Monthly Archives: February 2014

PHOTOS: A Little Rain in Long Beach

Here is a peek at a wet day in Long Beach.

THEN AND NOW: Trash Boom in the Los Angeles River

Here are two pictures of the trash boom at the mouth of the Los Angeles River – one taken yesterday before the rain and one taken this morning.
Workers from Frey Environmental maintain the trash boom in Long Beach. Steve Zieg said that usually by this time of year they’ve collected about 1,000 tons of debris, but so far only collected 150 tons, not including today’s storm.

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.

PHOTO: Dinosaurs go Extinct on Wardlow Road

Jose Barajas, left, Jose Silva, right, and Leo Martires work to remove dinosaurs along Wardlow Road near El Dorado Park in Long Beach on Tuesday

The Dinosaurs were originally intended to be placed in City parks and used as bike racks. The Director 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. Ed Kamlan in the City Manager’s office said, “Rather than keep them in a city warehouse, we have been looking for places to display them to add some “whimsy” to appropriate areas.” One of those areas was on a median on Wardlow Road at El Dorado Park..

“The traffic calming experiment has ended and the dinosaurs will be replaced by trees to provide landscaping that blends in with the park environment on either side of the Wardlow, explained Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske.

According to Schipske’s office, “If the average speed is not slowed down, the State may require the City to raise the limit to 55 MPH which would negatively impact the neighborhoods”


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.”

AUDIO SLIDESHOW: Valentine’s Day Weddings

Here is a little video of people getting married at the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder office in Norwalk on Valentines Day.

For Emmanuel Vaughn, re- membering his wedding anniversary won’t be a problem – he tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend, Desarae Flowers, on Valentine’s Day.

“We wanted to do it on lovers’ day because we love each other so much,” said Vaughn, of Long Beach.

His new wife chimed in, “We’ll never forget this day.”

Sharing the Vaughns’ wedding day were about 150 other couples who married Friday at the Los Angeles County Registrar-Re- corder/County Clerk office in Norwalk – about five times more than a normal day. Tucked away in a fifth-floor corner of the gov- ernment building were six chap- els made from high-walled cubi- cles decorated with red stream- ers and paper hearts. A rotating crew of commissioners waited to marry anybody who paid the $90 license and $25 ceremony fees.

Surrounded by friends and family who had a difficult time squeezing into the cubicle-chapel, an excited Teri Skipper of Long Beach said she’d been engaged to William Skipper for seven years and eight months, and that get- ting married on Valentine’s Day would be “the perfect day.”

Despite being together for eight years, and talking about marriage for many of them, George Stefanis said his decision to wed Peter Guerrero on Valen- tine’s Day was an off-the-cuff deci- sion. The day before, Stefanis thought, “Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day – let’s just go get it done.”

PHOTOS: Kicking off the Start of Construction at the Long Beach Grand Prix

Officials hold a construction kick-off photo pop a day after construction started on the Long Beach Grand Prix.

PHOTO: Mayfair High Wrestlers

Mayfair High School wrestlers Fabian Reyes, left, Andrew Ortiz, Josh Aguilar and Jessie Gutierrez, right, flank head coach Ibrahim Atalla, a former Marine who has built the Monsoon program from a non-entity into an area power.

PHOTOS: Building the Long Beach Grand Prix

Over the next 60 days crews will spend 10,000 man hours to set up 16 grandstands, 51 suites and nine bridges along the Long Beach Grand Prix course. They  will also place 2,200 10,000-cement blocks that will serve as a race barrier. The contest is April 11th. through 13th.

PHOTOS: Virginia Country Club

Here’s a peek at the Virginia Country Club neighborhood of Long Beach – Famous movie locations, parks, an architect’s 8-year quest to restore a famous home and a tree

PHOTOS: Long Beach School for Adults, 100 Years Old

A peek at the Long Beach School for Adults, founded in 1913.

MR. LONG BEACH: Beachside Homes are Remnants of Hurricane

TOP: Home of Shelly Reid in the 5400 block of Ocean Blvd. in 1938 in Long Beach. BOTTOM: Same house today.

TOP: Home of Shelly Reid in the 5400 block of Ocean Blvd. in 1938 in Long Beach. BOTTOM: Same house today.

Q: Why are there are only five homes on the beach from Granada Avenue to the start of the Peninsula?  I’d like to know. — Justin Rudd, Belmont Shore
A: I’ve always wondered the same thing.

The five houses on the beach side of Ocean Boulevard are remnants of a group of houses that were built before a Category 1 hurricane struck the area in 1939. The houses you see today are the only ones that survived.

An 1895 map of the area titled “Alamitos Bay Townsite” shows lots along the ocean side along what was then called Peninsula Avenue. The map is signed by Llewellyn Bixby and shows the high tide line at the base of the homes.

The tropical storm was the only one to directly hit California in the 20th century, and the 21st century, too … so far. It had winds as high as 75 miles per hour and dumped over 5 inches of rain in 24 hours. There was so much rain that the Hamilton Bowl, the site of today’s Chittick Field, overflowed and flooded the surrounding area. The storm moved inland near Long Beach and did over $2 million in damage in 1939 dollars and killed 45 people throughout Southern California.

Back in 1939, the Weather Bureau of the United States didn’t name tropical storms, but that didn’t stop residents from coming up with colorful names like El Cordonazo or The Lash of St. Francis. The storm was preceded by a week-long heat wave that killed over 90 people. Beach-goers were on the sand when the fast-approaching tropical depression’s high winds forced lifeguards to close the beach. The next year the Weather Bureau opened a Southern California forecast office.

I went knocking on doors and ran into Shelly Reid. Her father, an oil man, built their family home a year before the storm in the 5400 block of Ocean Boulevard. When the house was built it was one of many along that stretch of beach.

Reid told me when she was young, and the ocean was at high tide, waves would crash right under her house. She said her dad made sure the structure was protected by building the home on pilings buried 50 feet in the sand. She remembered the storm and the throngs of lookey-loos who came to check out the rows of damaged homes after the rain subsided.

Reid said growing up at the house she saw dredging in the Alamitos Bay and long pipes that ran over Ocean Boulevard depositing sand that filled the beach in front of her house.

Historian Stan Poe confirmed that the some of the sand used to make the beach larger came from the bay, but much came from other sources like the mountains and Catalina Island.

Homes from Granada Avenue to 55th Place seemed to suffer the most damage. One of the reasons, as Poe explained, is because the boardwalk that ends at 55th Place was never completed. He said that homeowners in that area didn’t want a boardwalk in front of their homes. The wooden walkway, along with its seawall that is buried 15 feet in the sand, might have provided some protection if it was completed. The boardwalk is still there today – and it still ends at 55th Place

Poe said that in an effort to avoid being responsible for further damage, the city of Long Beach started buying the land where the homes once stood. There were a variety of lawsuits, but the city continued to buy properties as late as the 1960s. The homes that remain today simply refused to sell.

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PHOTOS: Long Beach’s AES electric power plant

A peek inside Long Beach’s AES electric power plant. Read the Story>>

PHOTOS: Long Beach’s Donuts

Donuts have been a hot topic in Long Beach lately. Dunkin’ Donuts says they are coming to the city, then announces they don’t want the icon donut atop the building they’re purchasing… What? No donut for a donut shop. Inside of a week, amid a public outcry, Dunkin says they are keeping the rooftop pastry. Here is a look at all the giant cruller around Long Beach.

MR. LONG BEACH: Clearing Confusion over Future of Atlantic Theater Site

A backhoe from American Integrated Services punched a hole in the side of the Atlantic Theater as part of the ceremony on Saturday. PHOTO BY BILL ALKOFER

A backhoe from American Integrated Services punched a hole in the side of the Atlantic Theater as part of the ceremony on Saturday. PHOTO BY BILL ALKOFER

In an effort to keep my thumb on the pulse of Long Beach I read a lot – including Facebook. One of the pages I routinely check is the popular Justin Rudd-run Long Beach page, aptly named “Long Beach, Calif.”

The page, which boasts almost 50,000 likes, is both fun and frustrating. Fun because it’s nice to see so many people talking about Mr. Long Beach’s town. And frustrating because many who post expect answers to legal questions or their medical problems resolved by random Facebookers.

Last week is a perfect example. Jessica Sawyer asked about the Atlantic Theater in North Long Beach. “… I heard it was slated for demo soon… Anyone know any history on it? I’d love to hear.  Atlantic + South ; North Long Beach”, she posted.

A perfectly valid question. The responses were varied. Some helpful, some not so much. So I’ll set out to set the record straight.

Many posters identified it as the Crest Theater. It wasn’t; it was the Atlantic Theater until it closed in 1976. The theater was showing Hollywood films until 1969. At the start of the next decade they began showing adult films. A classified ad in a local paper said they were searching for a “Topless go-go” girl in 1973.

In the mid 1980s Kung Fu films were gracing the silver screen. After that it was the Liberty Baptist Church and then a furniture store. It’s been vacant for about four years.

Architect Carl Boller designed the Streamline Modern theater at a cost of $100,000. The auditorium featured murals of underwater ocean scenes that glowed under blacklight during the show.

Another Facebooker said, “They’re tearing it down to put up a parking lot.” Also not true. A 25,000-square-foot library is planned for the site.

Still other posters accused the city of neglecting North Long Beach and recklessly tearing down old buildings. Many lamented the loss of the historic building.

John Royce made an attempt to clear up the confusion with his post: “Bottom line, it was NOT the City of Long Beach who made the decision to tear down this building. While there were both arguments for restoration/preservation and for demolition as part of a master plan to redevelop the area, the demolition camp very clearly carried the day.” He continued, “While it was not the decision I would have preferred, the process was very fair and the city is following the decision that North Long Beach leaders reached.”

The North Neighborhood Library, the first new one in North Long Beach in 60 years, will retain the theater’s spire and use some of the existing foundation.

The $12 million building is set to open in 2015 and be the jewel in the new Uptown Renaissance. The funding comes from former redevelopment funds.

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