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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