Modern Long Beach Began In 1924 Pt. 2

Long Beach area

Take 1924…please.  In Long Beach’s book of memories, it was in 1924 that the city 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.

In February, it was announced that a new “radio station to open soon.”  In early March, “the mayor sent “greetings to radioland: KFON, new ‘echophone’ station praised after first test.”  The call letters were later changed to KFOX in anticipation of a recording deal with Fox Films, and though the deal fell through, the call letters remained for decades.

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.”

Trials Without Tribulation

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.

Long Beach Scandals

Immediately after turn of the 20th Ccentury, Long Beach officials manifested an intolerant attitude toward alcohol. That’s probably why in 1924 the city council acted “to make Long Beach the dryest city in the United States” by putting new teeth into enforcement.

That’s also explains the existence of the town of Zaferia on the city’s outskirts at Redondo Ave. and Anaheim St.  A legal drink was just one city away, until prohibition became the law of the land in 1920, that is.  In June 1924, Marie C. Brehm of Long Beach was brought forward as the “Prohibition Party candidate for vice presidency.”  The Prohibition Party exists to this day.

About a month later, Brehm gave a talk before local Ku Klux Klan women with three hundred in attendance.  The Klan had already held a “fiery cross ceremony” in late June.  “Massed humanity silent as candidates are inducted into ‘empire’” was how the headline read. A crowd estimated at “20,000 people witnessed the first Ku Klux Klan initiation ever held in public at Long Beach’s Recreation Park.”

Crimes against Prohibition were as major as drug busts these days.  There were reports of “big liquor vessels off shore” with the “possibility of rum raid admitted by local dry officers.”  A short time later, liquor valued at valued at $50,000 was seized at Terminal Island,” making this one of the bigger shipments into the new harbor at that date.  As a result, it was reported a “deputy sheriff is under arrest.”

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s 300-pound presence in Long Beach began with his vaudeville on the Pike and continued, as he became the preeminent comedian in silent film with a reputation for the high life.  In what has been described as Hollywood’s first scandal, Arbuckle was arrested for the murder of actress Virginia Rappe in San Francisco from peritonitis on Labor Day 1921   After two trials, his conviction was tossed out, but in 1922, the predecessor of the MPAA, banned Arbuckle from making movies, a ban that was quickly lifted.

And Politics Of 1924

The Long Beach City Council was busy.  In January, the council ordered a municipal gas plant built, ending deal with company for purchase by the city, buying the Southern Counties Gas Company in April for $2.2 million, ending a long dispute, and by May, the city was in the gas business, which continues to this day as the only city in Southern California with its own gas department. Profits go to the city’s general fund

Speaking of gas, at about the same time the city also created a new sewer bureau.  Water pipes were also installed in 1924, the same ones that burst on the day after Christmas, 1998, flooding several businesses on Pacific Coast Highway near Orange Ave.

In April, it ordered enforcement of speed laws as a result of traffic deaths with 20 mph being the speed limit, including for Electric Cars.  During June, the big issue was to consider the daylight saving plan, with conservation of power being the argument.

The council’s other big issue was a measure to outlaw fortune telling.  The headlines read:  “seer’s licenses are revoked at session; mystics branded home wreckers.”  Not stopping with their ban of seeing the future, the council was then asked to “ban all commercialized sport.”  The headlines noted, “council urged to bar every money game.”  This church-backed plan “would halt fees for golfers.”  At the time, Long Beach had a church on every corner on Locust Ave., starting at Fourth St., according to Long Beach Heritage Museum’s Ken Larkey.

In November, the council banned “all games of chance: raffles and other schemes,” but they also saw the future, with a “new lease granted mystics; fortune tellers win right to remain after hot verbal clash.” The council also sanctioned Sunday baseball games in city parks, though they retreated a bit when it was discovered that a park deed barred baseball on the Sabbath.

Land And Sand Takeovers

In January, “beach owners refused to sell their lots to the city as the values “put on property by Board of Appraisers” were too low, “beach acquisition plan is rejected.”  But the city didn’t give up, and continued with their plan, though in Feb., “city orders filling of Alamitos Bay halted; private dredging and grading operations to be stopped by legal action; rights of public to be protected.”

Buildings were announced, including “apartments to be erected on highway in Naples,” with two new structures to cost $10,000 each” and “Alamitos Bay Isle the site for seven fine homes.”  The first of ten homes on a new tract at Naples were to begin in November.

Improvements on Bay Shore project described as “one of world’s largest: gigantic sum to be spent on program” as “the strand worth two million was given to the city.  “Improvements for common use only price for valuable central beach; control given from Alamitos Ave. to 20th Place.”

In November, the city council was set to order a $1.3 million beach bond election for land acquisition.

Water Works

During the summer, it was announced that “Long Beach will bid for part of 1928 Olympic games: aquatic events may be held in city.”

Long Beach tourism took on many forms.  Famed businessman William Wrigley, Jr. (the Donald Trump of his day) was cheered as the Cabrillo, which Larkey describes as the first mainland-to-Catalina ship reached the municipal pier with the Chicago Cubs, who were “brought to open new grounds at Recreation Park.”  According to Larkey, “the Cabrillo was eventually grounded and became a dance hall on Anaheim St. in Wilmington.”

For those traveling to Catalina, the Cabrillo was replaced by the S.S. Catalina; “a new vessel is pride of harbor; first steel ship built in port” and its launching was witnessed by thousands.  Its “name will later change to ‘City of Long Beach,’ officials assured.”  These officials are still waiting.  As of 1988, the Catalina had carried 22 million passengers.


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