Willmore City District
Today the Willmore District of Long Beach extends from the Los Angeles River to Pacific Avenue, and from 4th Street to Anaheim Street. It encompasses parts of the original town of Willmore City, organized by city founder William Willmore. Willmore had started his American Colony in 1882 when he purchased 4000 acres of the Cerritos Rancho. Since every colony needed to have a townsite where people could go to shop and socialize, Willmore set aside 350 acres for his city.
The town site was on a mesa about twenty feet above the beach, encompassing an area from the ocean to 10th street and from the river to Alamitos Avenue. American Avenue, 124 feet wide, extended through the town in a north-south direction. Lots on this avenue were 250 feet deep, and all buildings were required to be 100 feet back from the street, allowing ample space for lawns and gardens. It was a double avenue, with shade trees on both sides as well as down the center. The other north-south streets were 80 feet wide, and the lots 150 feet in depth.
A space 175 feet wide was reserved along the bluff for a double driveway, bridle path and promenade. Houses along the bluff were required to be built at least thirty feet from the street. All of the streets were lined with shade trees, and blocks reserved for parks, churches, schools, and a public library.
Description of Willmore City
An auction was held October 31, 1882, to sell land in Willmore’s new city. An article from the Los Angeles Times of October 28, 1882 gives a shining picture of “Willmore, the future city by the blue and bounding sea:
“Given a beautiful, sunshiny morning, an exhilarating atmosphere, a spanking team and good company, with the music of singing birds, and what could be more charming than a drive down the lovely Los Angeles and San Gabriel valleys, supplemented by a dash along the incomparable beach at Willmore City. Along this beach one can skim like a swallow for a distance of seven miles, and leave scarcely more impression in his tract than the denizen of air, so smooth and hard is it, rendering it unsurpassed as a driveway on this or any other coast.”
Formerly called Wilmington Beach, the area was known by campers, but was hard to get to, being three and a half miles from Wilmington. The fact that the Bixbys discouraged trespassers across their lands, and that there was little fresh water in the vicinity also made visiting difficult. But now things had changed. By the time of the auction, Widney’s street railway fetching visitors from the Thenard rail station in Wilmington was complete, and the Colony Association was in the process of bringing artesian water from wells two and a half miles away. Iron pipes would run down all the streets bringing water directly to those who purchased lots.
Because of all the people desiring to visit the new American Colony, the railroad called for additional cars. Some discouraged travelers returned home, but after a wait of a half-hour other rail cars arrived. At 10 a.m. the six cars were ready for their twenty mile, half-hour trip, through towns, vineyards, and orchards to the Willmore Station (Thenard) in Wilmington.
At the station the passengers were brought the remaining three and a half miles to Willmore City by a variety of conveyances. Local farmers provided lumber wagons and other types of carriages, in addition to the street railroad. There were not enough vehicles, however, to bring all 400 disembarking passengers to town at one time. Many chose to walk rather than wait for returning transportation.
At 11:30 a.m. nearly all the 400 train passengers, and the 100 or so who traveled in their own conveyances, arrived at Willmore City. Mr. Smith, the construction superintendent, had built the two-story Bay View Hotel. Outside the building he set up a long table with food for all the visitors. After eating, most headed to the beach.
At 1 p.m. auctioneer W. H. Northcraft began the sale of the lots. Mr. A. S. Robins had the honor of purchasing the first lot for $85. He also bought a second for the same price. Other purchasers included J. E. Hollenbeck, J. C. Cossitt, J. O’Connor, Mr. Teed, J. G. Bell, Woodhead & Gay, M. Cochrane, G. W. Darice, T.H. Owens, Mr. Reeves, G. H. Vandevere, P. Slotterbeck, Mr. Shirper, Dr. Cunningham & E.W. Jones.
The Times considered the prices paid, considering the extremely small size of the lots and the embryo state of the city, very good. The American Colony management thought otherwise and discontinued the sale, thinking that once the promised water had been piped in, and the other improvements made, buyers would know that the company did intend to live up to all their promises.
One of the first to build a house in the town was James Rowland Cook, who built a home at 327 Pine Avenue (the west side of Pine between Third and Fourth streets). There was no water source in the brand-new town except an old six-inch well at what is now the central north entrance of Lincoln Park and the Coseboom brother’s old 1874 well at Pine and First. The water in both was brackish, and though drinkable was fit more for sheep than humans. The Cook’s dug a well and at a depth of 32 feet found excellent water which they freely gave to new settlers. It continued to be the main water supply for Willmore City until a pipe line was brought in from Cerritos Creek where water from three artesian wells was directed into a common reservoir. From here the water flowed through a pipeline to a brick and concrete reservoir to supply Willmore City.
More homes would be built in Willmore’s city, which would take on a new name, Long Beach, in 1884. By 1885 several homes were built, including one on Ocean Boulevard between Chestnut and Magnolia avenues for Jotham and Margaret Bixby. The house was easily identified by its large cupola. Fifteen foot ceilings graced most of the home and 90 percent of the wood used was California redwood. There were 14 rooms, 4 bathrooms, fireplaces in the library, drawing room and dining room, all topped by beveled glass mirrors brought around the Horn from France. During the Bixby’s ownership the home was the social center of the town. Eventually the Bixby’s found a real estate deal too hard to pass up, the Myers mansion further east on Ocean in the Bluff Park District of today (See my August 1913 Historic Long Beach Blogspot on this house, The Costliest House in Long Beach). Their home in downtown Long Beach passed to several owners and was moved to a new location at Fourth and Roycroft (4700 E. Fourth Street) where it remains today.
By 1888 the era of growth and prosperity was about to collapse as the Southern California real estate bubble burst. New growth would begin again with the arrival of the Pacific Electric railroad. (See my blog: From Farms to Subdivisions for more on this).
One of the first subdivisions to spring up after the announcement of the coming of an electric railroad was the Tutts tract on Upper Cedar Avenue. This 45 lot tract was advertised in the October 21, 1901 issue of the Evening Tribune. Lots were 50 x 150 feet and were priced from $200 to $350. It was on property owned by Iva Tutt, the world’s first female electrician, and her husband Edward.
From 1895-1899 Long Beach made international news, not because of its growth, tourist attractions, or weather, but because of an oddity: Mrs. Iva E. Tutt, the world’s first female electrician. On September 6, 1895, the Long Beach Electric Light Company incorporated with Iva Tutt as sole member, owner and manager. Her company contracted with the town of Long Beach to erect and maintain poles, wires and lamps for lighting the municipality, and to furnish the electricity for one year, beginning October 1, 1895, at the rated of $42 a month.
Located in an alley extending north from Ocean Blvd. between Pine and Locust, the plant was put into operation later that year. According to historian Walter Case, it was publicized as the “first electric plant in the United States, and probably in the world, to be installed and managed by a woman.” Even more surprising, she was described by the media as being an extremely beautiful woman, making it even more amazing to the mind set of that time that she should choose such a career.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Herald on June 7, 1903, Mrs. Tutt described how she became an engineer. Her father was an engineer, and she was his favorite, his “boy” he used to call her, until by a second marriage he had a real son. He was a steamboat man on the Mississippi, and he used to take his daughter with him and show her all the machinery. She liked nothing more than to play with the cogs and pulleys, or watch the governor on an engine whirl round and round. She learned machinery, just like she learned to talk, without realizing she was doing so. Instead of reading fairy tales, she read the engineering reviews and scientific papers her father subscribed to. If she couldn’t understand what they were saying she would ask her dad and he would explain them to her.
She married Edward Stanley Tutt early in life and left her home in Minnesota to be a rancher’s wife in Montana. She hated ranching and took money she saved and decided to invest it. She came to Los Angeles and discovered there was need for an electric light plant in Long Beach, and decided that was where she’d put her money. She looked for someone to manage the company and couldn’t find anyone who seemed better able to do it than she was, so she took over becoming the superintendent of the company as well as the president. Though she had never taken a college course, she understood machinery, and the rest of the knowledge about electricity came easily enough.
Her little daughter and Mr. Tutt followed. With two steam engines of 125-horse power each, the Long Beach plant flourished and soon she was laying a cable across the San Pedro harbor to supply lighting to San Pedro. Gradually the service also extended to Terminal Island, where a long line of electric lamps were maintained on the beach front, and electricity supplied to the hotels and most of the cottages. Mrs. Tutt also secured the city contracts for street lighting in both San Pedro and Long Beach.
The Long Beach Public Library contacted Mrs. Tutt in 1942 to ask her about her memories of the city. Her daughter, Margaret Illick, responded. Mrs. Tutt was 82 years and in poor health, and her memory was failing. Her daughter remembered, however, that they helped to organize the first Episcopal Church in the city, and that they sang at the Congregation Church.
In 1903, the Knoll Park tract, overlooking Cerritos slough and the area that would become the harbor, opened for business. The streets were all graded, there were sidewalks and curbs in front of every lot. A beautiful park, later to be named Drake Park, was in the middle of the tract. One of the tracts’s advertising slogans was “I can never understand why anyone should want to go to heaven when they can live in Long Beach.” Only a short walk away was a charming bluff overlooking the bay where residents could watch the sun “radiant and sparkling in all its golden splendor” slowly sink in the West. It was predicted that this would be one of the most magnificent residence sections in all of Los Angeles County, and prices started at a mere $1000.
Perhaps the most interesting home today in the Drake Park area is the Bembridge house, at 953 Park Circle, built between 1905 and 1906 for the Stephen Green family. Josephine Green designed the two-storied Victorian structure which was made out of redwood. The Greens tried to think of everything — shingles were soaked nine times in a solution to make them fire resistant, there were burglar alarms, and four bathrooms. The home, now under the protection of Long Beach Heritage, is open for visitors.
Though the bluff by Drake Park and most of the homes built in the inner harbor area are no longer with us because of the growth of the harbor and the Long Beach Freeway, they were beautiful homes situated on Cerritos Slough which flowed into San Pedro Bay.
Seaside Park (once known as Asbury) was the first of the harbor front subdivisions, opening May 28, 1904. Developed by George Hart, it wasn’t far from downtown and was connected with the bathhouse, pleasure pier and pavilion by a broad promenade walk. It also had its own park (Seaside Park) with its own bathhouse and pier and was the site of Long Beach’s Tent City. Situated between Ocean and Seaside Boulevard, it extended from Golden to the entrance channel of Cerritos Slough to the ocean. Along with the property was one of the most picturesque ocean views in Southern California, access to the finest beach in the State, and a beautiful lake for still water bathing. Property could be purchased directly on the beach for $450; however, there were building restrictions which would not let you build a home for under $750—this helped insure that there would not be any beach shacks which were springing up elsewhere. Many of the most prominent Southern California business men already resided there; there were handsome homes built by A. J. Wallace, Charles R. Drake, A. B. Chase and many others.
The July 17, 1904 Los Angeles Herald described the tract in detail:
“Within less than a five minutes’ ride from the Long Beach depot and on the road toward Terminal Island lies the newly established resort, Seaside Park. The natural location and surroundings are excellent, but only through labor and skill could the place ever become attractive to those who desire first class conditions when they seek a spot near the surf. Thus far the work of transforming a barren waste of sand and a small basin of overflow water into a splendid beach resting place has been carried on so quietly that comparatively little attention has been given Seaside Park. But day by day more people have visited the new attraction, more have purchased lots and more have erected beautiful residences, owing to the building restrictions. At present there are thirty beautiful cottages of modern style completed, and all but four are occupied. Solid plank sidewalks, four feet wide, line the various streets, so that walking in sand is not a necessity. Within the limits of the young settlement there is also a fine little lake, with salt water from the ocean. A small army of other workers is active in the construction of a pier, which will extend into the ocean eight hundred feet from the tide line. This pier will be sufficiently strong to allow vessels and all sorts of pleasure boats to tie up. Another feature of Seaside Park is a commodious bath house, and still another is a full supply of fresh water from the Long Beach reservoirs. Gas from the same city will also be introduced. As for accessibility, the Seaside enterprise can hardly be surpassed. At frequent intervals electric cars run from early morning till late at night.”
In March 1905 another development adjacent to Seaside Park was started. Called “Long Beach on the Strand,” these 100 lots were only 2 blocks from Pacific Park, 3 blocks from the bathhouse, and 4 blocks from the new pleasure pier. Cement sidewalks 4 to 10 feet wide (depending on the location) were guaranteed in front of every lot. Lot sizes were 30 x 100 feet on the beach and 30 x 90 feet along Ocean.
The April 30, 1905 Los Angeles Herald reported on another Seaside Park development scheduled to open May 22, 1905. Lots could be purchased for $650 and up.
“Seaside Park consists of 222 lots west of the bathhouse of Long Beach and directly facing the ocean. There are good walks on all the streets, and the tract is equipped with gas, electricity, and a sewer system; the water being supplied by the Seaside Water Company. Among the attractions of Seaside Park are a pleasure lake and children’s bathing pool, the only pool of the kind in Southern California except for one at Coronado, where children may indulge in the pleasures of bathing with perfect safety. Seaside Park is supplied with both steam and electric car lines giving frequent and rapid communication with Los Angeles. Grider & Hamilton agents.”
By May 1905 another subdivision, the Riverside tract, opened. It was a few blocks from the Cerritos Slough off of 3rd Street. It was situated on 700 acres between Seaside Park and the Salt Lake railroad line. The slough, or river as it was called, was ideal for still water boating and bathing. Developers Dana Burks and Henry Barbour donated a site to the Y.W.C.A. and also built a boathouse. When the tract opened in May 1905, the Y.W.C.A. served refreshments at the boathouse and a new ship, the Twilight, was launched.
The tract also had the advantage of street cars, electric lights, telephones, water and gas, and was only a few minutes from the business center of Long Beach. Lots could be purchased for $300 (prices rising to $400 in August 1905). The first thing visitors noticed as they viewed the tract from the bluff was the broad 100 foot boulevard, naturally named Riverside Drive. This street extended the entire length of the tract towards Knoll Park. As the August 13, 1905 Los Angeles Herald reported: “Riverside will be greatly benefited by the new pleasure resort and commercial point, providing for deep canals for sailing vessels following the serpentine windings of the river.”
The tract’s first day’ real estate sales amounted to $30,000. With this money in hand and aware of the work under way at Venice where lagoons and canals were being laid out for development, Burks and Barbour thought a similar project could be done at Long Beach. But Arthur M. Parsons had already taken up the Venice idea and was digging canals at Alamitos Bay. Realizing the competition was too close, the two men decided in a new course of action — dredge the slough around Signal Hill to Alamitos Bay. Long Beach would have become an island. The projected costs however, proved too costly and the idea was abandoned.
Harbor & the Seabright Tract
Throughout the 1890s, Long Beach fought alongside their neighbor across the bay to secure the Los Angeles harbor site for San Pedro instead of Santa Monica. Their united efforts succeeded and in 1899 the federally funded breakwater, opening up the Southern California shipping trade, was started.
The Spanish American War and the United States’ acquisition of the Philippines and other Pacific islands demonstrated the need for a canal through Central America connecting the two seacoasts. Once the canal was finished, untold wealth awaited ports on the western seaboard.
The time was ripe for Long Beach to begin developing a harbor on its side of San Pedro Bay. In the summer of 1905, hints circulated that a syndicate was thinking of purchasing the 600 acre Watson-Dominguez ranch located between Wilmington and the San Gabriel River, north of Anaheim Road. In August, the rumor was put to rest. Word was released that the acreage was sold, and that the purchasers were none other than the Los Angeles Dock & Terminal Company, which had secured massive acreage in the area the previous year.
The purchased property was some distance from the waterfront, but it did not take more than a look at a map to see the possibilities of future harbor expansion into the newly acquired territory. The closing of this deal meant that there was no more acreage left in the harbor district. Slowly, the promoters’ plans were unfolding. Not only would Long Beach have a harbor, but a great manufacturing district as well.
Dredging of the harbor began on December 12, 1905, but it was not until January 6, 1906, that an official celebration was held. Over 2,000 people, along with members of the Los Angeles Dock & Terminal Company, attended this “Harbor Celebration.” All in attendance agreed that Long Beach harbor was destined to be the greatest on the Pacific Coast.
News of a harbor on the Long Beach side of San Pedro Bay created another rush for Long Beach real estate. There had already been development around the Inner Harbor and at Knoll Park, but more subdivisions sprang up after word of the purchase spread, most notably Seabright.
The Seabright development was placed on the market in May 1906, before the full economic effects of the San Francisco earthquake were felt. Marketed by the Townsend-Dayman Company, it was called the Seabright tract. It consisted of lots north of Anaheim and west of Oregon Avenue. It was situated between the Westmoreland and Inner Harbor tracts and was originally laid out in town lots during the boom of the 1880s.
In 1887, A. B. Seabright purchased property from Jotham Bixby north of Anaheim Road towards Wilmington on the site of a sulphur spring. Here he opened a bathhouse and built a $7000 hotel. The following year he laid out a mile racetrack and held various horseracing events.
In October he began his sales campaign—$50 for inside lots, $75 for corners, $300 for one acre plots, $250 per acre for five-acre plots. Ads stressed that the climate of Seabright was unsurpassed, the soil exceedingly fertile, and each lot had a full ocean view. Some, however, didn’t think much the new townsite. In the Nov. 14, 1887 Los Angeles Times a visitor described Seabright:
“The traveler who journeys on the Long Beach Railroad observes, at a point about two or three miles from the ocean the word ‘Seabright,’ its mammoth letters painted on separate boards which are attached to the ground. The place where the letters are placed is low, swampy, teeming with alkali. No house is near, yet this is a ‘townsite.’ “
The writer went on to say that some of the Southern California townsite schemes were simply bait to catch suckers and were becoming “the curse of this fair land.” Undeterred the Seabright Improvement Company filed incorporation papers on February 9, 1888. The capital stock was $60,000 in 600 fully paid up shares of $100 each. But in October 1888 the San Pedro Lumber Company sued the group for not paying their bills. Land sales were stagnant but the combination sulphur spring and race track managed to hold on until 1890 when the company’s finances took a downward tumble and the property reverted to the Bixbys. The Seabright Hotel was placed on rollers and trundled into Long Beach in 1892 to help the town cope with the loss of the Long Beach Hotel. Its new location was First and Pacific, where it was rechristened the Seaside Inn, a name it continued to hold until the Salt Lake Railway built into Long Beach. To honor the railroad, Mr. Bixby changed the name to the Salt Lake Hotel and it became quite famous as a first-class tavern. A few years later it became the Oceanica Hotel. In 1906 it was sold for practically nothing to house mover Isaac McCrary.
McCrary had originally planned to put it on the beach at the foot of Locust and make it into an apartment house. But when neighbors saw it coming they called city hall and asked that McCrary be stopped. An old building ordinance gave McCrary the right to move the structure, but a new ordinance passed just before the new trustees took office forbid it being placed on property in fire district number one. For an entire week the matter was argued while the building sat at the intersection of Ocean and Locust. It was finally decided that McCrary had a legal right to move the building along city streets, but as soon as he put it on a piece of property he’d be arrested. For five weeks McCrary moved the homeless relic around town, but whenever residents saw the ragged building in their neighborhood they told McCrary to move on. They didn’t want it in their neighborhood.
At last McCrary had a bit of luck. G. E. Raney offered to buy the moving hotel if he would move it to a lot he owned on Atlantic. But home owners on Atlantic didn’t want the decrepit hotel and petitioned the trustees to extend the fire limits of fire district number one to their area. But the new ordinance extending the fire limits would take time and residents of Atlantic decided to allow the old Seabright to be moved to an out of sight alley east of American.
On May 19, 1906, McCrary and his men gracefully turned the corner at Fourth and Locust when they were stopped by representatives of the Barber Paving Company who told McCrary and his crew that the green concrete base they had just laid on Atlantic couldn’t bear such a weight for at least 30 days. So the big lumbering hulk remained at the intersection at Fourth and Locust for the next month. Those in the new Baptist Church also on that corner, and the Plymouth Congregational Church across the street prayed there would be no more delays.
The sulfur springs of the old Seabright Hotel were ignored until June 1907. The well had choked up and been forgotten until the property formerly occupied by the hotel was purchased by the Butters & Paul Investment Company and laid out in town lots as part of the Inner Harbor Tract. While inspecting the property B. H. Paul located the old well, which was nearly 150 deep, and had it cleared out. The sulphur water rose to the surface, at the same rate it had in the past. It was also as odoriferous as ever, so Mr. Paul turned a quantity of it over to a chemist for an analysis. The test proved the water to have medicinal properties and a syndicate was formed to erect a sanitarium on the site of the old Seabright, but it was not built because of the oncoming recession.
Ocean Villa & Ocean Pier Tracts
On the south east section of the original Willmore City, another tract, close to the beach, was the Ocean Villa tract, developed by Henry Barbour. Situated on the electric car line, between Linden and Alamitos Avenue, two blocks from the ocean, lots were 60 by 150 feet. Prices ranged from $150 on up. Terms were $25 cash down and $10 per month.
This was not Barbour’s only development on Ocean Avenue. In April 1904, directly opposite American Avenue Barbour started the 100 lot Ocean Pier tract a seven block area situated on the beach facing the sea extending from Alamitos Avenue to Pine Avenue. When Barbour asked the city to sell the beach front land it opened up a can of worms. Did the city own the beach? Citizens and visitors alike had freely used the beach for so long that they took their rights to use it for granted. Could it be sold and public access denied? Many looked to Captain Healey’s original map of the town recorded in 1886 which showed Ocean Avenue extending to the edge of the bluff, with no fixed southern boundary. It certainly looked as if the city had the right to the beachfront.
In order to entice the city trustees to rule in his favor, Barbour agreed to improve the bluff area if the City approved his tract map. Barbour’s offer was too tempting to refuse. He agreed to grade the bluff from Linden to Alamitos Avenue and the city’s property on the bluff from American to Pine, sloping it gradually to the beach. He also promised to cement and curb all the streets in his subdivision leading to the beach. In addition, he agreed to deed the city a strip of land 18 feet wide and several hundred feet long, between the bluff and beach which he would grass in as a park. These benefits to the city were expected to cost Barbour $200,000.
In the early 1950s city fathers came to regret this decision when they had to buy the property back from the land owners to allow free public access to the beach. Barbour too, would come to regret it when, in 1906, he had insufficient capital to meet his debts.
Other American Colony Subdivisions
The October 14, 1902 Long Beach Press advertised the J.W.A. Off tract, adjoining Long Beach. This subdivision was on Anaheim Road between Walnut and Cherry. The ad by the tract owner, Dr. W. H. Prittie read: “finding it necessary to raise money, I will make great sacrifices on the property. The price asked on single lots is 25 per cent less than others one half mile further out.”
On March 11, 1903, the Stevens Park tract was placed on the market. These lots were between State and 16th St., Pacific and Locust.
In July 1905 the Willow Dale tract opened. Lots 50 x 150 feet, facing Chestnut and Magnolia, could be had for $25 down and $10 per month. They advertised the finest garden soil in Long Beach and a fine view of the ocean. The Mooreland tract, north of Anaheim Road, west of Magnolia, with Daisy Avenue running through the center of the tract was placed on the market in December 1905. There was also the Locust Avenue tract, on Locust between 10th & 12th Streets.
1907 saw the opening of Palm Place bounded on the north by 21st St., on the south by 20th St., on the east by Orange Avenue, and on the west by California Ave. Lots sold from $550 on up, and realtors used automobiles to show prospective buyers the lots.
This was just a small example of what Huntington’s electric rail line did to promote real estate growth. Between 1902-1913, according to William Friedricks’ Henry E. Huntington and the creation of Southern California, approximately 500 new subdivisions were opened each year in the Los Angeles basin. Because commercial banks of the time did not provide long-term financing to individuals buying homes or property, Huntington’s real estate company, Huntington Land & Improvement, often acted as a mortgage banker allowing buyers to stretch payments over a period of up to ten years. Huntington had created his Pacific Electric company and rail line for real estate growth and profit. Though the line itself lost money, Huntington made up for the loss in real estate development.