by Dan Gutierrez
Long Beach history links:
Long Beach History website
Long Beach, CA Wikipedia
Historical Society of Long Beach
HSLB Digital Photo Collection
Historic photos, with captions, covering the history of the Long Beach region:
[Page in development]
Aerial photo of the 1946 Long Beach waterfront featuring the Rainbow Pier and the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium complex. They were built together, and completed in 1932, as part of the City’s bid to replace the original Municipal Auditorium from 1905, and make Long Beach the premier resort city in Southern California. The development included the interior Rainbow Lagoon to provide an ocean look and feel, but without the storm waves pounding the concert-goers on the grassy platform surrounding the auditorium. The Rainbow Pier was removed in the mid-1960s as part of the landfill that gives us the modern waterfront, and the Auditorium was torn down in 1975 to make way for the present Long Beach Performing Arts Center and Convention Center. Also note that the Rainbow Pier starts on the left at the bottom of the bluff on Pine Avenue, between the existing Ocean Center Building and the now defunct Jergins Trust Building, continuing in a semicircular arc that reconnects with the street grid on Linden Ave. Today, Linden is on the eastern border of the 2004 Aquos Apartments. In the center of the photo is the wide main street, called American Avenue in 1946, though we know it today as Long Beach Blvd. The Pacific Electric Long Beach Red Car Line ran down the center of American Ave, just as the Metro Blue Line does at present on Long Beach Blvd. KCET article about the Rainbow Pier: https://www.kcet.org/shows/lost-la/photos-when-long-beach-built-a-rainbow-shaped-pier
Here was my best attempt in 2013, using Google Maps to capture the same view as the 1946 image above, so you can see how different the waterfront area looks today. You will observe that the Long Beach Performing Arts Center is located in the same place as the former Municipal Auditorium, and that the present day “Rainbow Lagoon” named after the original, lies mostly within the footprint of the former lagoon.
Through the magic of digital editing, I was able to superimpose the LB Municipal Auditorium, Rainbow Pier, and buildings inland from Ocean Blvd, over the existing waterfront. I also put red dots on the tall buildings from 1946 or older, that still exist today. The one exception is the JT for Jergins Trust building that was torn down in the 1980s, and is an empty lot at present, though in the future it may be either a new office or apartment building. I will also point out that there is a pedestrian subway, or tunnel, under Ocean Blvd, that connected the Jergins Trust building to the hotel on the north side of Ocean, allowing beach goers to walk under the busy street which also carried the Long Beach Line Red Car trains in the four decades prior to the nineteen-sixties. Much of what we think of as the present LB waterfront was under water prior to the 1966!
This is the original Long Beach municipal Auditorium, built in 1905, that was replaced by the gorgeous 1932 Municipal Auditorium in the photos that follow. Here is as Los Angeles Movie Places article, with photos of this auditorium and its replacement: https://sites.google.com/site/losangelesmoviepalaces/auditorium
A 1931 image of the empty Rainbow Lagoon and Municipal Auditorium while it and the Rainbow Pier were under construction.
A 1932 side-view image of the Long Beach municipal Auditorium and Rainbow Pier from shortly after project completion. Note the second rectangular pier in the foreground, which held the Cyclone Racer roller-coaster, and other attractions from “The Pike”. The dark line connecting the near side of the Ocean Center Building to the inland side of this pier is the original walk of 1,000 lights! This was Long Beach approaching the zenith of its resort period. Long before Disneyland, Knotts berry Farm, or Magic Mountain existed, we had The Pike!
A then and now comparison of the 1932 to the 2018 waterfront. Note how much landfill has occurred since 1932 when the Rainbow Pier was completed. I used a red line to denote the 1932 shoreline on the 2018 Google Maps image below. I also included the outline of the Rainbow Pier, The Pike, and the Long Beach Community Auditorium, as well as a green line to denote the Walk of a Thousand Lights.
The 1932 Municipal Auditorium was two venues in one. The first was a large rectangular concert/multi-purpose hall that is under the light colored roof in the image above. What we normally think of as the front of the auditorium. The front also has a raised, arched facade, seen above, in which sat the gorgeous 1938 WPA mural named “Long Beach Recreation”.
And here is the interior of that rectangular hall, configured as a concert venue, with removable seats in the flat area in the middle of the hall.
In 1935, the main hall of the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium was used as the venue for an Auto Show. Note the large “AUTO SHOW” lettering over the arched facade, This photo predates the WPA mural you will see below by three years.
An interior shot of the same main hall shown as a concert venue, two photos above, with the seats removed and cars in their place for the 1935 Auto Show. Note the carpet and luxury seating! This hall was the (smaller) equivalent of the present day LB Performing Arts Center and the LB Arena combined!
This is the view of the back of the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium, showing the exterior of the second venue, which was a symphony amphitheater, with a series of arches that are scaled down versions of the one large arch in the front facade.
The interior view of the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium Symphony Amphitheater. Note the arch designs on the outside in the photo above are echoed in the interior of the structure.
Returning to the front of the LB Municipal Auditorium, you can see the 1938 WPA mural in low resolution in the arch to the left, and a much clearer image to the right, though in black and white. This large mural was designed to be seen my travelers on the Long Beach Red Car Line, as well as those walking or driving on American Avenue (now known as Long Beach Blvd), which is at the level of the mural, and above the level at which these photos were taken. Below is this same mural as it looks today, now located at the end of the Promenade, the premier walk street in downtown Long Beach.
The Long Beach Community Auditorium WPA Mural from 1938, entitled, “Long Beach Recreation” is my favorite public art in Long Beach. When the LB Community Auditorium was demolished in the mid-1970s, the mural was preserved and later put on display since 1982, at the north end of the Promenade, which is the main walk-street in LB. This area with the mural, was also more recently (2013) improved, and renamed as the Harvey Milk Promenade Park, to commemorate the slain San Francisco City Councilman.
I did a little image editing to correct the geometric distortion, and brighten up the colors, which the sunlight UV has faded over the last 80 years, so the mural looks more like it did when it was first created from an original design by Henry Allen Nord, then redesigned and constructed by Stanton Macdonald Wright and Albert Henry King and a team of California artists.
I should also note that this mural is composed of of over 466,000 tiles, all made in California, from California materials, and was planned, and executed by a team of 40 California artists, whose names line the border all the way around the mural. The use of different shaped tiles for the different scenes of the mural was an innovation created by Wright. For more on the mural: http://www.wpamurals.com/longbeac.htm https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/long-beach-plaza-typical-activities-beach-harbor-city-mural-long-beach-ca/
The last Long Beach Line Red Car train ran in at the end of March in 1961, and this is the view the driver had of the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium. You can see the arch facade, with the WPA mural. Here is video of this last Red Car trip for the entire system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebboO52In1w
And finally, here is a then and now shot showing how the same scene from the last Red Car on the long Beach line at the corner of Ocean and LB Blvd, looked in 1961 vs 55 years later in 2016. The LB Performing Arts Center literally occupies the same footprint as the former LB Municipal Auditorium.
Pike and Cyclone
Signal Hill Oil Derricks
Red Car Lines
LB Comm Auditorium