Archive for the ‘Bixby Knolls’ Category

Country Club at Pacific

When Long Beach was just a downtown and outlying areas north of Anaheim Street and east of Alamitos were just that – outlying – a Greene & Greene house was built at Cedar and Third in 1904 by famed Pasadena architects Charles and Henry Greene, who were noted for elevating the Craftsman style into a highly refined aesthetic.

In a sense, their earliest homes and their fate paralleled the development of the City Of Long Beach. Henry Mather Greene supervised the construction for progressive movement patron, Jennie Reeve.

Her friend and associate, early Long Beach educator, Adelaide Tichenor, after whom an existing Long Beach public school is named and founder of the Ebell Club, also owned a Greene & Greene, which was built at about the same time at 852 E. Ocean Blvd at First Place and which was involved in a serious fire on December 12, 2011.

A third Greene & Greene is now at Loma Vista near Anaheim and Magnolia. All were among the first houses that became known as Greene & Greene.

In 1917 Dr. V. Ray Townsend found the house on blocks ready to be carted away from its original site had it moved to 1004 Pine Ave. In 1927, Dr. V. Ray Townsend had it moved to the new Virginia Country Club at 4260 Country Club Drive, where Greene designed an extension to the home.

In 2003, the Reeve home was sold to Ted Wells, the president of a Greene & Green trust, as at the time, a developer wanted to tear down the house and build two houses there.

The Reeve-owned Greene & Greene had furniture, lighting, leaded glass, curtains, gates, fences and gardens made by Greene & Greene as well as built-ins, which still function. Of the original 139 decorative items, only a front porch light, a dining room display cabinet, a bedroom door mirror and a pair of andirons in the Inglenook fireplace remained. Some items were replaced from auction houses. What happened to the 135 items remains a mystery. Currently, new furniture of the period is being crafted for the home. The windows of 100-year-old glass are still in place. Because the house had no insulation, 30 tubes have been inserted into the ground under the house as a cooling system. The restoration is being done by ImageHeritage Construction, whose John Jensen, himself an artist, supplied information about many of the details.

As part of getting ready for the rehab, Jensen studied up on Greene & Greene and a large workforce is at hand daily in the restoration. Pieces from this house have been displayed at the Long Beach Museum of Art in October 2005 and at the Huntington Library.

Once the home is complete, Wells plans to offer occasional home tours, but rumors of a museum or regular openings are apparently not true.

To find an example of how not only music, but how the entire culture has changed in the past half century, one only has to consider changes in Long Beach and the entire Southern California landscape a mere fifty years ago. That’s when cruising Hodys, or the Clock or Grisinger‘s Drive-In Restaurants was at its zenith.

Jim Lamirand, Poly student body president in the early 1950s, recalled more of the cruising scene. “There was a Clock Drive-In, all around town. Car clubs cruised the most, Carson & Atlantic, if you had a club, you could mount your plaque, the Cutouts and the Renegades went to the Clock, then to Grisingers at Atlantic and San Antonio.”

Grisingers #3 was at 2955 Bellflower Blvd., the current location of Burger King at Spring Street. But the most popular drive-in, Hodys, owned by the Hodemaker family had locations in Lakewood near Wallich’s Music City and at PCH and Anaheim.

“We would cruise down Atlantic, then at 1200 E. PCH, we’d go east past Ray Robinson’s Record Rack. He had a radio show and would talk about the cruisers as we drove by.”

According to Bill Soon, Wilson class of 1960, “the Clock was on PCH right across the street from the Circle Inn Motel at the Traffic Circle, south of what was The La Ronde Rue restaurant that became the Cinamon Cinder.” In the same area was an Oscar’s Drive-In as well as one at Carson and Woodruff. Popular spots during the day, almost totally forgotten these days.

But all the eating wasn’t all high class. “There was a greasy spoon on 7th St. just across from Wilson, Robbie’s Steak House. Notably, no steak was ever served at Robbie’s. But you could get a basket of fries for a dime, and his jukebox was constantly kicking out the round sounds. ‘High Blood Pressure’ by Huey Smith & the Clowns was a big favorite there. A regular crowd hung out there daily, after school.”

“My memories of cruising are passing the hat to get .75 cents worth of gas so that we could cruise around for the weekend (at 30 cents a gallon or so),” Soon recalled.

Soon who drove a ’56 VW, then a ’56 Chevy, after he wrecked the VW, clearly
recalled “sitting in Hodys, watching guys you knew cruise by in a beautiful pearlescent white ’49 Olds fastback, except for the purplish streak down the rear window caused by the guy who had consumed too much sloe gin, his head hanging over the bottom of the window as they cruised through repeatedly.”

But best of all, Soon recalled “were the blended sounds of many car radios and car record players at Hody’s and other drive-ins belting out the good sounds in the summer night.”

And no self-respecting lowered cruiser behind the wheel of a ’49 Mercury with blue tail lights – now also an infraction – or ’55 Chevy – not to mention driver – would be caught listening to top 40 radio. No, man. Art LaBoe, Huggy Boy, Hunter Hancock or Ray Robinson on a low power station like KGFJ or Wolfman Jack on a border radio station or better yet, out of a customized in-dash record player – a Norelco or an ARC (RCA spelled sideways) spinning 45s, sometimes custom made 45s, which they’d gladly put on metal acetates at Wenzel’s Music in Downey, for a fee of course.

Popular cruising sides were “Rumble” by Link Wray; most anything by Dick Dale & the Deltones in the early 1960s and rare 45s by Little Julian Herrera, just to name a few. Main local cruising routes were Atlantic, PCH, Anaheim St. and even Lakewood and Bellflower Blvd.

Car culture began early in post-World War II popular music. The King Cole Trio’s “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” was a major hit in 1946. Felix Figueroa recorded the novelty, “Pico & Sepulveda,” not a hit at all in 1947, but huge when Dr.  Demento got a hold of it.

Then came records about popular locations, like jazz tenor sax player Jimmy Giuffre, who came up with “Big Boy” at the Lighthouse in honor of the new Bob’s Big Boy in 1952 and the Robins who sang about “Smokey Joe’s Café” in 1955, a song than became a popular stage play about the Coasters, but which ex-Robins member Grady Chapman complained he had to pay to get into.

In 1962, the Pastel Six sang about “Cinamon Cinder,” a teenage night club located at the Traffic Circle with another location in the Valley. The Starfires did the Long Beach-oriented “Jordan Stomp” in 1962.

The two cruising-est records of all time were “Whittier Blvd.” by Thee Midniters out of East L.A. in 1965 and the War’s #1 record of 1975, “Low Rider,” created by Long Beach musician and low rider Chuck Miller, whose ride was featured on the picture sleeve.

Such sums up the state of Long Beach and Southern California cruising culture between 1946 and 1975 – roughly.

Bixby Knolls was named after Jontham Bixby who acquired the Rancho Los Cerritos land grant in the 1860s.  Jontham Place can still be found in the area.  Bixby’s son George Bixby erected a mansion in 1890 near the current Virginia Country Club area, where some very exclusive and pricey mansions can be found.  In the early part of the 20th Century, this area was still mostly rural with a few ranchers and a whole lot of sheep.  In 1907, land for Los Cerritos Park at County Club Dr. and Bixby Rd. was donated to the city by Amelia Bixby.  In 1913, Los Cerritos Elementary School at 515 W. San Antonio Dr. was built to serve the few school-aged kids who populated the area and was later supplemented by Henry J. Longfellow Elementary at 3800 Olive St.

1920s: Oil, housing and aviation

In 1921, the Recreation Club Golf Course, which had been built in 1910 for the exclusive use of Virginia Country Club members, went public and country club members moved to a new course adjacent to Rancho Los Cerritos.  Down the road, oil drillers in Signal Hill brought in the first gushers in 1921 and everything changed.  Civic leaders as well as just plain rich folks began mansion building in the area near Virginia Country Club that became known as Los Cerritos.

During this period, more modest homes were erected in California Heights, now an historic district with a mix of original farm houses, Craftsmen and Spanish stucco styles.  Another district south of Wardlow Rd. called the North End was also developed in the 1920s.  During that same decade, aviator Earl Daugherty built the city’s first airport between Atlantic Ave. and Long Beach Blvd., naming it Chateau Thierry after a famous WWI battlefield in France.  The Chateau Thierry name persists in the neighborhood built between the 1930s and 1950s at that same site.

1940s: Parks and businesses

In the 1940s, much of the area’s parkland was acquired and developed.  In 1944, Whaley donated 11.14 acres to the city for Scherer Park at 4600 Long Beach Blvd. at Del Amo Blvd. (with additional land being acquired in 1945), and that same year, the Cerritos Park Assn. donated Somerset Park at 1500 E. Carson St. at Walnut Ave which was developed into tennis courts, sprinklers, buildings and other amenities in early 1945.  Cherry Ave. Park at 1901 45th St. at Cherry Ave., L.A. County land since 1944 was annexed by the city in 1948, the same year that Bixby Knolls Park at 1000 San Antonio Dr. was annexed by the city.

The first major market in the area, Ray & Eddie’s Ranch Market opened in 1941 and remained in business as a local institution until 1994.  In the 1940 and 1950s, Bixby Knolls was the place to go to dine, see a movie or pick up the latest hit record.  And in a sense, with the various restaurants currently dotting Atlantic Ave., that part really hasn’t changed.

1940s: Theaters

For the family, Bixby Knolls was where the theaters were.  “I was the first manager of the Towne Theater,” said Lakewood Village resident Bob Lamont.  The first movie shown at the Towne was likely “The Bells of St. Mary’s” with Bing Crosby as well as a preview for the Burt Lancaster movie, “The Killers.”  “Tickets were .75 cents all the time and there was a federal tax on each ticket.  We had to keep track of that.”

“Milt Arthur who owned the Towne lived near the Cerritos Country Club area,” Lamont recalled.  “He was a member of the recreation commission for a while and was pretty well known locally.”

Arthur opened the Towne Theater at 4425 Atlantic on Sept 29 1946, putting his Cabart Corp. (a contraction of Cabrillo and Arthur) headquarters at that site.  Four months later, on Jan 19 1947, the Crest Theater opened at 4275 Atlantic Ave.  It was advertised on the opening-night marquee as the “world’s first pre-fashioned theatre.”  “The Crest was a couple of blocks south of the Towne,” according to Lamont.  “It was supposed to be a largely prefabricated theater.  I think they used cookie-cutter plans and were supposed to build others.”

According to company literature, the 129-ton (steel columns and beams) Crest Theater, owned by National Theater Amusement Co. featured a “TV tower” (though no known TV stations were based in Long Beach), a “germ proofed roof” (no germs either entered or exited) and “no glare lighting.”

The Towne and the Crest also had stylistic differences.  “The Crest was more traditional with neon all over it, Towne was more modern and clean in design and less garish.”  Others remembered the Towne as “sort of boxy looking.”  Nearby was “the real fancy Welch’s Restaurant at San Antonio and Atlantic,” making a visit to this area a real event.

“I suppose the State Theater downtown was the showcase for Milt Arthur until he built the Towne,” said Lamont.  “The Towne was pretty successful from the beginning. Arthur didn’t show up that often, but he came in fairly regularly.  Once, I caught hell because the mops weren’t hanging in the closet.  We were booming for a while, right after the war, but that didn’t last too long.  Arthur built an ice cream parlor in the lobby.  That was unusual.  It had tables out there, but it didn’t pay and it was eventually changed.”

1950s: Shopping center

In 1952, the Jontham Bixby Co built the Bixby Knolls Shopping Center as well as much of the retail development on Atlantic Ave.  At the same time, Lloyd Whaley of the Home Investment Co. built many of the private homes in Country Club Estates, Ridgewood Heights and Bixby Highlands.

1950s: Radio

In the 1950s, two AM radio stations broadcast from headquarters on Atlantic Ave.  Religious station KGER preached out of 3745 Atlantic from 1955 until sometime in the 1990s and KBIG played “beautiful music” from studios at 4320 Atlantic as of 1957.

At the time, Long Beach competed with big boys in the radio marketplace.  Both Jim Gosa and Johnny Otis had top-rated record spinning shows on KFOX, which was located on Anaheim St. just west of Long Beach Blvd., and KBIG competed with a morning show called “Catalina Bandstand” which attracted six percent of all morning listeners in Long Beach/Orange County Pulse ratings in May 1956.

1950s: Music, drive-ins and teens

Next door to KGER was the Custom Sound Recording Studio at 3687 Atlantic and due west was the Master Recording Studio at 3591 Long Beach Blvd. in 1960.  At 4326 Atlantic was the Long Beach location of the Penny-Owsley Music Store as of 1951 where music lovers could buy both records and musical instruments.

But there real action for teenagers were Grisinger’s Drive-In at 4290 Atlantic at San Antonio, built in 1952 (the current site of George’s 50’s Diner), and the Clock Drive-In at 4040 Atlantic at Carson, where car clubbers and independent cruisers from high schools all over Long Beach gathered to admire or envy each other’s cars, listen to tunes on car record players or radios and – in one dramatic instance – watch a professional dragster peel rubber down Atlantic before returning his non-street legal car to its trailer before the police arrived.  The cruising route went from the Clock south on Atlantic, then left on PCH and past Ray Robinson’s Record Rack at Alamitos Ave. where the owner played rhythm and blues records over the air from a windowed studio and talked on the about the action he saw out on the street.

1960s and ‘70s

By the end of the psychedelic 60s, a teenaged-oriented night-spot called The Limit was ensconced at 4365 Atlantic.  The downturn of the Bixby Knoll area began in the 1970s, though as recently as the 1980s, a customer could still cook his or her own steak at the Keona Club on Wardlow Rd.

Almost symbolically, the Towne’s roof collapsed during renovation in 1977, trapping one workman.  Lamont recalled that the hey-day for the classic walk-in theaters lasted about a decade.  “It was the whole entertainment package back then when TV wasn’t the competition.  The theaters were bigger, don’t have the matchbox theaters you have now, it was more of a complete experience.”  According to Lamont, “TV was coming in, eventually that knocked a bunch of these theaters out.”