyballer Misty May-Treanor and water polo’s Tony Azevedo.

How about the lesser known athletes? They include swimmer Susie Atwood (1968, 1972); rowers John Van Blom (1968, 1972, 1976) and his wife, rower Joan Lind (1976, 1984); runner Bryshon Nellum (2012); four-time gold medal diver Pat McCormick (1952, 1956); and 1948 London Olympic gold medal wrestler Wilber (Moose) Thompson.

And, I can’t forget Olympian Angela Madsen – she earned a bronze in the discus at the 2012 Paralympic Games.

If you weren’t around for either of the last two Olympiads in Southern California, don’t worry. Los Angeles bids to host future games have included venues in Long Beach.

MR. LONG BEACH: Long Beachers go ‘round, and ‘round and ‘round

The Los Alamitos Traffic Circle in Long Beach, Calif.. ///ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Slug: lbr.mrlongbeach.0223.jag, Day: Thursday, February 20, 2014 (2/20/14), Time: 9:55:35 PM, Location: Long Beach, California - Long Beach Traffic Circle - JEFF GRITCHEN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Q. What’s the deal with the traffic circle? – Bill Alkofer

A. The Long Beach Traffic Circle, whose official name is The Los Alamitos Traffic Circle, isn’t actually a traffic circle anymore. It was built to help facilitate drivers from Los Angeles heading toward Marine Stadium and El Dorado Park during the 1932 Olympic Summer Games.

It was a traffic circle when it was built, but now it’s a roundabout, and yes, there is a difference. Although, if you’re not an engineer, you probably don’t care. Either way, I’ll attempt to explain.

The term roundabout describes an intersection where entering traffic flows in freely, but must yield to cars already in the circle, while entry to a traffic circle is controlled by stop signs or traffic signals.

To keep things simple, I’ll just call it “the circle.”

The circle in Long Beach was converted to a roundabout during a Caltrans redesign in 1993. When first built, it was the terminus of the Roosevelt Highway (US-6) that connected to Provincetown, Mass., 3,227 miles to the east.

Local historian Stan Poe told me that during the Olympic Games travelers would come south from Los Angeles and be directed north on Los Coyotes Diagonal toward the archery event or south on Pacific Coast Highway toward Marine Stadium and the rowing events. The streets had different names then.

It may have been built for the Olympics, but as far as Mr. Long Beach’s kids, “The Little Beachers”, are concerned – it’s a ride.

Every time we enter the circle I hear cheers from the backseat, “Daddy, go around again, go around again!” My race car-type circles usually continue until I whip my wife into a dizzying frenzy and she threatens to throw up.

The roundabout, part of Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) and Lakewood Boulevard (CA-19) is owned by the State of California but maintained by Long Beach. I asked the city how many cars travel the circle and how many don’t quite make it around. They wouldn’t give up the numbers, but it’s been reported that the circle has 60,000 drivers each day.

When I asked Long Beachers about the circle I mostly heard stories of crazy drivers and the tales of accidents. Sebastian Lopez, head trainer at the UFC Gym at the circle, said he wishes drivers would “just use their signals.”

“People need to learn to drive. I see accidents everyday,” he said.

Urban legends abound about deaths in the roundabout. Circlers told me the designer, Werner Ruchti, died in a car accident while going around the road. Others told me he and his son died in the same manner – neither is true.

Another rumor was that the Rolling Stones played in the center of the circle. Also, not true.
Tom Moser, owner of Port City Tattoo at the circle, said he “Kinda likes not having to stop.” Moser said he grew up by the traffic circle in Orange.

“This one’s bigger, but I’m used to it” he said.

MR. LONG BEACH: Cambodian’s Make a Home in Long Beach

Here is my Sunday column – along with this week’s Mystery Photo.

Q. How did Long Beach get such a strong Cambodian community? – Josh Stewart

A. Long Beach’s Cambodian population exploded after Pol Pot took control of that country in 1975.

First of all, who wouldn’t want to live here? If I were fleeing a country, I’d come to Long Beach – great weather, nice people and plenty of food.

But how the Cambodians picked the city isn’t that clear-cut. Officially there are about 20,000 people of Cambodian descent living in Long Beach, although many think the number is much higher. In fact, it’s believed to be the largest Cambodian population in the world outside of Southeast Asia.

In April 1975, after a long civil war, the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, forcing a mass exodus from the country. Many refugees made their way across the country’s northern border to Thailand and on to refugee camps, then on to other countries. Others made it to the United States.

Kimthai Kouch is the executive director of the Cambodian Association of America. He told me that when Cambodia fell to Pol Pot, about 150 exchange students who were already living in the Long Beach area were left stateless.

Those students worked together, out of a garage in Long Beach, to sponsor refugees from the war-torn country.

Kouch said the students picked Long Beach for two reasons: Its climate and, in 1975, the availability of cheap housing. The Cambodian Association of America still exists and is still based in Long Beach. The group provides social outreach to Cambodians in the area.

Every Khmer person has his or her own reasons for settling in Long Beach.

Sandy Turner, originally from Battambang, Cambodia, may have a very American-sounding name, but she was born Kuntha Kong. Her family left their village in 1979 and headed to the Thai border. Her sister had been injured by a bomb, and her dad was seeking help.

Her father, who speaks French as well as Khmer, was able to communicate with a journalist who helped them cross the border into Thailand and get help for his daughter.

The family moved to the United States in June 1980, when they were sponsored by World Relief and placed in Georgia.

With the promise of a job, an uncle who owned a gas station in El Monte invited the family to come to live with him in Long Beach. Turner and her sisters became U.S. citizens in 1987. The Cambodian girls, Kuntha, Kunthea and Naryphal, took American names and became Long Beachers Sandy, Sabrina and Emily. Sandy became a Turner when she got married.

Then there’s Chanta Bob, or Bobby, as his friends call him, operational manager at Sophy’s Restaurant. Fleeing the Khmer Rouge, Bob and his family made it to a Thai refugee camp in 1979. He spent two years there waiting for a sponsor. Eventually a Presbyterian church in Oregon brought him to Albany. Bob went to Oregon State and started working for HP.

In 2000, he ran into a Cambodian from Long Beach who urged him to move south. Bob said he was ready for a change. He remembers needing to get out of his comfort zone. Although Bob credits the large Cambodian community with helping him not lose his native tongue, he also remarked, “I didn’t realize (Long Beach) would just be a different comfort zone.”