Saturday, July 29, 2017

Harold Ketchum and Long Beach's First "All Electric" Home

            Have you ever passed Gaviota and Hermosa down First Street and seen a small courtyard of homes off Edison Place? Have you ever wondered why the street was named Edison and the unique character of the homes?  What of the man that designed the homes? Well, this blog will explain it all.
Edison Place

  Better Home Electrical

          It was 1923 and Harold E. Ketchum, a structural engineer and builder, knew that times were changing. Women could no longer count on having a hired girl or maid to help them out, the modern home had to be “woman friendly”---compactly built, and completely wired for many electric devices and appliances which would take the drudgery out of housework.
        The promotion of electricity in homes began at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which opened in May 1893. In the Electrical Building there was a complete model house, with electric stoves, hot plates, washing and ironing machines, fans, dishwashers and carpet sweepers.  Most of the delighted housewives went home to wood and coal stoves and houses without plumbing; to them this was a magical home which many believed they would never see in their lifetimes.
         For the first years following the exposition the only households that could afford electricity could also afford servants. Electricity, its proponents claimed, promised freedom from the ages-old servant problem---electrical appliances could not talk back. A Columbian Exposition guidebook from 1893 described living in the electric future:

            A servant answered an electric bell, ushered the visitor into the reception room, and turned on a phonograph, which kept the guest occupied until the hostess appeared. The hostess kept contact with the servants by electric calls “daintily fashioned.”
           Electricity could serve those with servants, but it could also dispense with them. If after dinner the servant got angry at something and left, the fortunate mistress of the home of the future could move her guest to the parlor, excuse herself for a moment, send the dishes upstairs on the electric dumbwaiter, wash them in the electric dishwasher in five minutes time, and dry them in the electric dish dryer. If the servant had not been replaced by the time wash day came, the mistress need not fear breaking her back leaning over wash tubs or ruining her pretty hands by constant soaking in hot suds, instead she would wash the clothing in an automatic washer that drained and filled for washing, rinsing, and bluing. The clothes could then be hung to dry in front of electric radiators in the attic, then run through the electric ironer, and the lady of the house would be none too tired to go to the opera in the evening.

            By 1917, the disappearing servant was commonplace; many of the women who had formed the servant population were now working in the war industry.  Many wealthy households moaned about the servant problem.  General Electric had a solution---“don’t go to the Employment Bureau, go to your nearby Lighting Company or Electric Shop.” After World War I, pictures of servants virtually disappeared from advertising for women; most ads depicted housewives doing their own housework, using electrical appliances as their new servants.

         Long Beach’s Harold Ketchum was quick to pick up on the growth of electricity and the appliances which would make the housewife’s chores much easier. All he had to do was look in the Long Beach phone book to see that the classified ads for “Electrical Contractors-Fixtures and Supplies” had doubled between 1920 and 1923, from 12 entries to 24.  Seeing the all electric home as the future, Ketchum teamed up with the Long Beach Electric Club and the Long Beach Furniture Dealers' Association to build a model all electric home at 1715  E. First Street in 1923.
1715 E. First Street
        Ketchum wanted his electric home to blend in with the Alamitos Beach community. He chose a Spanish design, with an exterior finish of "Kelly Stone," magnesite stucco guaranteed not to leak or crack, which also repelled the heat of summer and retained the interior warmth of winter.
      According to newspapers of the time, the 1128 square foot all electric home had four rooms on the first floor---a living room, dining room, kitchen, and garage. The second floor consisted of two bedrooms, an enclosed sleeping porch, bathroom and upper hallway with linen and bedroom closets. A basement was underneath.         
    The kitchen had the most up-to-date plumbing, enameled sink, tiled drain boards and a built-in electric dish washer.  An iceless electrically operated refrigerator was built in the wall, completely lined with white tiling.  An automatic electric range, electric water heater, electric bread, cake and mayonnaise mixer, electric buffer to polish silver, electric washing machine, dryer and ironer, electric coffee percolator, and electric toaster, were also included.  In the bathroom there was a combination built-in tub and shower and a built-in radiant electrical heater.  Very special attention was given the electric wiring and at least two electric outlets were installed in every room. Other features included an electrical piano, electrically operated phonograph, cigar lighter, drink mixer, hair dryer, curling iron, massage machine and warming pad and vacuum cleaner.  There was also a telephone both upstairs and down.

A total of  10 all electric homes were built
         Harold Ketchum and his visionary associates opened the model home for public inspection on February 22, 1923. It had taken thirty years to achieve the “electrical house” envisioned at  Chicago's 1893 World’s Fair. Ketcham's home was intended to be an object lesson in what could be done "in this modern day to make life livable and inviting even for those of modest means."
        Mrs. Fillmore Condit, wife of the vice-mayor of Long Beach formally unlocked the door at 2 p.m.  Dr. Edward P. Bailey, president of the Electrical Club, read a telegram from Thomas Edison: "Congratulations on Long Beach progressiveness, and the fact that she is interested in Better Homes Electrical." To honor Edison, the small street off of First where nine other homes of various sizes were to be built was named "Edison" in his honor.  The first to buy a home was Walter Smith who purchased the home at 1721 E. First Street in April 1923.
The street was named to honor Thomas Edison
     The homes, priced between $9,000-$13,000 ($127,000-$183,000 today), were not an instant success. By 1925 only 6 were occupied.

Ketchum's Home 

      Harold Edwin Ketchum built a home for himself in 1949, at 3711 Cedar Avenue, in the Los Cerritos area of Long Beach. It was featured in Southland Magazine in January 1952. Built of redwood, it consisted of only three rooms and a bath.  He wanted the design to be simple, easy to keep up.     
           The floor plan was interesting with the entire house seeming to center around a brick fireplace. The fireplace in the center of the house was built with used brick and the entire chimney surface had been left exposed. The brick added an interesting texture pattern to the living room, which was paneled in redwood finished in its natural wood color.
           Stairs leading to the balcony bedroom were formed by the chimney and extended up over the fireplace. The chimney also helped support the bedroom built on a balcony overlooking the living room. A low wood railing added privacy to the bedroom. This fireplace also created a wall separating the living room from the kitchen and from the bathroom.
          The living room, which took up the central portion of the house, had one large window and a high ceiling to give it an air of spaciousness. The window, which almost touched the ceiling, had a southern exposure and recessed bookcases were built on either side of it.  Heavy beams in the ceiling, over the window and fireplace had been burned and brushed to bring out the grain of the wood. The floors were of red tile with Navajo throw rugs adding color.  All the hardware throughout the house was hand-wrought.
           The kitchen featured neon tubes under the cabinets to illuminate the work counters. A mirrored shelf over the sink held the glassware. A round table and captain’s chairs were grouped in the corner under wide corner windows. Gay paper in an unusual pattern decorated the walls.
          In the bathroom the toilet had been cantilevered out from the wall. Drawers were built on either side. Ornate tiles in a red and green pattern were placed above the lavatory.
          The garage was built on the back of the house and opened into the entrance hall.
3711 Cedar
          Today the home has been enlarged to 1,947 square feet and includes 3 bedrooms and 3 baths.

         Ketchum continued to engineer hundreds of homes and offices in Long Beach up to the early 1960s---a $20,000 office building at 5895 Atlantic in 1948, a two-story residence and two garage apartments at 5333 E. Ocean Blvd in 1949, a $15,000 store at 2100 E. Anaheim in 1958, to name just a few.   Ketchum passed away on March 25, 1968, at the age of 83. Today much of his architectural legacy still remains.

Sources used:

Cameron, William. The World’s Fair. Chicago, Chicago Publication & Lithography Co., 1893.

Flint, Althea. “Unique Redwood house.” Southland Magazine, 20 January 1952.

Press-Telegram articles found in clipping file at Long Beach Public Library.

Strasser, Susan. Never Done: a history of American housework. New York, Henry Holt, 2000.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The “Cougar” Countess and Long Beach’s Blackstone Apartment Hotel

Long Beach History Collection

      On Saturday, July 1, 1922, several thousand people gathered for the opening of Long Beach’s newest luxury hotel/apartment house—the Blackstone. Guides conducted the guests through the common area rooms and apartments. There was dancing, food and flowers. But most were there hoping to catch a glimpse of the owner—Countess Kate Nixon d’Aleria—who had been in the news a lot.  Her story and how she came to own the Blackstone is a fascinating one. 

     Countess Kate Nixon d’Aleria is a woman largely ignored in history books, but the story of her second marriage to a “count” younger than her son was fodder for the press in the early 1920s.  It’s her first husband you’ll find in Nevada and U.S. Senate histories—George S. Nixon—who died while serving in the Senate on June 6, 1912, of spinal meningitis.  George’s story is one of many we find in the west—someone with enough luck and influence to make a fortune in mining.
Senator George S. Nixon
Wikipedia photo
   George was born on a farm near Newcastle, California, on April 22, 1860. But his future didn’t lie in California; it lay across the state line in Nevada. He most likely had no idea that accepting the transfer the Carson and Colorado Railroad offered him in 1881 would transform his life as well as his pocket book. But by 1884 George was tired of being a telegraph operator for the railroad, and accepted the position of cashier at the First National Bank (later known as the Washoe County Bank) in Reno. In 1886 he moved to Winnemucca, Nevada, and opened a new bank branch. It was there he met 18-year-old Kate Imogene Bacon of New Princeton, Illinois, who was visiting her brother.  She was described as a “petite brunette of charming manners and sweet disposition” by the February 5, 1887 Weekly Nevada State Journal.  She and George were married on January 30, 1887.  The newspaper went on to state: “Winnemucca has not only gained a socially attractive lady, but an artist of more than ordinary ability and a pianist of which we may will be proud.”
     George became a member of the Nevada Legislature in 1891, but opportunity called when gold was discovered in Goldfield, Nevada, in 1902. George went on to form the Goldfield Consolidated Mines Company with partner George Wingfield.  They also established a bank in Goldfield and reaped a fortune from the mines. To promote Nevada and its mining interests George was elected to the United States Senate in 1905, where he continued to serve until his death in 1912.  Upon his death Kate inherited between $2-3 million ($50,400,000-$75,600,000 today*).
Count Armand D'Aleria.
 LA Times 7/2/1922

     In January 1920, newspapers throughout the west reported on a most unusual marriage—wealthy 52-year-old Katherine Imogene Nixon had married 22-year-old-old Count Admond d'Aleria.  It wasn’t unusual for a man to marry a much younger woman, but a woman to marry a younger man was quite a story. Kate had become one of the first women in America to become a “cougar”—an older woman seeking a sexual relationship with a younger man.
     Kate explained her reasons why in the Reno Evening Gazette, May 7, 1920:

        I think one reason, perhaps, that older women become interested in men very much younger than themselves is that, if we have any spontaneity and optimism left, we become tired of solemnity and over-seriousness, which we know is often merely a pose of the middle aged and elderly, and we turn to youth for diversion and relief from this morbid and unnatural condition...Perhaps one reason that this marriage, which has seemed so unusual to others, has not appeared at all bizarre to me is that I never think of a person’s age in summing up his or her character and qualities. There is nothing I have to say to vindicate myself or to apologize for what I have done. I make no promises as to what I will do in the future. I have no advice to offer those who are contemplating the same step.  

Ad for the Majestic Theater
Nevada State Journal 3/21/1919

     Kate had met d’Aleria, an organist, in San Francisco and asked him to play at the Majestic Theater she owned in Reno. He arrived in February 1919 and from there romance developed.  He came from a prominent European family, the press reported. His mother, Marguerite, was said to be a member of a noted Hungarian family and widow of a former Spanish Ambassador to Austria. Newspapers went on to add that the d’Aleria’s were also related to the Spanish royal family, owned over 1200 acres of land in Spain and that d’Aleria had recently inherited a fortune from a Spanish cousin. D’Aleria told the Los Angeles Herald (4/2/1920) “that neither money nor music was the incentive that brought the couple together, but that only love ruled their union.” D’Aleria went on to say that it was only after inheriting this money that he began his ardent courtship with Kate.  He didn’t want her to think he was marrying her simply for her money. They were married January 27, 1920, in San Diego, after knowing each other 18 months.
     Before his marriage to Kate he was known as "Harold Adrian" (his whole name was Admond Adrian Harold d'Aleria).  After his marriage he attached the preferred "Count" to his name, because Kate liked to be seen as a Countess. Countess Kate soon found herself in a life full of adventure, intrigue, and lawsuits.
     To start their new life together the couple purchased Los Rios Rancho, a country estate near Monrovia. The Los Angeles Times (2/16/1920) said they planned to create “a wonderful palace of adobe, designed on the classic lines of old Spanish architecture, with a great music room and a rare wrought iron grille gate now on its way from Madrid to Southern California.” The gate was part of d’Aleria’s Spanish estate and over 300 years old. The newlyweds already had dozens of workmen tearing down the old house to make way for the swimming pool and new adobe. They were also building a new garage capable of holding half a dozen cars. However, Kate soon found her new husband’s recently inherited fortune didn’t amount to much, if it even existed at all.
     D’Aleria’s life read like a novel. Three months after his marriage to Kate he was sued for $50,000 ($591,000) for a breach of promise by Shirley Holmes, a San Francisco singer.   In July 1920 d'Aleria was caught in a San Diego hotel with a young girl.  When asked to explain he claimed he was tired of being followed by detectives hired by his wife and took the girl to the hotel to give them something to report.  He was sentenced to one hundred days in jail for violation of the city’s morals ordinances. The court gave d’Aleria an alternative fine of $194, ($2,290 today) but he was unable to produce the money and went back to jail. Two days later his mother raised the money and he was released. He returned to Los Angeles, taking a job as an organist at a Southern California theater, while he dealt with the divorce suit brought against him by Kate. But d’Aleria, well versed in wooing women, won back the affections of his rich wife. Even though she claimed he hit her and had affairs, Kate dropped the divorce proceedings. In October the couple celebrated a “second honeymoon” at the Savoy Hotel in Los Angeles. But Kate soon caught on that it was her money, not her that her new husband was interested in.  He soon left, not telling her where he was going.

     On November 30, 1920, Kate filed a second suit for divorce. A silver-plated automobile was cited as the cause for their latest separation. She charged he took advantage of an illness she had to have the car—a $10,000 ($118,000) car she had given him as a present following their recent reconciliation—covered with silver plate “because the nickel on it had begun to peel.” Sending her the bill was the last straw. On December 7, 1920, she had her lawyers issue a temporary restraining order to prevent him from disposing of any of her assets. But that was after d’Aleria had taken some of her antiques, valued at over $5000 ($59,100), and sold them to art dealer, A. A. Byrens. Kate instigated a lawsuit against Byrens, demanding them back, denying she ever gave the articles to her husband.
     By March 1921 d’Aleria was living in Hollywood in a house Kate owned and claiming to be receiving death threats. The house had also been robbed, threatening notes left under his door and he had been warned over the phone that “we’re going to get you.”  Could all of this have just been d’Aleria’s latest attempt to catch Kate off guard?  Could the robbery have been arranged to steal more of Kate’s belongings and turn them into cash for d’Aleria?  But Kate had other things on her mind, on March 23, 1921, her only child, 33-year-old Bertram Nixon was killed in an automobile accident at Salinas, California.

Kate with grandson 1916
From: Nevada  Historical Society**
     D’Aleria in the meantime was having problems with his mother, Marguerite. In April 1921, angry at his mother for controlling his life he forcibly removed her from the Hollywood home. In retaliation, she brought insanity charges against him. At his hearing d’Aleria declared the charge of insanity had been brought against him because he had refused to join his mother in an alleged plot to put his wife in an institution for the mentally deficient, and then take possession of her estate. He said his mother had proposed they plant drugs in Kate’s apartment, tip off the police and then have his wife committed to an asylum. His mother denied her son’s allegations and said she charged him with insanity because he had threatened to kill both her and himself.
      D’Aleria claimed his mother was extremely bitter over Kate, and wrote letters to Kate to harass her.  It was the “money-madness” of his mother which caused the trouble in his marriage.  On April 22, 1921, with Kate by his side, he was pronounced sane by the Lunacy Commission. Kate was extremely happy and reconciled with her youthful husband, the Oakland Tribune reported April 25, 1921. “Please don’t say anything wishy-washy about us,” she asked. “I am not young. I know it, but I think I am a sensible woman. I would rather have people think I am rough and unkind to my husband than to have them think that I had become soft and wishy-washy.”
     In December 1921 a judgement in another lawsuit was the final straw for Kate.  D’Aleria and Kate had been in an automobile accident in which Jennie Shirey had been permanently disabled. The accident occurred April 20, 1919 in San Francisco, before d’Aleria and Kate were married. Though d’Aleria was the driver, and Kate not in the $6000 ($82,200) Locomobile touring car when it hit the Shirey’s Studebaker, Kate was the owner of the automobile. Kate had been advised the judgement would be against her, especially since she had married d’Aleria after the accident.  The court ordered the Count and Countess to pay the Shirey’s $12,000 ($159,000).
     Anticipating the decision, and other financial shortcomings, Kate sold W. W. Paden, a Los Angeles real estate broker, her entire real estate holdings in Washoe and Nye counties in Nevada for $500,000 ($6,620,000). In exchange Kate received the Blackstone Apartment Hotel.  The Reno Evening Gazette (12/10/1921) reported:

       The apartment house in exchange by Mrs. d’Aleria, which forms a large part of the consideration, will be, when completed, one of the finest buildings of its kind at Long Beach. It is located near the Hotel Virginia on the ocean front. A lease upon this property running for a period of fifteen years has been ratified by Mrs. d’Aleria.”

       In turn, Kate leased the Blackstone (originally known as the Sequoia before it was completed), to Howard J. Scott for 10 years at a rental price of around $600,000 ($7,940,000). Scott also purchased the furnishings for the hotel, estimated at $125,000 ($1,660,000), according to the March 6, 1922 Daily Telegram.  He hired Mrs. William Bouldin, who at one time was in charge of the Chevy-Chase Country Club at Washington, D. C., to manage the building.
Ad from the Daily Telegram 9/14/1922

     Located at 330 W. Ocean, work on the $600,000 ($7,940,000) Blackstone began June 10, 1921. It was described as a “Class A-1” building—steel, concrete, brick and tile being the only building materials used. Wood was used only for framing and decoration.  Plans for the building were drawn up by Edward Mayberry and B. L. Jones who also built the University Club in Los Angeles.  The Southern California branch of the Foundation Construction Company of New York, were contractors.

     What did this new property Kate now owned look like inside? 

    The Blackstone had 70 rooms on the second and third floors and 75 apartments on the other floors. Rooms and apartments were finished either in mahogany or ivory.  On the second floor there was a ballroom (dancing was held there every Saturday afternoon and evening), billiard and card rooms. Each of the 8 floors had a sun parlor. Furnishings included floor lamps and table shades and over-stuffed furniture.   In the basement there was a garage for 75 automobiles, shower and dressing rooms for the use of guests returning from the beach. It was quite a luxury to be able to step from one’s car, catch an elevator and go directly to one’s apartment or hotel room. Single apartments rented from $85 to $150 ($1200-$2,120) per month; double apartments $165-$225 ($2330-$3,180) per month; a room started at $2.00 ($28.30) a day.  It opened for business on July 1, 1922.
     The opening of the Blackstone signaled a new chapter in Kate’s life.  The same day the Blackstone opened Kate sued d’Aleria for divorce. She wouldn’t back out this time.

     By 1925 Kate’s finances were not in the best of shape, the Reno Evening Gazette reported (11/19/1925). Her first husband’s siblings—brother Rudy Nixon and sisters Mattie Threlkel and Nancy Donalson—who were to receive $200 ($2,700) monthly from George Nixon’s estate,  sued Kate to keep the remaining property intact. They alleged that the Nixon trust was so heavily mortgaged and in such a chaotic condition that it would be lost entirely unless relief was granted by the court. All that was left in the estate were orange groves in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Kate had sold the Blackstone a few years earlier.
     By the time the 1930 U.S. Census was taken Kate had given up all pretense of being a Countess, simply stating she was a widow, Kate Nixon, living in Santa Monica.  She had nine years of life remaining.  She died in October 1939 in California at the age of 71.  She was survived by her 23-year-old grandson George Stuart Nixon II (1916-2007).
     What of the youthful d’Aleria?  On June 4, 1923, he married again. Singer/actress Ruth Dennis entered d’Aleria’s life when he was employed as an organist at a St. Louis motion picture theatre. He was now using the name Count Armand Aleria de Barrio, or Stuart Barrie for short.  By September 10, 1923, they had separated. The new Mrs. d’Aleria charged she was induced through fraud to marry him. He had told her he was a member of European nobility and had an income of $300 ($4,170) per week.  She said d’Aleria was not and never was a count, nor of nobility. He was heavily in debt and unable to meet the most common expenses necessary to life. (LA Times 10/24/1923) From here d’Aleria fades from the news.
Blackstone today
Author photo
     The Blackstone continues on as a Long Beach landmark. Granted landmark status in September 1989, it remains one of Long Beach’s treasures, with a fascinating history.  One story I have heard, but have been unable to verify, was that gangster Al Capone stayed at the Blackstone upon his parole from Terminal Island Federal Prison on November 16, 1939. He allegedly was only there for a night before the Feds moved him east. Capone’s release was all “hush hush” at the time, so if he had stayed at the Blackstone it wouldn’t have been mentioned.  But if anyone knows let me and your fellow blog readers know...please.

* Based on the inflation value of money in 2015 from the Purchasing Power Calculator of website Measuring Worth. 

    ** Photo cannot be reproduced without permission from the Nevada Historical Society.        


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Long Beach's Castle By the Sea: The Pacific Coast Club

Opening celebrations 1926

         Visitors to Long Beach after 1926 were surprised to find the city had its own castle perched above the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.  This Norman style structure was the Pacific Coast Club (PCC), a building that became an iconic landmark and symbol of Long Beach through the 1980s.

          Groundbreaking of the prestigious Pacific Coast Club was held on June 9, 1925; fifteen months later, on September 4, 1926, it was dedicated "to the comradeship of men." Medieval jousting and pageantry heralded the dedication.  Men at arms on chargers assisted motorcycle officers in diverting traffic. Trumpeters, dressed as pages, sounded the call for the beginning of the dedication ceremony, while pike-men stood guard on the low battlements of the building.  A few moments before the program started, a squadron of nine naval airplanes appeared over the new structure, at the same instant fireworks began to burst above the clubhouse.
           A massive 3,400-pound cornerstone was guided into its resting place in the buttress east of the main portal. It contained a photograph of the Long Beach skyline, a 1926 coin and the first club roster. The Long Beach Municipal Band played while the color guard of the Coast Artillery from Fort MacArthur stood by as the dedication ceremonies commenced. Curtis D. Wilbur, Secretary of the Navy, spoke to the gathering. Over and over he expressed his surprise at the magnificence of the building. The brief ceremony ended with a prayer for the well-being of the organization as the American flag was hoisted on the lofty Norman tower 200 feet above the beach.
Cornerstone of the Pacific Coast Club
        The formal opening of the Pacific Coast Club was a five-day gala affair that began on October 26, 1926.  As guests arrived, they were photographed by the club photographer and escorted through the building by the reception committee.  Dinner was served in three different dining rooms, while special entertainers and an orchestra performed.  Following dinner five orchestras provided music.

        The idea of the club had been formulated three years earlier, in 1923.  Three groups planned to build clubs on an elaborate scale, the Pacific Coast Club, Long Beach Athletic Club, and the Petroleum Club.  They quickly realized that by combining efforts they could truly build something on a grand scale.  They also shared a joint vision: the club would be the gathering place of the business, professional, cultural and artistic life of the community.
Beach area of club, 1929
        The $1,250,000 club at 850 E. Ocean had two divisions: The club portion, which involved the sub-basement, basement, ground, second and third floors. The other was the hotel or apartment portion, which included apartment suites for resident bachelor members located on six floors. 
    The sub-basement contained the boiler room, club storerooms, the helps' dining room and the service kitchen. In the basement you would find the gymnasium, pool, handball courts, locker rooms for men and women, Turkish baths, a valet, barbershop, beauty parlor, and restrooms. The Grand Hall was located on the first floor as was the lounge, main dining room, the kitchen grill, women's entrance lobby, checking rooms and club office. The second floor featured the women's dining room, private dining rooms, game rooms, women's lounge and billiard room. The third floor was devoted exclusively to the library. There were several types of membership: Life, Charter, Regular and Associate. The cap on membership was 1500.
        The club was the meeting place for the who's who of Long Beach, but members wanted a broader membership base and in January 1928 agreed to sell the club to the Los Angeles Athletic Club for $2 million. There had also been some financial problems.
        "It makes possible the further development of all our amateur health giving activities, which includes golf, polo, yachting, shooting, fishing, ocean bathing, and all forms of sports for women and children," W. M. Gardner told the Los Angeles Times (1/15/1928).  The Los Angeles Athletic Club assumed all of the liabilities of the Pacific Coast Club, and in return, received title to all of its assets. "The consolidation will free the Pacific Coast Club of all financial problems and gives it an unrestricted opportunity to realize its avowed ambition to develop the dormant maritime spirit of Long Beach and make it the yachting center of the world," Besides raising the $100 yearly dues to $150, the new owners brought in additional capital to purchase the adjoining lot for future expansion, and to make some changes to the existing structure.  They also worked with the City of Long Beach in constructing wharves and moorings for yachting vessels. The new consortium retained ownership until 1964 when it was sold to a new group of members of which Richard Rand was listed as owner. Llewellyn Bixby, Jr., Harry Buffum, John W. Hancock Jr.,  Daniel Clock, and Daniel H. Ridder served as members of the governing board.(LA Times 4/19/1964)

Closed up, waiting for demolition, 1988
       On May 5,  1971, the Internal Revenue Service padlocked the club's facilities stating the IRS was owed $16,191.14 in back taxes. Two days later Great Western Savings and Loan paid the back taxes and became the third owners of the once palatial club which still boasted a membership of 1500. The club was also behind $25,000  on a $450,000 loan. As owners, Great Western stripped and sold at auction most of the interior of the club in February 1972. Despite this, Sally Olshane and Josef Janota bought the PCC in 1976 from Great Western, but their  attempts to bring the historic structure back to its glory days failed,  In September 1977 it was auctioned off for $35,378.87 to Long Beach realtor Mark Brown. Though the property was assessed at $5.5 million Brown also took on the $445,000 loan on the structure held by Great Western, In the meantime Josef Janota spent years in complex legal battles trying to regain ownership of the landmark building. In 1982 he regained title to the once-exclusive club building that had been declared a Long Beach landmark in 1979. He worked hard to raise $12 million  to $18 million to recondition the facility into a hotel, club and restaurant, but wasn't successful. When the mortgage holder tried to foreclose in 1983, Janota declared bankruptcy. 
            The future brightened in 1985 when Louisiana oil man Earl M. Harter Jr. of Shreveport fell in love with the building and agreed to purchase it for $7.3 million. But the deal fell through. On April 26, 1988, the sixty-two-year-old castle by the sea fell to the wrecking ball. Despite efforts by Long Beach heritage groups, previous owners and the building's placement on the National Register of Historic Places, it could not be saved. Now the site is home to the Pacific Condominium Tower, built in 1992, it's glorious past all but forgotten.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Los Altos, its library and Lloyd Whaley

On February 21, 2017, Los Altos Neighborhood Library at 5614 E. Britton Drive in the Los Altos area of Long Beach celebrated its 60th birthday.  It is my pleasure to give you a look at that day in 1957, the neighborhood it served and the man responsible for much of the development of Long Beach.

Los Altos Library

Artist rendering of the Los Altos branch library
            In February 1957, the Long Beach library’s bookmobile which parked one day a week at Bellflower and Stearns was replaced by a brand new $132,000 library. The Los Altos Library opened February 21, 1957, with a selection of 15,000 books and had enough room to add 20,000 more.  Special features, according to the Independent Press Telegram included “acoustical tile ceilings, air conditioning, and a return book slot for the convenience of patrons.” 
A bookmobile served the community
before the branch was built
         The Los Altos library was the first new library since the new North branch had been built in 1951, with four more (Bret Harte, Dana, Bach & Bay Shore) in the planning stages with a long range goal of giving all Long Beach residents a library within a one mile reach of their home. Los Altos was also the city’s first library which “started from nothing.” Other branches had started in small rented spaces before moving to permanent quarters and had ample time to accumulate appropriate reading materials.  Building a library full of books from scratch was a challenge.  Los Altos needed technical books to support Douglas Aircraft personnel; reference works to help college students; and general literature to support the reading demands of the public both young and old.
Moving in
           The library opened with three librarians, one who worked with children, and another with teens and adults. The branch librarian was responsible for overall operations and outreach to community groups. There were also two clerks, a page and maintenance worker. Those used to using the bookmobile were greeted with a familiar face, Mildred Snider, promoted to branch librarian.
            On Saturday, February 23rd, 1957, Los Altos patrons formed long lines at the new library, many there for the branch's first children's program. Four special events were scheduled for the library's first full week of in operation. Miss Nina Boyle, film librarian came from the Main library to conduct a cinema night on Monday; Tuesday a book review program was hosted by Mildred Snider, assisted by Mrs. Harriett Covey, Mrs. Alice Titus, and Miss Alice Walsh. Mrs. Mary Pearson, Main library recordings librarian, presented a music program on Wednesday. And on Thursday Miss Blanche Collins, assistant librarian in charge of branches, served as moderator for a book discussion. 
Mildred Snider shown
in 1977 at the dedication
of the new Main library
which she planned
           Two thousand four hundred thirty-five books were loaded the first day. "The library was not prepared for the tremendous and sustained book hunger manifested by the people of this area," City Librarian Edwin Castagna wrote in the library's 1956-1957  annual report. So popular was the branch that it had to limit the number of books loaned per person. Before the branch had been opened a month it became obvious that a staff of seven was not able to handle all the work.  Two new staff members were assigned, bringing the staff up to nine. Despite the lack of books, Los Altos was second only to the Main library in circulation loaning 262,982 items the first year.  Staff also answered 29,911 reference question, filled 4793 reserves, hosted 133 adult meetings, 121 school visits and 44 story hours that first year. 
           Planned to serve a community of 46,000, the branch was built on land given by developer Lloyd S. Whaley in 1951, with architects William A. Lockett and Richard L. Popper hired to design the brick structure with 6,900 square feet of floor space.  In December 1955 plans for Los Altos were approved by the City Council.  Ground was broken on July 19, 1956, opening Thursday, February 21, 1957.     

Original floor plan for Los Altos Branch Library. 
           Whaley also donated land on the north and south sides of Atherton Street for a park in March 1950. Originally called the Los Altos Recreation Center, the name was changed in December 1954 to Whaley Park. He also donated 11 acres for Scherer Park (430 E. 49th Street) in Bixby Knolls and five acres for Los Altos Park (481 Stearns Street). 

Lloyd Whaley & Los Altos

            In 1935, 29-year-old Lloyd S. Whaley left the farm life he knew in Nebraska and headed west.  He took a job as a laborer in the Port of Long Beach’s lumberyards.  While working there he befriended local contractors and suppliers and soon found himself designing, building and selling “speculative” houses near Jordan High School.  This was just the start of what would become a tremendous real estate career.  In 1939, Whaley founded the Home Investment Co. and purchased land in West Long Beach from rancher Jim Tolbert.  Will-O-Vere Park, Whaley’s first major housing effort, was built in the early 1940s north of Willow Street and west of Santa Fe Avenue.  He named the developments' main drive “La Vere” after his wife, and dubbed a street ‘Rodloy” for his sons Rodney and Lloyd Dale. Within 15 years he built 5000 homes, 525 rental units, and 35 commercial buildings, most in the Long Beach area.
       During World War II, Whaley developed the Wrigley Terrace and Wrigley Heights neighborhoods, and transformed the rolling knolls east of Long Beach Boulevard and north of San Antonio Drive into Country Club Manor, Ridgewood Heights and Ridgewood Manor.  Because of restrictions on materials for wartime home builders, Whaley met his customers halfway by supplying them with a concrete garage foundation that could be finished when the war was over.  He later took care of his materials problems by establishing the Whaley Lumber Company at Cherry Avenue and Artesia Boulevard in North Long Beach.  The one-time lumberyard laborer also acquired two logging operations and sawmills in Northern California.
Plans for Los Altos Manor. Lloyd Whaley on right.
    When the war ended, Whaley quickly positioned himself to serve the army of home buyers who soon would be getting their discharge papers.  In April 1946, Whaley purchased several parcels of land from Susanna Bixby Bryant and created the area of Long Beach which would become known as Los Altos.  Housing development with names such as Los Altos Terrace, Los Altos Manor, University Manor, Park Estates and Los Altos Village popped up on land once called “Alkali Flats” because of the strong alkaline content of its mostly marshy soil.  But Whaley didn’t forget the woman who sold him the land.  In honor of Mrs. Bryant he named the new Los Altos Village post office the Bryant post office.  He also named Bryant Road, his most exclusive street in luxurious Park Estates, after the same family.
        On May 9, 1948, developer Lloyd S. Whaley disclosed plans for his huge Los Altos Park subdivision on Pacific Coast Highway, northeast of Recreation Park.  With architect Hugh Gibbs, Whaley was planning a $13 million business and residential community which would include a civic building, church, theater and 10-story hotel.  The principal street in the new Los Altos community was to be named for Barbara Britton, a Long Beach girl who won fame in motion pictures.  Britton Drive would connect the new shopping center with a 12-acre elementary school site.
Los Altos Hardware store. 1951.
        In November 1948, Whaley broke ground for the first phase of his residential element --- Los Altos Terrace and Los Altos Manor.  The Terrace and Manor combined had 1477 residences and a business center on Bellflower Boulevard.  In fact Bellflower Boulevard would be the separating line between the two developments.  Homes started at $7850 and included a stove, refrigerator and a new invention --- the garbage disposal.  Whaley’s plan for Los Altos would win him first place in the National Association of Home Builders regional building contest, and second place in the national contest.
       By August 1949, construction had begun on the new shopping center to service Los Altos Terrace and Manor.  The center, with a 141-foot frontage on the 2100 block of Bellflower, was designed with a large parking area at the rear.  In addition, it came with a new-fangled concept --- air conditioning. The first structure in the new center was a $145,000 supermarket and drug store.  A restaurant, gas station and a smaller market were already in operation.  Plans also included a large variety store, hardware store, barber and beauty shop, baby shop and a shoe repair business.
Aerial view of the Los Altos Shopping Center site in 1953;
Bellflower Boulevard bisects the photograph.  In the foreground
 is Stearns Street.  On the south edge of the site, 
new Britton Avenue is crossing the vacant land. 
     The second phase of residential construction was Los Altos Park, located near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and East Anaheim Street.  Residences here were individually designed and custom built.
            Whaley didn’t just limit himself to the Los Altos area.  In 1949 he began developing “Country Club Manor” in the Bixby Knolls area of Long Beach.  Two-bedroom homes started at $8300 and featured fireplaces, double garages, landscaping, dinettes, floor furnaces and wood shingle roofs.  No down payment were needed if the buyer was a G.I. and loans were available at 4% interest.  Nor did he limit his building to Long Beach. As president of Mesa Development Company, Whaley built the multimillion-dollar Paradise Valley Country Club and luxury home complex just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.


            In December 1952, while laying out yet another Whaley development in the Los Altos area remains of a 1500 year old Indian village was unearthed.  Parts of two skeletons, beads, tools and arrowheads were found when ground was broken for a new subdivision 300 yards east of Bellflower and a quarter of a mile north of Stearns.  Remains of skunks, crows, coyotes, lizards, rats, mice, frogs and snakes were also unearthed. Trade goods with desert tribes from Palm Springs were also found, but nothing that showed Spanish influence. Archaeologists from the Southwest Museum and Long Beach State College believed the site was part of Puvungna, an ancient “holy” city. 
      The Native Americans who inhabited Puvungna were called “Tongva” which means “people of the earth.” These Indians later became known as Gabrielinos, after the San Gabriel Mission.  According to researchers the tribe had a principal god named Chungichnish who emerged full grown from a spring on present day Rancho Los Alamitos. Southern California Native Americans, devoted to their belief in Chungichnish, made yearly pilgrimages to Puvunga (which can be translated as “The Gathering,” or “The Place of the Crowd.”) to honor their major god, as well as the sacred spring where they believed life on earth first emerged.
           Later research determined the center of the village was 2 miles square bounded by present day Willow Street, Anaheim Road, Palos Verdes Street and Los Alamitos Boulevard. 

       Whaley, who died in 1973, would build more than 11,000 single-family residences in Long Beach, or as his advertisements like to tout, “150 miles of homes.”  He was always willing to take risks.  His business plan was simple: “Borrow a lot of money and hope to hell you can pay it back.”

Watch a You Tube video of Lloyd Whaley and the development of Los Altos