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.