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Ten Things You May Not Know About Long Beach

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Port of Long Beach. (Photo by The Q Speaks via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Although some outside the Los Angeles megalopolis lump Long Beach in with L.A., the city (yes, it's its own city!) has its own distinct identity and history. Long Beach is also far from insular; the Port of Long Beach has the second-busiest seaport in the U.S. (after the Port of Los Angeles), which means that it's one of the main arteries that connects L.A. to the rest of the world. And the city itself is has a history of importing/exporting things that are distinctly Los Angeles, from Art Deco architecture to Snoop Dogg and the rest of the "213" crew. Which is all to say that, while the city exists geographically at the tip of the county, it's very much central to the L.A. ethos (it is, after all, the second largest city in the Los Angeles area). Here, we comb over some of the lesser-known trivia about the proclaimed "International City."

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Francis Townsend. (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)
It Was The Starting Point For Social Security In The U.S.

In 1933, an American physician (and Long Beach resident) named Francis Townsend penned a lengthy "Letter to the Editor" to address poverty among the elderly. That article was published in the Long Beach Press-Telegram. It struck a chord with readers and led directly to a formalized plan (developed by Townsend himself) to enact a sales tax to give everyone over 60 a pension of $200 a month. As noted in the L.A. Times, the plan "drew millions of adherents, a nationwide flood of publicity and the nervous concern of politicians in Washington."

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Ultimately, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would flout Townsend's idea and develop his own social security system, which was decidedly less generous (it maxed out at $41.20 a month). But it's undoubtable that Townsend had forced the issue for the U.S. government, and had popularized the idea of social security (and thus easing its passage). As cited at the Social Security Administration's website (which offers a bizarrely thorough takedown of Townsend's 80 year-old plan), Roosevelt was quoted as saying that "Congress can't stand the pressure of the Townsend Plan" unless it had "a solid plan which will give some assurance to old people of systematic assistance upon retirement."

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The old carousel at The Pike that was built by Charles Looff. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
It Has A Connection With The Birth Of Disneyland

It's said that Walt Disney used to take his children to the merry-go-round at Griffith Park, and that the attraction had inspired him to build his own fortress of themed-entertainment (this story has been vetted by one of his daughters). While the merry-go-round was built by the Spillman Engineering Company, it's also said that some of the horses were carved by Charles Looff, a Danish-American who, to this day, is regarded as a master builder of carousels.

Looff's resume is unimpeachable. He'd built Coney Island's first carousel in 1876, and would later head west to bring his attractions to Santa Cruz, Venice Beach and Santa Monica (where he built the Hippodrome and basically founded the Santa Monica Pier entirely). He also installed a carousel at (the older version of) The Pike in Long Beach, and he took up residence on the second floor of the building that housed the twirling contraption. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the carousel in 1943, and The Pike would later shutter in 1979. Today, Looff's Lite-A-Line on 2500 Long Beach Boulevard serves as a museum dedicated to the wide bounty of Looff-created amusements from The Pike.

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Coming back to Disney: apparently the horses at Disneyland's own King Arthur's Carousel each have a name, and you can get a list of them at the park's "City Hall." One of those horses was given the very appropriate name of "Looff," according to this fansite.

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The Spruce Goose in 1980 as it was being towed out of its hanger. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
The Spectacular Failure Of The Spruce Goose Happened Here

The Spruce Goose will never shake its reputation as being the laughing stock of aeronautics history, and it was in Long Beach that it cemented its place in lore.

During World War II, the U.S. government commissioned Howard Hughes and his company (the Hughes Aircraft Company) to develop a huge aircraft that was capable of hauling a large number of soldiers and equipment—it was also expected to be able to float on water. The problems rose from the start; because of wartime restrictions on steel, Hughes decided to construct the plane out of laminated wood (hence the "Spruce"). This dubious frame was then outfitted with eight propeller engines, and doused with $23 million in developmental costs. Ultimately, it took so long to make that the war had ended by the time it was completed.

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Eventually, Congress demanded that Hughes demonstrate the plane to show that the money went to a good cause, and what resulted was an unannounced flight test in Long Beach Harbor on November 2, 1947. As noted in a Times article that covered the event, "an estimated 15,000 persons jammed beaches and piers along the course" to watch the trial...which turned out to be pretty anti-climactic, as the Spruce Goose flew only a mile before landing. It wasn't quite as dull for the guys inside the plane, however, as they reported a nervy experience in which "the hull skipped from wave to wave when the speed increased," and a "violent motion shook the cockpit," as well as a "hollow booming of its hull." The plane never flew again. It was later kept in a climate-controlled hanger that took $1 million a year to manage, and then moved to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

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Graves and oil wells at Sunnyside Cemetery in Long Beach in 1937. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
It Was Home To One Of The World's Most Productive Oil Fields

On June 23, 1921, an oil well that was dubbed "Alamitos No. 1" sent a geyser of "black gold" shooting 114 feet into the air. It marked the beginning of what is known today as the Long Beach Oil Field, one of the most productive in the nation's history. According to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, the oil field was deemed by the Paleontological Research Institution as being the largest in Southern California at that time, which is made even more impressive by the claim that, by 1923, California was supplying a quarter of the world’s entire output of oil. Within two years of Alamitos No. 1's discovery, the field was turning out 68 million barrels in a single year. And by the mid 20th century it had the highest oil production per acre in the world, according to the Atlantic.

Not surprisingly, the city went on to have a complicated history with oil. The proliferation of oil derricks became an eye-sore (see: photo above), and the field was said to be the basis for Upton Sinclair's Oil!, a pointed critique of oil and the dangers of unchecked capitalism (the book itself was an inspiration for 2007's Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood). Also, recent research suggests that drilling at another site (in Huntington Beach) may have caused the Long Beach Earthquake of 1933. The 6.4-magnitude quake led to 120 deaths, including 52 in Long Beach and 17 in Compton, making it the deadliest ever in Southern California.

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Sidenote: technically, Alamitos No. 1 was in Long Beach only for a brief spell. After the discovery of oil, some guys decided that they didn't want to pay Long Beach's per-barrel tax, so they formed the city of Signal Hill, which was incorporated in 1924. The small enclave is completed surrounded by the city of Long Beach. The site of Alamitos No. 1 is memorialized today at Discovery Well Park in Signal Hill.

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Soft Water Laundry building. (Via Google Earth)
Long Beach Is A Treasure Trove Of Art Deco Architecture, Thanks To A Natural Disaster

That 1933 earthquake, as devastating as it was, had one positive effect on the city: it turned it into an Art Deco playland.

As noted as the Press-Telegram, the earthquake came at a time when a number of factors had converged to spread Art Deco fever; there was the 1925 Paris International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts that gave birth to the movement; the enactment of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration to bring in a stronger labor force; and a new generation of talented architects such as Cecil Schilling and Horace Austin. After the quake, Long Beach (which suffered $50 million in damages) became a kind of clean slate for architects and laborers to work on, and they imbued the new buildings with the burnished flair of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. According to Long Beach Art Deco, there was a functional aspect too: as the city passed new laws to ensure structural safety, Art Deco became a suitable style, as "most buildings were built of reinforced concrete, and decorations were integral to the architecture rather than separate pieces added on."

The examples are plenty, from the Soft Water Laundry on Anaheim Street, to the former Long Beach Skating Palace on Alamitos Avenue, to George Washington Middle School on Cedar Avenue. And lets not forget that the interiors of the Queen Mary itself were designed in the mode of Art Deco.

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The Kings (dark jerseys) playing the Minnesota North Stars at the Long Beach Arena in 1967. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
The Long Beach Arena Was The L.A. Kings' First Home

If you were to believe the Kings' former owner Jack Kent Cooke, the team's original color scheme was gold and "forum blue." The name of the latter hue is—aside from being code for "purple"—a reference to the Great Western Forum, where the team played from 1967 to 1999. Ostensibly, the Forum was the Kings' first home when they entered the NHL in 1967. But if we were to split hairs here, it's the Long Beach Arena that was the team's first pad, as they played their first two home games there. This hockey blog, which did some good sleuthing, also notes that the Kings would end up playing six games in total at the arena (and tallying a 3-3 record).

Why didn't the Kings kick things off at the Forum? Simply because it hadn't opened yet. The Forum, which was being built by Cooke (he also owned the Lakers, by the way), wasn't slated to open until December 30, 1967. The NHL season started in October, however. As such, the Kings split their time between the Long Beach Arena and the Los Angeles Sports Arena (R.I.P) until they moved into the Forum.

Also of note for hockey fans: that first home game involved both the Kings and the Philadelphia Flyers, both of whom were expansion teams that year. As such, the Long Beach Arena not only saw the first game ever played by the Kings, but also the second game ever played by the storied Flyers franchise.

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The Eagles with the late Glenn Frey. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
Long Beach Almost Destroyed The Eagles Forever

Speaking of the Long Beach Arena, it was also the site of one of Dad Rock's greatest public meltdowns in history. As recounted at the Press-Telegram, The Eagles were billed to play at the arena on July 31, 1980 for a benefit show endorsing California Senator Alan Cranston. Apparently, the whole idea was Glenn Frey's, but the other band members weren't so keen on performing at a political function. This, added with the fomenting tension brought on by a cocktail of fame/drugs/alcohol, made for an uncomfortable gig. As guitarist Don Felder wrote in his autobiography, "We walked onstage and [Frey] came over while we were playing 'The Best of My Love' and said: 'F--- you. I’m gonna kick your ass when we get off the stage.'" It only got worse from there, said Felder: “The sound technicians feared the audience might hear our outbursts, so they lowered Glenn’s microphone until he had to sing. He approached me after every song to rant, rave, curse - and let me know how many songs remained before our fight." According to Rolling Stone, Frey would say, "That's three more, pal. Get ready," counting down the songs that precluded the beatdown (which didn't happen, apparently). It would be the Eagles' last show together for the next 14 years. The evening was bad enough for the band to later christen it as the "Long Night in Wrong Beach."

Cranston would run for, and lose, the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 (it went to Mondale).

Does The Queen Mary Have The First Synagogue Ever Placed In An Ocean Liner?

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The Torah Ark said to be part of the Queen Mary's synagogue, now housed in the Peabody Essex Museum. (Photo by Jonathan Quayle/Facebook)
Massive and stately-looking; it's easy to mistake the Queen Mary as something that's as permanent as the landscape in Long Beach. In fact, the ship came all the way from Scotland, where it was built in 1933 in the town of Clydebank. The liner was operated by the British Cunard Line, and in 1936 it sailed its maiden voyage from Southampton in England to the harbor of New York. When World War II broke out, the ship was repurposed as a troopship for a period of time.Parts of the interior are of special interest; as noted at the ship's website, the vessel was nicknamed the "Ship of Woods" as it was constructed of 56 different types of highly polished veneers—six of which are now extinct, meaning that the Queen Mary is one of the few places where you can still find them. Also, it's reported that the former Scroll Room on the ship's B-deck was the first ever synagogue to be placed inside an ocean liner, according to a 1979 article in American Heritage. Some hailed the synagogue as being a pointed remark against the rising tide of Nazism, while others claimed that the company was just trying to cater to its Jewish clientele.

While it's hard to deny that the Scroll Room had little in way of precedence, there's question over its status as being the true first. According to the now-defunct San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, operators of the French-owned SS Normandie—considered to be the Queen Mary's archrival— built their own synagogue when they found out that the Queen Mary was planning to install one; the Normandie would beat the Queen Mary to the punch by mere months.

Sadly, the Scroll Room, like much of the Queen Mary, would be deemed redundant after it was brought to Long Beach in 1967 (the city purchased the ship for $3.45 million). At some point it was disassembled and the space was used as a storage room, according to this hobbyist group.

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At Long Beach Pride 2014. (Photo by Calvin Fleming via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
It Sparked One Of The Earliest Gay Rights Demonstrations In The U.S.

The Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 in New York City are oft-cited as the birth of the gay rights movement (Obama had named it alongside Seneca Falls and Selma as a landmark of civil rights). This claim, however, is debated by historians who say that the 1967 Black Cat demonstrations of Silver Lake were the first full-scale protests for gay rights in America.

But did another L.A. County gay rights demonstration also precede Stonewall? That seems to be the case, as an act of protest was spearheaded by the Patch bar in 1968, just 10 months before the incidents in New York (the bar was owned by a Long Beach resident, and was housed in neighboring Wilmington).

What happened was that, on the night of August 17, 1968, two men at the Patch were arrested for "lewd conduct" after undercover officers had spotted one of them patting the other on the rear (it was nothing more than a high-five for joke well-told). In response, bar proprietor Lee Glaze gathered a group of men, went into a flower shop to buy up everything in sight, and led his band of supporters to the LAPD Harbor Station to post bail. "[The police] didn't know what to do with all the gay men waiting in the lobby," said one of the men who was arrested, according to the Press-Telegram. This was an especially brave move on Glaze's part, as he'd already been warned by officers in the past that he'd face penalties if men were found dancing together at his establishment. The demonstration was dubbed a "flower power" protest; the men who were detained were released six hours later.

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(Photo via Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, CSULB/Facebook)
It's Got A Japanese Garden That You Probably Don't Know About

Certainly, the Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library has long been hailed as one of the most picturesque gardens in the L.A. area. Fewer Angelenos are aware that, at another corner of the county, there's another Japanese garden that's similarly lush and heart-achingly beautiful.

The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, nestled inside the campus of Cal State Long Beach, is 1.3 acres of meticulous landscaping. Introduced in 1981 after more than three years of planning (which saw its principal architect—Edward Lovell—taking repeated trips to Japan for research) the garden contains such botanical wonders as laceleaf Japanese maples and pink cloud cherries. The spread is anchored by a sprawling pond filled with koi fish.

The garden is also spun as an educational tool; there's a volunteer docent program, and organizers host events such as classes on tree pruning. The space has long been popular with CSULB students and (ugh) wedding photographers—it's certainly worth your while if you're looking for a tranquil space to reflect on all your life decisions.