News stories from the local press
The discovery of oil and the expansion of the harbor turned Long Beach into a boom town in the early 1920s. In 1922 long Beach built more homes per each 10,000 of its population than any other city in the United States (LA Times 1/1/1924). In 1920, for example the population of Long Beach was 55,593, by 1923 it had more than doubled to 126,833 as thousands rushed to the area seeking employment in the new oil industry. And there were predictions that by 1940 over 1 million inhabitants would call Long Beach home. Growth was occurring at an unbelievable rate. Everything was happening at such a fast pace it was overwhelming. Things were changing, and changing quickly.
Cars, trains, and electric trolleys. One of the most profound changes was the amount of traffic coming into the city. There was a tremendous influx of automobiles, many carrying visitors to the Pike and beach. A pedestrian subway beneath the Ocean-Pine intersection to the pier and Pike was being advocated by Councilman Alexander Beck. In April 1923, he produced a report showing that 2000 people and 1500 automobiles crossed the Ocean-Pine intersection every hour on a normal day, with 4000 people an hour on Sundays. (After years of effort on the part of Beck, the pedestrian subway was approved by the City Council on October 29, 1926.)
There was talk of limiting parking to one hour in the downtown area and installing traffic signals. Parking garages, such as the Loynes garage on Chestnut and Second, were springing up to meet the parking demands. Most streets remained unpaved, but that too was quickly changing.
Crime also was on the rise. According to a report in the January 17, 1924 Long Beach Press, 109 of the 1051 deaths in Long Beach during 1923 were from violence. Robbery, bootlegging and burglary were also increasing.
As a result, the jail outgrew its quarters and moved to a new city jail on the seventh and eighth floors of City Hall. The county also decided to establish a Superior Court branch in Long Beach to help speed up criminal proceedings (a branch that was later declared to be illegal).
Much more on crime, the KKK, murder and corruption can be found in my book Prohibition Madness.
New housing developments were springing up everywhere. There was the Cherry Avenue Tract and Annex, Summerland Park, Edgelet Square, Black Gold Tract, Gateway Tract, Floral Gardens, Harding Park, Maple Gardens, Virginia City and more. In West Long Beach there was Davidson City, and the La Serena and Magnolia Hill tracts in the area now known as the Wrigley District. There was talk of one massive residential and business district stretching from Pasadena to the sea along Atlantic and Long Beach Boulevards. Outlying areas were also being hit by development—Pacific Palisades, Midway City (Westminster), and Bellflower were conceived and born.
Annexation was the buzz word of the time. Both Los Angeles and Long Beach were hopeful of gaining more territory. On December 29, 1923, North Long Beach voted to join Long Beach, but the vote was protested by Los Angeles. Later the annexation was declared legal, but no love was lost between Long Beach and Los Angeles, in fact Long Beach was thinking of forming its own county, the County of Long Beach.
Other developers again cast their eyes to the east, the bay was dredged and Belmont Shore Place was created; on March 31, 1923 a “new” Naples, was opened to the public. Success seemed guaranteed when plans for the new Pacific Coast highway through the area were announced. The city’s purchase of nearby Recreation Park (approved by voters on June 15, 1923), which included plans for a zoo, baseball field, tennis courts, race track and channel to the bay also added to the property values in the Alamitos Bay area.
Atlantic City amusement managers expressed their belief that Alamitos Bay would eventually be the entertainment center for the city. The area from Belmont pier eastward was a perfect place for a beach fun zone. It was thought further development of the Pike would be limited as more and more businesses and residences went into the downtown area, and Alamitos Bay would be a Coney Island or Atlantic City if the amusement people had their way. The amusement capitalists were ready to build, but homeowners in the area were fighting to keep the shore area a strictly residential district.
Development was going on in the downtown area as well, with many older buildings giving way to the new. The Santa Fe Depot on Ocean was torn down, and the Drake building erected on the site. Railway tracks were being taken off busy streets and routed to areas of less traffic. Own-your-own apartments were the rage, with million-dollar apartment hotel buildings such as the Californian, the Palace, the Stillwell (later called the Willmore), the El Bolivar, the Royal Palms and the Ambassador joining the Sovereign, Omar Hubbard, Regis and Cooper Arms.
Banks and business buildings were also going up. The Long Beach Press was erecting the “Press” building at Pine and Sixth; there was the Kress along Pine at Fifth; the Pacific Southwest Bank on the northwest corner of Atlantic and Third; and the Security Trust & Savings Bank building at the corner of First and Pine. The Bank of Italy was also planning to build on Pine. All of this growth meant that “moneyed” men were coming to town. To serve their interests, business clubs such as the Pacific Coast Club and the Petroleum Commercial Club were being planned.
Much of this growth was due to the development of the harbor. Pacific Steel was negotiating to build on harbor land and make Long Beach “the Pittsburgh of the West.” In December, the Ford Motor company announced they were planning to build a plant in the harbor area. This, and the oil industry, triggered further commercial and residential building.
Not all were happy about the development taking place in the city. On May 5, 1923, Marie C. Brehm* resigned as a member of the City Planning Commission because “someone must save Long Beach.” She joined former commissioner Mary Foster, who had resigned for similar reasons a few weeks earlier. Miss Brehm was angered at the lack of height limitations of buildings going up along Ocean Boulevard. “It is wicked,” she said, “to shut out the rest of the town from an ocean view by building a row of twelve and sixteen story apartment houses between Broadway and the beach.” She also stated there was not much need of a planning board when the council continually overruled its recommendations.
On May 8, 1923, the Council did deny permission to erect a sixteen-story own-your-own apartment house, the Sten Apartments, on East Ocean Boulevard between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Places. Though the City Planning Commission had granted permission, the Council overruled their recommendation because current zoning laws allowed only three-story limits in that area. They argued that the block of vacant land south of Bixby Park, which the Council intended to keep free of buildings, marked a natural boundary for twelve story buildings which should be confined to the district from Cherry Avenue west.
* Brehm was the first female candidate to run for the vice-presidency of the United States after women were allowed to vote in national elections.
CHRONOLOGY (From the Long Beach Press)
1 – Fifty-six new industries for city.
2 – George H. Bixby’s funeral held at Los Angeles chapel.
6 – Plan to drill for oil in cemetery turning into a battle.
8 – Long Beach’s Frank Merriam elected speaker of California Assembly.
25 – Explosion in harbor on U.S.S. California kills one, two hurt.
25 – Separate County for Long Beach proposed in bill.
1 – Office building for Pine Avenue; structure to be occupied by big Kress Company.
5 – First sky-writing in airplane gives thousands thrill: monster smoke letters traced across sky over city in publicity stunt.
6 – Catholics to build school at Sixth Street and Olive.
15 – Naples soon to be opened to public for fine homesites.
16 – City Hall workers get order to quit smoking.
21 – City Council accepts deer to start zoo.
6 – Farmers & Merchants Bank completed.
17 – Loophole in city law opens way to endurance dancing.
2 – Bixby blocks building hospital at Recreation Park.
3 – Jewish folk join in merger: Sinai, Beth El congregations become one organization.
22 – Compromise reached on cemetery oil drilling: city gets disputed land.
29 – Fire ruins oil field hotel: eighteen men narrowly escape death.
7 – Virginia Country Club to purchase home: decide to buy site, now leased from Bixby estate for $145,000 ($2.3 million, 2021 dollars).
10 – City’s population 126,833, based on school census.
14 – New city jail opened for business.
26 – City Council prepares for new fire station: will be called Belmont Heights Fire Station No. 9.
26 – Catholics to dedicate St. Mary’s Hospital with ceremony today.
30 – Tent cities may be closed: City health officer files report following investigation.
9 – Superior Court branch opens.
15 – Council plans purchase of all city’s beaches.
23 – Huge slice of territory in annexation plan: Belmont Shore, Naples, Recreation Park, Alamitos Heights. To add 1500 acres to city.
28 – Municipal airport proposed on water lands: Forty-acre tract near Cherry urged for use.
10 – Huge area seeks annexation to Long Beach: includes Los Cerritos, North Long Beach, Chateau Thierry, Virginia City.
18 – Parent liable in curfew cases: police will arrest fathers and mothers of youths on street at night. Children must be home after 9:30 p.m.
22 – Ground survey made on big airport: Daugherty to abandon present landing field for city property.
1 – City to build own gas plant.
10 – City adds 3000 population in annexed area: Alamitos Bay district is joined.
13 – City plans to simplify names of city thoroughfares: streets to be the same name for their entire length in city.
19 – Long Beach gets steel mill: company buys site for $5,000,000 ($79.4 million in 2021).
22 – City plans park for big league baseball in Recreation Park.
8 – Balboa Film Studio sold to local oil and real estate promoter Charles Harlow for $260,000 ($4.13 million in 2021). The big stage and other motion picture property to be removed immediately and the ground cleared and subdivided into twenty-one lots.
9 – Big industries seek sites at port: Union Pacific is to develop land.
23 – Long Beach new building for year $25,500,000 ($405 million in 2021).
29 – Annexation for North Long Beach carries by big majority.