Belmont Shore’s First Half Century (Mar. 7, 2003)
The history of Belmont Shore is the story of a summer resort beach town with streets like Corona, Covina, LaVerne, Glendora, Pomona, Santa Ana and Claremont, with the exception of Santa Ana, all San Gabriel Valley and so-called Inland Empire towns where the beach climate was appealing in hot summer months.
Though Belmont Shore is a fairly compact area – extending from the Belmont Pier or the 4000 block to Los Alamitos Bay or the 5400 block – at first, it was much smaller. In a dizzying series of changes, in 1906, the area known as “West Naples” below Livingston Dr. near Ximeno Ave. became Belmont Heights. In 1908, Belmont Heights voters chose to become the City of Belmont, reversing that vote a year later when Long Beach promised to build a pier. The pier was built at 39th Place and Ocean Blvd. in 1915.
Portions of Belmont Shore joined Long Beach as they were developed, such as Belmont Shore Place, a name thought first used in July 1922. An attempt at creating a seal farm failed. With the paving of nearby Pacific Coast Highway in Dec. 1922, serious development of the area began at this time and annexation was requested in 1923, the same year that streetcars began running on Second St. A tent colony was also in place and quickly closed down in 1923. Parts of Belmont Shore and Alamitos Heights, 1500 acres in all, were annexed.
The heart of the Belmont Shore was its shopping district on East Second Street where straightforward retail operations were joined by teepee and Polynesian hut architecture, in the same whimsical style that created the Brown Derby and various food-shaped buildings popular in the 1920s.
Things Egyptian were quite the vogue in the 1920s, so the Egyptian Drug Store at 5128 E. Second St. was opened in 1927, next door the Egyptian Market at 5126 E. Second St. The drug store was around for decades, much longer than the market’s tenure. In 1929, Patti’s Broiler opened 5228 E. Second St. at Santa Ana St. where a customer could stand at the front window and watch various kinds of meats being roasted on a spit. In July, 1929, the building housing the police and Engine Co. #8 Fire Station was opened at 5365 E. Second at Claremont and the original Bay Shore Branch Library was opened at 194 Corona Ave. in Sept. 1929.
Later, the library moved to the Selover Building, the oldest building in Belmont Shore, which held the first Sunday school and later became the Bay Shore Inn and the Triangle Nightclub, named after the so-called triangle formed by Livingston Dr. and Second St. where McGrath & Selover, two early Belmont Shore real estate agents had their tract offices. When Samuel Selover died in 1939, the firm located at 4615 E. Second St. was renamed McGrath & Shank.
The Belmont Theater at 4918 E. Second St was built at a cost of $250,000 (about $120,000 above first cost estimates) in June 1929, just in time for talkies. The theater was so badly damaged in the 1933 earthquake that it was derelict until rehabilitation and reopening in 1949 and served as a movie theater until 1978 when it was closed and was replaced by the Belmont Health Club.
In the late 1920s, the Piggly Wiggly Market chain out of Memphis TN, which franchised markets throughout the U.S. with hopes of creating automated markets, opened a store at 5224 E. Second St. The chain introduced practices like prices on products and checkout stands, but by 1936, the Piggly Wiggly was replaced a liquor store and finally by a Mountain View Diary store which operated a popular restaurant and delicatessen.
Safeway Market competed with their next-door Piggly Wiggly neighbor at 5240 E. Second St. as of about 1930 and remained at that location until the early 1950s. Immediately next door, Charles Wong opened the Lelani Café in about 1950, which became Don May’s Lelani Hut, a popular Polynesian restaurant that operated well into the 1960s. In 1979, Legends Sports Bar opened at the same site.
At the opposite end of Second St., the A-1 Chop Suey Parlor served low-cost Chinese food at 4722 E. Second St. in 1930, but by the early 1940s, the location was vacant. In 1965, DiPiazza’s, which had operated across the street at 4713 E. Second St. moved in to that address, which is now occupied by the Shenandoah Café. A few doors down, Currie’s Ice Cream, a well-known Long Beach high-end ice cream parlor was operating at 4800 E. Second St. in the early 1930s.
In April, 1937, plans for St. Bartholomew Catholic Church were announced, the same year that a Mobil Gas Station, a Pay Less Market and a new Bank Of America branch opened at the old Bank Of Italy site on Second St. and Nieto. Down the street, the Van Fleet & Durkee Service Station occupied the entire north side block at 5301 E. Second St.
On May 5, 1938, Tony Cornero’s gambling ship the Rex opened off Belmont Shore. In legal battles, Cornero prevailed, but the war finished off his enterprise and the Rex shuttered and was reportedly torpedoed somewhere off South America. In 1946, Cornero tried again with the S.S. Lux and again beat the prosecutors, so Congress obliged the lawmen by declaring such ships illegal in 1948.
In 1938, Morry Rabin founded Morry’s Deli as Morry’s Liquors at 4828 E. Second St. and in 1941, Morris Rabin Liquor replaced the Belmont Book Station at 4908 E. Second St. In 1939 Newberry’s Department Store opened at 5026 E. Second St. at the corner of Granada, and in 1961 was replaced by Quigley’s Department Store. Between 1939 and 1940 the athletic facilities at Bay Shore and Ocean Blvd. were upgraded with beach tennis and volleyball courts, a double handball court, two shuffleboard and two croquet courts, five concrete ping pong tables, a fire ring and several picnic tables, children playground, restrooms and a headquarters building.
In 1941, the Owl Drug Store chain, with locations in L.A. and downtown Long Beach opened at 5000 E. Second St. at Glendora St. By the 1950s, it had been replaced by Rexall Drug Store. During World War II, several bars and restaurants like the Pig Wig at 5347 E. Second St. and the Blue Bell Inn closed because of labor and food shortages caused by the war effort.
In 1951, a second hut-themed eatery, Hof’s Hut, opened at 4828 E. Second St. Also, in the early 1950s, the Belmont Bowl (also known as the LeBan and later as Big John’s) opened at the current site of Yankee Doodles, at 4100 E. Ocean Blvd. The Bay Shore Neighborhood Library at Alamitos Bay began construction in 1958 and opened in April 1959 Another popular dinner house was Hoefly’s at 4911 E. Second St. which became Clearman’s North Woods, the restaurant with fake snow on the roof.
The year 1965 was a big one for lovers of inexpensive grub. Steak-O-Rama, a place where customers selected their own steaks for cooking, opened at 4814 E. Second St., next door to the Belmont Book Platz (later Dodd’s Books) at 4818 E. Second St. next door to Hof’s Hut, which changed to a more high-end (profitable) Lucille’s shortly after this article was prepared.
The first freestanding Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet opened at the former site of a Mobil Gas Station at 4600 E. Second St. Next-door is the current co-owned Polly’s Gourmet Coffee at 4606 E. Second St., the site of the Weasku Inn in the 1930s and the Huntress Café in the 1950s. As recently as 1965, future California Governor George Deukmejian was running a law practice at 5372 E. Second St., across the street from the Civil Defense Training Center.