Downtown Long Beach
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History

 
Downtown Long Beach embodies a complex and attractive interplay of the historic and the new. The industrial roots that spawned Long Beach’s rapid growth since its incorporation in 1888 also characterize its modern-day energy. Strategically oriented to the sea, Long Beach appeals to the transfer of goods, services, and people. It is this tactical position that dictated the original development of the City and continues to act as the nucleus of activity and sustenance.

At the dawn of the 20th century Long Beach exploded as both a resort and commercial center. It was during this time that the Pike, a seaside amusement center complete with swimming plunge and roller coaster, opened. Long Beach was the fastest growing city in the nation and it continued to flourish with the establishment of the Port and the discovery of oil on Signal Hill.

Things came to a crashing halt in 1933, when a 6.25 magnitude earthquake shook the town to its core. Buildings collapsed, roads buckled and within seconds much of Long Beach was reduced to debris. Yet, Downtown Long Beach was quickly rebuilt in the Art Deco fashion, an architectural style that defined the era and continues to interest architectural enthusiasts. In addition, a group of Pine Avenue merchants founded the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA) and decided to launch a cooperative advertising campaign in the local newspapers. Spearheading the DLBA campaign was Harry Buffum, the founder of Buffum’s Department Store.

Throughout much of the 1940s, Downtown Long Beach continued to profit under the guidance of the DLBA. During World War II the area became a magnet for active servicemen returning from duty overseas, many of whom spent their free time at Pike Amusement Center. In its heyday, the Pike regularly drew 50,000 visitors on the weekend. One of the biggest draws was Charles Looff’s carousel where jeweled horses cantered just inches from the sand–across the midway from the Plunge bathhouse and the Majestic Ballroom, adjacent to the Jack Rabbit Racer roller coaster.


Things began to shift during the fabulous ’50s, which proved not to be so fabulous for urban communities. Downtown Long Beach was no exception. Post-war housing boomed as servicemen were discharged and suburban living became a way of life. Shopping took a turn for the worse in Downtown Long Beach as suburban shopping centers and malls became the new metropolises. Even the development of the 710 Freeway in 1951 fostered a symbiotic relationship with the growth of suburbs.

By the early 1960′s Downtown Long Beach, once a thriving urban center, was struggling. Many of the major department stores and retail anchors, including Walker’s, Desmonds, Howard Amos and part of Buffums, had vanished. To the astonishment of longtime retailers and their customers, vacant storefronts were slowly being replaced with adult movie houses and entertainment, which catered to the servicemen at the nearby naval base. As things continued to decline in Downtown, the DLBA forged ahead with its efforts to attract the clientele of pre-war America by maintaining clean streets and sidewalks, as well as hosting family-oriented events. In addition, the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency was established and the Long Beach City Council purchased the Queen Mary, the crown jewel of the Cunard Lines. The ship quickly became an icon, drawing millions of visitors to its storied decks.

While the 1970′s saw the Pike close, Downtown Long Beach revitalization was well under way. The RDA adopted Downtown as a project area and developed a Downtown Plan which addressed issues of growth. Construction of the Long Beach Plaza Mall, the Promenade, and the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center began. In addition, the first racing of the Grand Prix of Long Beach took place.

The 1980′s saw the opening of Shoreline Village and the development of the first modern high-rise hotel, the Hyatt Regency. Soon after, several large office buildings and more hotels were added to the Downtown scene. Multi-million dollar condominium developments along the Ocean Boulevard corridor and the development of the Downtown Harbor also played a pivotal role in the transformation of the central business district.

As the final decade of the 20th century dawned and the recession faded, Downtown Long Beach began to prosper once again. Office occupancy rates began to rise, Pine Avenue began to emerge as a mini restaurant row with the opening of new and exciting eateries, and the East Village blossomed as a burgeoning arts district. The Metropolitan Transit Authority began operation of its first light-rail train, the Blue Line, which linked Long Beach to Los Angeles. Long Beach Transit established a free Downtown Long Beach shuttle service. Southern California’s largest aquarium, the Aquarium of the Pacific, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and attracts over 1.4 million visitors annually. And, in 1997, Downtown property owners voted to implement a property-based Business Improvement District to be managed by the DLBA.

At the start of a new millennium, Downtown Long Beach is once again flourishing. New retail and residential developments, such as CityPlace and The Pike at Rainbow Harbor, are reshaping the skyline. Economic growth also continues to expand as new businesses open and corporations relocate to one of Downtown’s many modern high-rise office buildings. And, even though the Pike and all its amusements are now just fond memories, Downtown Long Beach is appealing to a new and sophisticated generation with its fusion of culture and entertainment. These days, Downtown Long Beach sports some uptown flair as one of Southern California’s most sought-after urban destinations to live, work, and play.


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