1923 News from the Local Press

Claudine Burnett
Downtown Long Beach 100 years ago.

The discovery of oil and the expansion of the harbor turned Long Beach into a boom town in the early 1920s. In 1922, Long Beach built more homes per each 10,000 of its population than any other city in the United States (LA Times 1/1/1924). In 1920, for example, the population of Long Beach was 55,593, by 1923 it had more than doubled to 126,833 as thousands rushed to the area seeking employment in the new oil industry.

And there were predictions that by 1940 over 1 million inhabitants would call Long Beach home. Growth was occurring at an unbelievable rate. Everything was happening at such a fast pace it was overwhelming. Things were changing and changing quickly.


Cars, trains and electric trolleys. One of the most profound changes was the amount of traffic coming into the city. There was a tremendous influx of automobiles, many carrying visitors to the Pike and beach. A pedestrian subway beneath the Ocean-Pine intersection to the pier and Pike was being advocated by Councilman Alexander Beck.

In April 1923, he produced a report showing that 2,000 people and 1,500 automobiles crossed the Ocean-Pine intersection every hour on a normal day, with 4,000 people an hour on Sundays. (After years of effort on the part of Beck, the pedestrian subway was approved by the City Council on Oct. 29, 1926.)

There was talk of limiting parking to one hour in the downtown area and installing traffic signals. Parking garages, such as the Loynes garage on Chestnut and Second, were springing up to meet the parking demands. Most streets remained unpaved, but that too was quickly changing.


Crime also was on the rise. According to a report in the Jan. 17, 1924 Long Beach Press, 109 of the 1051 deaths in Long Beach during 1923 were from violence. Robbery, bootlegging and burglary were also increasing.

As a result, the jail outgrew its quarters and moved to a new city jail on the seventh and eighth floors of City Hall. The county also decided to establish a Superior Court branch in Long Beach to help speed up criminal proceedings (a branch that was later declared to be illegal).

 Much more on crime, the KKK, murder and corruption can be found in my book Prohibition Madness.


New housing developments were springing up everywhere. There was the Cherry Avenue Tract and Annex, Summerland Park, Edgelet Square, Black Gold Tract, Gateway Tract, Floral Gardens, Harding Park, Maple Gardens, Virginia City and more. In West Long Beach there was Davidson City, and the La Serena and Magnolia Hill tracts in the area now known as the Wrigley District. There was talk of one massive residential and business district stretching from Pasadena to the sea along Atlantic and Long Beach Boulevards. Outlying areas were also being hit by development – Pacific Palisades, Midway City (Westminster) and Bellflower were conceived and born.

Annexation was the buzz word of the time. Both Los Angeles and Long Beach were hopeful of gaining more territory. On Dec. 29, 1923, North Long Beach voted to join Long Beach, but the vote was protested by Los Angeles. Later the annexation was declared legal, but no love was lost between Long Beach and Los Angeles, in fact Long Beach was thinking of forming its own county, the County of Long Beach.

Other developers again cast their eyes to the east, the bay was dredged and Belmont Shore Place was created; on March 31, 1923 a “new” Naples, was opened to the public. Success seemed guaranteed when plans for the new Pacific Coast highway through the area were announced. The city’s purchase of nearby Recreation Park (approved by voters on June 15, 1923), which included plans for a zoo, baseball field, tennis courts, race track and channel to the bay also added to the property values in the Alamitos Bay area.

Atlantic City amusement managers expressed their belief that Alamitos Bay would eventually be the entertainment center for the city. The area from Belmont pier eastward was a perfect place for a beach fun zone. It was thought further development of the Pike would be limited as more and more businesses and residences went into the downtown area, and Alamitos Bay would be a Coney Island or Atlantic City if the amusement people had their way. The amusement capitalists were ready to build, but homeowners in the area were fighting to keep the shore area a strictly residential district.

Development was going on in the downtown area as well, with many older buildings giving way to the new. The Santa Fe Depot on Ocean was torn down and the Drake building erected on the site. Railway tracks were being taken off busy streets and routed to areas of less traffic. Own-your-own apartments were the rage, with million-dollar apartment hotel buildings such as the Californian, the Palace, the Stillwell (later called the Willmore), the El Bolivar, the Royal Palms and the Ambassador joining the Sovereign, Omar Hubbard, Regis and Cooper Arms.

Banks and business buildings were also going up. The Long Beach Press was erecting the “Press” building at Pine and Sixth; there was the Kress along Pine at Fifth; the Pacific Southwest Bank on the northwest corner of Atlantic and Third; and the Security Trust & Savings Bank building at the corner of First and Pine. The Bank of Italy was also planning to build on Pine. All of this growth meant that “moneyed” men were coming to town. To serve their interests, business clubs such as the Pacific Coast Club and the Petroleum Commercial Club were being planned.

Much of this growth was due to the development of the harbor. Pacific Steel was negotiating to build on harbor land and make Long Beach “the Pittsburgh of the West.” In December, the Ford Motor company announced they were planning to build a plant in the harbor area. This, and the oil industry, triggered further commercial and residential building.

Not all were happy about the development taking place in the city. On May 5, 1923, Marie C. Brehm resigned as a member of the City Planning Commission because “someone must save Long Beach.” She joined former commissioner Mary Foster, who had resigned for similar reasons a few weeks earlier. Miss Brehm was angered at the lack of height limitations of buildings going up along Ocean Boulevard. “It is wicked,” she said, “to shut out the rest of the town from an ocean view by building a row of twelve and sixteen story apartment houses between Broadway and the beach.” She also stated there was not much need of a planning board when the council continually overruled its recommendations.

On May 8, 1923, the Council did deny permission to erect a sixteen-story own-your-own apartment house, the Sten Apartments, on East Ocean Boulevard between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Places. Though the City Planning Commission had granted permission, the council overruled their recommendation because current zoning laws allowed only three-story limits in that area. They argued that the block of vacant land south of Bixby Park, which the Council intended to keep free of buildings, marked a natural boundary for twelve story buildings which should be confined to the district from Cherry Avenue west.

Claudine Burnett is a retired Long Beach Public Library librarian who compiled the library’s Long Beach History Index. In her research, she found many forgotten, interesting stories about Long Beach and Southern California, which she has published in 12 books as well as in monthly blogs. You can access information about her books and read her blogs at www.claudineburnettbooks.com.


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