Modern Long Beach Began In 1924 (Sept. 20, 2004) Pt. 1

Posted: August 22, 2010 in history

Modern Long Beach Began In 1924

Was it only 80 years ago this year that citizens of Long Beach turned modern with a commercial harbor, Recreation Park, the dawn of a several key businesses, a few historic buildings, not to mention several sensational trials, the shunning of a world famous movie star, the birth of a few political careers, and a well-attended Ku Klux Klan rally and a hoof and mouth disease scare.

“The oil discovery in 1921 set it all off,” said Long Beach historian of the Long Beach Heritage Museum, Ken Larkey, referring to our area seriously entering into the modern age.  As of July, the population of Long Beach was estimated 140,000, with the most recent census showing an increase of 21,875 persons in one year.

Cattle and Hogs Move On

Much of the area outside of downtown was an agricultural bastion.  That’s why the hoof and mouth scare of early 1924 had such impact.

At the end of March, a long drought came to an end, with crops being saved by rainfall, a lightning strike began “two fires on Signal hill with only slight damage.”  Then came news of a new problem, an embargo on livestock and the potential closing of the local harbor because of hoof and mouth disease.  Within days, Orange County posted armed guards at the county line with apparent orders to shoot, though at what or whom isn’t clear. “Hog ranch on city lands quarantined” was the next move, and “public gatherings may be taboo until plague is conquered.”

When the plague ended, dairies and hog ranches were given time to seek new locations.

Much of the dairy activity moved to the area that would be incorporated as Diary Valley in 1956, and the City of Cerritos in 1967 after the cows moved to Chino, where they were once again ousted as development lapped at that area.

In early 1924, a headline trumpeted, In April, “the City of Signal Hill is created by voters at special election.” Virginia City, a town north of San Antonio Dr. was annexed by Long Beach.  By the middle of the year, annexation of Davidson City (now Carson) and Bellflower and other nearby towns was discussed.  To ward of annexations of other cities, Long Beach created what was known as a “shoestring strip,” which existed until at least 1968.

Business and Building Thrive

Joe Jost’s opened its doors as a barbershop, pool and poker parlor on Anahiem St. and Community Hospital opened its doors, and not for the last time.

The Long Beach Central Bank was organized at First & Locust by “capitalist” Frank F.F. Merriam, who would be elected governor in 1935.  At the same time, the Bank of Italy (later the Bank Of America) opened at Third and American, a corner they bought bank for $350,000 and promptly gave the Long Beach National Bank an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Non-bank buildings were erected, including the Egyptian Theater on Fourth St., while plans for the West Coast Theater on Ocean Blvd. were announced, and the the Ebell Club cornerstone was on Third St.   Plans were also announced for the Pacific Coast Club on the ocean bluff.  The Villa Riviera came along three years later.

But the biggies were the new four-story building for the Press (later the Press-Telegram) on Pine Ave. and the Heartwell Building, slated to “replace a structure built in 1896 by Jotham Bixby.”

The school board paid $72,000 “for a tract on Eighth Street near Recreation Park” for the new Wilson High School, estimated to cost $900,000, and a contract for Jefferson Junior High School was signed for $161,000.

Streets Extend

A hot-button issue of whether to change all of Long Beach Blvd. to American Ave, followed by the announcements that the Bixbys would deed land to allow Atlantic Ave. to be completed and Seventh St. be completed through the just-developed Recreation Park.  It was also proposed that Ocean Blvd. be extended to the east beach, where “owners asked for a big improvement program; bulkheads and 20-foot concrete side-walks and closing up paving gaps” and that paving was completed on Broadway.  Finally, there was a proposal that the “territory south of Fourth Street may become an apartment district.”

Harbor Dredges Up

In 1924 a harbor bond issue in the amount of $3,500,000 was approved and in the spring, outer harbor dredging was complete with promises that “Long Beach to be world’s second largest port.”  By late 1924, the future possibilities of Dead Man’s Island (aka Rattlesnake Island, per Larkey, now Terminal Island) were being considered, after having been “forecast a century ago.”  At year’s end, the headlines read, “city’s harbor open to world by next year: port program provides big ships to enter during 1925.”

Parks Blossom

Recreation Park was proposed in late January and it was decided to “open Seventh St. through the park with work starting on new road immediately.  “A direct highway to Santa Ana is the aim.”  In June, the Bixby family promised land and paving for and extension of Seventh east of Park.  At the same time, plans for a bridal path were included in the new plans for the park.

In April, a “model” golf course was authorized for Recreation Park, and within a month, it was described as a “duffers paradise.”

Other aspects of park planning were a “marine laboratory and large aquarium,” with David Starr Jordan having already arrived in town “to classify fish species at Long Beach aquarium.” During construction of the park’s “Water Gate,” a steam shovel dug up the “skeleton of ancient sea captain, buried in the channel flats in what is now Recreation Park.”

“Eucalytus trees planted by Mr. Bixby as firewood for his ranch on the area of Recreation Park south of Seventh St. and some are still there,” said Larkey.

Also in 1924, a private zoo was slated for “city-owned land next to the municipal aviation field,” north of the airport called Daugherty Field near Willow St. and American Ave.  “It was called The Willows, that’s where all the hoboes lived,” said Long Beach historian Ken Larkey.

An “auto camp is planned by city; tourists’ new mecca” was announced for that very area, “with accommodations for 400 travelers.”  The auto camp became the Willows Trailer Park, which existed until recently, when it was demolished to make way for a new shopping center, according to Larkey.

“Buffalo and elk from Yellowstone Park” were promised when the adjoining zoo opened as “big crowds attended the opening ceremonies, which provided the “pinnacle of thrills in training wild jungle animals.”

Another local sensation was the trial of accused bigamist John A. Jordan.  On July 26, it was reported that during the “local couple’s honeymoon,” the bride fell from a cliff to her death, and was “believed the victim of heart attack.”  Jordan, who lived in Virginia City, was soon portrayed as a “former convict” and much was made of “the three wives of John A. Jordan.”  By late August, the supposed wife count was up to five, a “bigamy hearing” was held with the “testimony of pastor who performed ceremony” sought.   Portrayed as a “master in the art of ‘courting,’ upon Jordan’s conviction, this “man of many loves” (seven wives), drew a prison sentence described as a “climax of death “

A third sensation was the murder trial of realty owner Charles W. Dorris, who was accused of the June 1924 double shooting of his wife and partner.  During the trial, the detective in charge of the investigation resigned, and on August 13, Dorris was acquitted.  On Aug. 14, Dorris was “freed and leaves on country trip to forget murder trial,” returning to Long Beach a month later.  A year and a day later, Dorris died with “both legs crushed after fall in front of electric train “

Crime took no holidays in our area.  In July, a Signal Hill oil salesman was indicted in a huge fraud that “collected more than half million” dollars. In September, bandits stole “$2000 in Emporium robbery” with “money stolen from secret caches.”  In October, a “diploma mill raid” netted a well known doctor “held for practicing medicine without license; order affects Chinese herbists; rejuvenation move said to offer virgin field for ‘quacks’.”  In late October, “shotgun squads were detailed to halt Long Beach crime.  Night forces reorganized to blot out robberies throughout section.”  These shotgun squads didn’t stop a New Year’s Eve robbery of the East Anaheim branch of the California National Bank in which four men took $4150.


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