Monthly Archives: March 2014

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.

PHOTO: End of the Pier

The form we site of Ruby’s on the Seal Beach Municipal Pier Monday. The Seal Beach city council is going to make a decision about which business to allow to take over the restaurant location. A chain link fence blocks access to the end of the pier.

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.

PHOTOS: Long Beach’s Keeper of the History

Marshall Pumphrey inside one of five containers he owns full of Long Beach historical items on Tuesday. Pumphrey is a historian who picks up artifacts and items and places them in venues around the city. Read the story>>

PHOTOS: Portion of Temple Avenue Bridge Disappears Overnight

Workers dismantled part of the north bound Temple Avenue bridge where it crosses the San Diego (405) Freeway over the weekend in Long Beach. Work is being done to repair water damage to the bridge.

PHOTOS: Termino Avenue Bridge

Workers dismantled part of the north bound Temple Avenue bridge where it crosses the San Diego (405) Freeway over the weekend in Long Beach. Work is being done to repair water damage to the bridge.

MR. LONG BEACH: Roadside curiosities in Long Beach

Last week reader Greg Czopek asked me about a curious wire he found high above the streets north of Long Beach Airport. Turns out it was an eruv – a symbolic “walled city” used by Orthodox Jews on the Sabbath.

Greg’s question got me thinking, “Are there other things do we drive by everyday that we know nothing about?”

I took a cruise around the city – searching for things I knew nothing about. Turns out there are plenty of sidewalk curiosities dotting city streets all over Long Beach.

With the help of city traffic engineer David Roseman, I’ve identified some of the unknowns scattered around the city.

1. World War II era air raid siren. It was part of the civil defense system. Roseman said, “When I was a kid in school (in the) mid 1970s they still tested them once a month.” He said it is doubtful they still work.

2. Traffic signal control box; It’s owned by the city of Long Beach – although the painting is courtesy of the now defunct RDA. The box houses computers and communications equipment to control a traffic signal and communicate to other traffic signals along a corridor.

3. Police call box. Back in the day, before cops had radios to communicate, the police maintained phones in these boxes to call into the station. The officers would also report incidents, get assignments, and ask for help.

4. Southern California Edison vents. These metal cylinders are probably the most common item on this list. The vents help to expel gas so that the vaults don’t explode.

5. Microwave communication system. Even though most are no longer in use, they are still attached to many signals across the city. The antennas allowed traffic signal computers, the ones in the boxes listed above, to talk to one another and keep traffic signals synchronized.


PHOTOS: Bixby Knolls

A peek in to Long Beach’s Bixby Knolls neighborhood

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.