Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Saving history: The Main Street Branch Library on Triangle Park in Historic Huntington Beach

ABOVE: Interior of the first library in Huntington Beach at Walnut and 3rd streets, circa 1913.  In a donated building, the library moved around a bit before finding a permanent home. (Photo, Huntington Beach Public Library)

   "From the beginning the Huntington Beach Public Library has been an illustration of citizen concern for the community and its future generations...some local organizations and the Huntington Beach Women's Club called a mass meeting on February 15, 1909, to form a library association."
                                                              History of Huntington Beach Public Library 

   Huntington Beach received a pre-holiday gift this year with our City Council's unanimous endorsement of the effort to list the Main Street Branch Library on the National Register of Historic Places.

   We took a look at the history of this little library--sited in a historic park--in August 2012, Historic Walking Tour #12 and #13: Main Street Library and Triangle Park,

   Establishing a library was one of the very first acts taken by early pioneers as they set about creating a community.   Huntington Beach was a dusty seaside town with unpaved roads, not much of a water or sewer system, and the entire community pitched in with whatever was needed.  It was a time of big dreams for the community and for the future of California.
ABOVE: At the same time residents were creating the first library, others were trying to harness the power of the ocean. See "Masters of the Ocean Waves" (Image, Los Angeles Herald, December 19, 1909)

   When early residents formed a library association, they enlisted the help of librarians from nearby Long Beach, paying their lunch and traveling expenses.  At the time the first library opened in 1909  "there were 338 volumes in the library, 228 were gifts while 110 had been bought new. The new library subscribed to twelve magazines..." (History of Huntington Beach Public Library).

    As the community grew, the need for library services grew, eventually leading to the opening of the Main Street Library on Triangle Park in 1952.  Today, Huntington Beach is lucky to have a Richard Neutra-designed Central Library, sited in Central Park.  This was another effort by the community to create centers of culture and learning for residents and future generations, just like the first effort in 1909 and all those in between.

Left: Interior of the internationally acclaimed Huntington Beach Central Library, designed by Richard Neutra, in the City's 350-acre Central Park.  The Central Library holds the largest children's library west of the Mississippi. (Photo from the Italian magazine, Architettura, vol. 22, no. 250-251, 1976)

      The effort to list the Main Street Library on the National Register of Historic Places is a call to action for both Huntington Beach newcomers and descendants of our farseeing pioneers.  The first step is to enlist the nominating support from the California Office of Historic Preservation.

By January 8, 2013, send a LETTER or EMAIL supporting the historic listing of the Huntington Beach Public Library at 525 Main Street to:

William Burg
State Historian I
Office of Historic Preservation
State of California  

1725 23rd Street, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95816

 About the Main Street Library on Triangle Park:
   The Main Street Library, 525 Main Street, is sited in the original 3.57-square-mile townsite, which contains the National Register-listed Helme-Worthy Store and Residence (, Huntington Beach Elementary School Gymnasium and Plunge (1931), and Newland House (1898), as well as many locally designated and eligible properties.

   Five blocks north of Pacific Coast Highway, the property is near the historic site of the Huntington Beach Municipal Pier, surrounded by eclectic residential neighborhoods. As a neighborhood park including a number of nearly ninety-year-old palm trees, Triangle Park (1912) provides the setting for the 9,034-square-foot Main Street Branch Library (1950-1951), a locally designated City Landmark. 

   The Main Street Library was designed in the "International Style" of early post-World War II period of the Modern Movement. Municipal restoration efforts over the last 30 years have returned Triangle Park to an authentic mid-1920s period, and the park and library remain as both the earliest and latest components of the community's early Civic Center.

  National Historic Register criteria for listing include properties that embody a significant contribution to broad patterns of the City's local history, in the area of community planning and development, as well as properties representative of unique architecture. 

   Established as a recreational park in 1912, just three years after the incorporation of Huntington Beach, Triangle Park became part of the City's early-20th century Civic Center campus.  The Library's architecture represents the principles of postwar Modern design and the distinctive characteristics of site-cast, concrete tilt-up construction from the Mid Century  period, particularly that of public libraries. The Main Street Library is the work of masters, James Edward "Ted" McClellan, Denver Markwith, Jr., and Jack Hunt MacDonald.

A little mid-century inspiration. (Image,

UPDATE: California Historical Resources Commission on February 8, 2013, voted unanimously (7-0) to recommend that the U.S. Park Service list on the National Register of Historic Places the Main Street Library on Triangle Park.  As of April 2013, we await word on the national listing.

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gordie's House: One of the last surf shacks

ABOVE: One of the original tiny homes---before the 21st Century tiny house movement---in the alley behind Lake Street near Pecan Avenue bears the street number 505 1/2 and the hand-painted name, "Gordie."  Despite the size of his home, he was a larger-than-life character. (Photo, September 2012)

UPDATE: In 2012---shortly after this feature was written---the Higgins property at 505 Lake Street sold, including Gordie's tiny home in the alley between Lake and Main streets, at 505 1/2 Lake Street.  It has been modernized and no longer retains its historical features or Gordie's name. 

   Who is Gordie and why does the tiny building behind 505 Lake Street bear his name?  If you're a local surfer of a certain vintage, you might already know.

   Gordie Higgins was one of Huntington Beach's first surfboard shapers at a time when boards were actually, well, boards.  The 1920s Lake Street home behind which the tiny "Gordie house" sits belonged to his brother, Bud Higgins, who made one of the first redwood surfboards after watching Duke Kahanamoku and other Hawaiians surf Corona del Mar in the 1920s.

   The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1989, Long May They Wave, that "along with lifeguard Gene Belshe, Higgins decided to try to make what is regarded as the county's first homemade board. Kahanamoku suggested that his 11-foot board was too large for the Corona del Mar breakers, so the young locals set out to make two scaled-down, 10-foot boards." 

LEFT: Gordie Higgins was one of Huntington Beach's first lifeguards, along with his brother, Bud Higgins, who was the first chief lifeguard. (Photo, 

    Bud Higgins is reported to be the first surfer to shoot the pier.  Both Bud and Gordie are on the Surfing Walk of Fame Honor Roll (1997).  They surfed solely to surf.

RIGHT: In 1913, steamship lines advertised pleasure trips to Hawaii for "surf-boating" and "surf-boarding".  Soon after this trans-Pacific travel, a group of surfers referred to as "the Hawaiians" landed in Southern California, bringing their boards with them. For Huntington Beach, it was a match made in heaven. (Los Angeles Herald, 1913)

    When Nancy Wride wrote about Gordie for the Los Angeles Times twenty-three years ago (Mixed Feelings in Huntington Beach: Wave of Development Rolling Into 'Surf City').  She wrote about the affection with which people greeted him and about Gordie's concerns for a changing town.

   "Sweet-faced Gordie Higgins, 75, grew up here when the streets were dirt, the sidewalks wooden and oil--not surfing--was the lifeblood of Huntington Beach," Wride reports.  
ABOVE LEFT: Duke Kahanmoku, circa 1920, inspired local boys to try their hand at surfing and surfboard shaping.  You can find a statue of "the Duke" on Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, near the Pier, and a bust of Duke inside the Surf Museum at 411 Olive Avenue in downtown Huntington Beach.

   "As he sits in the heart of downtown, cross-legged on a bench smoking his Dorals, the old man speaks without nostalgia when he says, 'It never will be the old town, such as it was,'  Higgins told Wride, who noticed his board-toting soulmates.  "The young surfers know it too--the ones who wave at him as they cycle past towing their boards, hollering, 'How ya feelin' Gordie?' "

ABOVE: Tiny, but charming, Gordie's house in the alley behind Lake Street bears the number 505 1/2.  It is a few minutes walk, barefoot, of course, to the beach. (Photo, September 2012)

   Wride continued to follow Gordie as he moved to his table at the Sugar Shack on Main Street.

   "...Gordie Higgins continued to hold court, blue eyes flashing as various friends stopped to chat. He can remember the days when there were only two cars in the whole town of perhaps 3,500 people. He remembers the tent city downtown where the roughnecks camped while working the oil fields in the 1920s," Wride writes.  

   "He remembers the saltwater plunge and how people threw pennies into the deep end for him and other divers. He remembers the first gas station in town, the red cars that could get you to Los Angeles in 45 minutes."

LEFT: Gordon "Gordie" Higgins served in the U.S. Navy, enlisting in 1936 and serving through World War II. The Santa Ana Register reported on the "popular" Gordie receiving 100 letters from his friends back home in Huntington Beach. (Santa Ana Register, May 2, 1942)

  Gordie served in the U.S. Navy from 1936 through World War II, surviving the sinking of the carrier Yorktown.  After leaving the Navy, he worked a variety of jobs, driving haul trucks, working as a locksmith, always staying close to the Pacific and his Surf City home.

   He married, but later moved into the tiny home behind his brother Bud's house at 505 Lake Street, which had been their parents' home.

Left: Gordie's big brother Delbert "Bud" Higgins was the City's first chief lifeguard and, later, fire chief.  For a July 4th celebration in the 1930s, he soaked himself in alcohol, set himself on fire, and dove off a 50-foot platform above the pier into the water

   City historian Jerry Person wrote about his friend, Gordie and his brother, Bud, in 2006 just after Gordie passed away (Huntington Beach Independent, A life lived in our city's golden days).   As Gordie got older, Person would "would find him sitting outside on a chair by his front door," ready to talk about the old days.  He recalled the bond between the Higgins brothers, who shaped not just boards, but the growing town's culture for generations to come. 

   "Have you ever seen that TV commercial with those two old guys selling Medicare Part D insurance, and they walk away together?" writes Person.  "When I still had a store on Main Street, I have a vivid memory of Bud and Gordie leaving together and walking up Main Street just like those two guys on the commercial."

ABOVE: Gordie's, the home of one of Huntington Beach's pioneer surfers and surfboard shapers, is now a memory. RIP Gordie Higgins, 1913 - 2006. (Photo, September 2012)

Editor's note:  The home of Bud Higgins, 505 Lake Street, and Gordie Higgins, 505 1/2 Lake Street (alley) was sold to a new owner in October 2012 and its historic features, along with Gordie's name, are gone.

All rights reserved. No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A look back -- 1915 Huntington Beach

ABOVE: Huntington Beach's Main Street, looking east from the Pacific Electric Railroad station on Ocean Avenue (Pacific Coast Highway), circa 1915.  Realty companies selling peat and sediment land on each corner of Main Street.  (Photo, University of Southern California Libraries)

ABOVE: Main Street, looking west toward the Pacific Ocean, circa 1915.  An unpaved weedy road, horse and wagon, and dogs in the middle of the street--not too worried about traffic. Note the Huntington Beach News on the right side of the street.  (Photo, University of Southern California Libraries)

ABOVE: Ocean Avenue looking north toward pier and Pacific Electric Railroad station, with PE tracks along the beach front, circa 1915. (Photo, University of Southern California Libraries)

ABOVE: Ocean Avenue looking south, toward Pacific Electric Railroad station, in the seaside community of Huntington Beach only six years after its incorporation. (Photo, University of Southern California Libraries)

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Vintage Halloween

A full page of the San Francisco Call was devoted to Halloween party giving, with an apple bobbing demonstration. (San Francisco Call, October 28, 1900)
   Halloween once was a night where party goers attempted to look into the future.  Here's what you might have been doing on Halloween night at the turn of the last century, as described by the newspapers of the day.

The game of Snap dragon
   Raisins, citron cut into dice, candied ginger, a few bitter almonds, sliced, and crystallized fruits are spread on a large silver or stone china platter, set on a marble table.  Turn down the lights and collect the company about the dish before pouring in enough brandy to cover the fruit.  A match is then applied.  Each person must, in his or her turn, try to rescue a bit of fruit or nut from the blue flame.  "A tentative drag is more apt to burn the fingers than a quick, resolute snatch, and there is also the danger that the former method may bring the liquid fire over the side of the dish."

   One's lot in life is prefigured by the nature of the item picked.  A raisin signifies comfortable competence and contentment; citron, wealth; candied ginger, a peppery wife or husband; bitter almond, trouble and vexation; apricot, an amiable consort; a candied cherry, a voyage across the seas; a bit of pineapple, social success. 

The Looking Glass game foretold a young woman's romantic prospects. (San Francisco Call, 1905)

Roasting chestnuts
   This may be done on the hearth of an open fireplace, on the top of a stove or on a hot shovel held over the grate.   Two chestnuts are named and laid together on the heated surface.  If, in burning, they lay contentedly side by side, the omen is favorable.  If one hops away or refuses to ignite, the parties designated would do well not to attempt to join their fortunes.

Bobbing for apples was described as confined to the young men at the party. (San Francisco Call, 1905)

Cabbage stalks
   Cabbage stalks are pulled from the garden by the young people in the dark, or if there is a moon, with closed eyes.  Each must honestly bring to the light that which he or she first lays hold of.  If much earth clings to the roots, the holder will have wealth; if it is bare, poverty.  A healthy, well-made stalk promises a handsome partner for life.  A bite cut from the top of the stalk indicates the temper of said partner.  Some are sweet, some sour and a few bitter.  

   Each "fair owner," after inspecting and tasting hers, cuts her initials on the stalk and all are laid on a table with a cloth cast lightly over them.  The young men are now admitted and draw in their turn.  If a dance is to come off in the evening, each young man dances the first set with the girl whose stalk he has drawn.

An advice column suggested serving "archaic and simple" food. (School for Housewives by Marion Harland, San Francisco Call, 1905)

Fairy boats
   Halve English walnuts and clean out each side.  Melt enough white wax to fill as many shells as there will be persons present at your party, and stir in a few drops of perfume.  Have ready short lengths of coarse cotton cord, loosely twisted.  Hold a bit of the cord upright in the middle of each half shell, and pour in enough melted wax to fill it.  

   Launch the spice lamps in a tub of water, and light the wicks, naming each for a guest.  To set them in motion, jar the tub lightly.  If two boats approach one another, touch and continue the voyage in company, the owners' lots will sometime become one and the same.  If one sputters and soon goes out, the owner will have a brief troubled career.  If two jostle and interfere with each other, those whose names they bear will quarrel.  Should a boat refuse to quit the wharf or return when pushed out, its namesake is indolent and lacking in enterprise.  Those that burn longest, predict the length of days.

The "Dumb Cake" game involved making a cake in which symbolic items were hidden. (San Francisco Call, 1905)

   And, of course, ghost stories.  It's not All Hallows Eve without ghost stories.

"Tell ghost stories until you are afraid to go to bed" instructs the San Francisco Call. (How to Celebrate Halloween, San Francisco Call, October 28, 1900)   

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Walking Tour #22: The Main Street Post Office, Born in the Great Depression

ABOVE: The historic downtown's Main Street Post Office, dedicated in 1935, the year the WPA was formed.  (Photo, M. Urashima, September 29, 2012) All rights reserved. ©

   Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
   Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
   Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet and lime;
   Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime                             
                                        Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? song lyrics, Yip Harburg, 1931

   Sometimes, a post office isn't just a post office.  You might walk right by our historic downtown post office without giving it much thought.  It's worth a closer look.

   Seventy-five years after the Pony Express and twenty-eight years before the introduction of the zip code, Huntington Beach opened the doors to the Main Street Post Office in 1935.  It was a big deal.  Specifically, a New Deal.

ABOVE: A reminder of the deep economic despair faced by Americans in 1935, a family from Oklahoma flees the Dust Bowl via Route 66 for better days in California.  (Photograph, Dorothea Lange)

   The country was digging its way out of the Great Depression.  The stock market dropped 89 percent (it would take more than two decades to recover to the 1929 level).  Banks failed.  Unemployment rose to 25 percent by 1933.  Unhappy with President Hoover, people gathered in "Hoovervilles" (makeshift shantytowns), flew the "Hoover flag" (empty pockets turned out), kept warm with a "Hoover blanket" (newspaper), and drove a "Hoover wagon" (a car towed by a horse because the owner couldn't afford gas).

   In 1933, came the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.

   Post offices sprung up in small towns around the country, supported by the New Deal's Civil Works Administration and later Works Progress Administration.  It was an effort to create jobs and stimulate local commerce.  When your town was selected for a New Deal post office, it represented hope.

   Huntington Beach's post office was designed by architect Louis A. Simon (1867-1958).  Simon used a similar plan for post offices across the country; you'll find a mirror image of our post office in Santa Paula, California.*

LEFT: The cornerstone on the Main Street Post Office. (Photo, October 2012) All rights reserved. ©

   The building's architecture is considered a "restrained" style, with the minimal ornamentation preferred by the U.S. Treasury Department at the time.  Simon also designed the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington, D.C.

   From tiny Yerington, Nevada to the Village of Haverstraw, New York, to the growing town of Huntington Beach, the New Deal post offices often represented the first federal building in rural communities.

   The grand opening of the Main Street Post Office was greeted with banners, speeches and music.  It was a proud, patriotic moment.  Telephones were not yet common and a modern post office meant we were officially connected to the rest of the country.  We were worthy of an important federal service.

LEFT: The Main Street Post Office, officially called "Beach Center Station." (Photo, October 2012)

   The photograph of the Post Office's December 1935 dedication is still featured in the lobby, in an original glass-fronted "community bulletin" case, 77 years later. 

RIGHT: Dedication ceremony in 1935. (Photo courtesy of

   In 2009, we learned our historic Main Street Post Office was considered non essential by a struggling U.S. Postal Service.  It is one of 100+ post offices in California listed on a closure list in 2011.

   "Retaining all its architectural integrity to the present day," reports the California Preservation Foundation, "the Huntington Beach Post Office is one of the last historic structures left on Main Street and is a local landmark."

   In Eureka! The Postal Service finds gold in California, the Save the Post Office blog notes post offices are a key element of livable, walkable downtowns, "Historic post offices are highly prized by their communities.  They anchor the downtown area, help local businesses, enable people to walk to the post office, and elicit pride of place.  People may complain about the long lines, but they love their grand old post office."

   Evidence of post office love?  Inside the Main Street Post Office lobby on an October afternoon is a poster with finger-painted handprints from Mrs. Taylor's first grade class at Peterson Elementary School proclaiming, "Hands Down Our Main Street Post Office is the Best!"

ABOVE: Inside the beautifully maintained Main Street Post Office.  Seeing a letter inside your glass-front post office box was--and still is--one of life's simple pleasures.  As of October 2012, it appeared every box was in use. (Photo, October 2012) All rights reserved. ©

   The Save the Post Office blog continues, "California has fourteen historic post offices that have been sold, put on the market, or planned for sale — the most of any state in the country...using fifty years old as a rule of thumb for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, over a hundred California post offices are eligible and 24 are currently on the Register."   

   A list of California's historic post offices can be found at  At 77 years old, the Main Street Post Office is considered eligible for listing on the National Historic Register (some on the List are younger).

  This is another piece of Americana worth seeing.  If you're visiting Huntington Beach, drop your postcard to those back home at our Main Street Post Office.  For locals, if you haven't visited this historic post office in a while, time may be running out.

Directions to walking tour stop #22:  From Pacific Coast Highway, head two blocks inland on Main Street; our historic post office is at the northeast corner of Main Street and Olive Avenue.

ABOVE: Box number one at the Main Street Post Office.  Tooled brass surrounded by wood moulding, with hand-painted numbers---early 20th Century craftsmanship. (Photo, October 2012) All rights reserved. ©

ABOVE: Dark polished wood frames the window that looks out on a busy Main Street. (Photo, October 2012) All rights reserved. ©

ABOVE: Locals only.  The hand-painted mail drop inside the Main Street Post Office. (Photo, October 2012) All rights reserved. ©

LEFT: Photo posted in 2009 on O.C. History Roundup,  

BELOW: Photo taken October 2012.  The same two bicycles parked in front.

*Editor's Note: To view the Santa Paula, California post office---our identical twin---see

A thought-provoking editorial on post office closures, Who owns our downtown post office?, can be found in The Berkeley Daily Planet at

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dreaming big: Pacific City 1903

ABOVE: Pacific Electric Railway map of Pacific City (Huntington Beach) circa 1903.  (Image,

   The map above was made by the West Coast Land and Water Company in 1903, six years before Huntington Beach incorporated.   The West Coast Land and Water Company was a land syndicate formed by Philip A. Stanton, John N. Anderson and Colonel S.H. Finley, who acquired 1,500 acres of which 40 acres would be the new Pacific City.

   Printed on waxed linen, it still shows the pencil marks of planned roadways.  The map shows the pier, bath house, a pavilion, and planned ocean-front lots north of Newport Beach.  There's also a mention of "Vickers addition," which is a reference to J.V. Vickers, also part of the West Coast Land and Water Company.

ABOVE: A view of Huntington Beach from the wharf, circa 1904.  (Photo, USC Libraries)

   There are street names that have since dropped off the map: Water, Finley, Philo, Gates.  And, of course, the bigger change came when the partners enlisted Henry E. Huntington to bring his electric railway to town.  Huntington agreed, received a large block of stock in the company, the West Coast Land and Water Company became the Huntington Beach Company, and the town was renamed Huntington Beach.  

   By July 1904, the Pacific Electric Railway extended its line from Long Beach to Huntington Beach.

   In a 1981 history of Huntington Beach, Carolyn F. Bailey writes the Huntington Beach Company "invested heavily in city improvements.  A generator was built to provide electricity. Telephone service operated from 6 A.M. to 9 P.M.  Sidewalks, curbs and gutters were built.  A pavilion, an indoor plunge and a hotel were constructed.  Parks and a nursery, providing free plants to residents, were among the major projects undertaken."

   According to Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, "by early 1903 about 200 lots had been sold, a 550-foot wharf had been built plus a pavilion and about 35 cottages."  Ruderman is selling the map and you can take a closer look at the map's details at

ABOVE: A horse race on the sand in Huntington Beach, early 1900s. (Photo, Pomona Public Library)

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brewster's Ice: Since 1945

ABOVE: At the corner of Lake and 6th Streets, Brewster's Ice has been a family-run business for 67 years. They still sell block ice, dry ice, special orders for events, and they deliver in Huntington Beach...just like the "olden days."  (Photo, Aug. 28, 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

2017 Update: Sadly, Brewster's Ice, while still standing, no longer is in business. We hope this piece of local history can be saved and adapted for a creative use, before new generations forget about the ice man and ice houses.
   Before refrigerators were in every home, there was the "ice man." The 'fridge was called an "ice box" (for you youngsters, see below).  People set a sign in their window with the numbers: 25, 50, 75, 100, representing pounds of ice.  That let the ice man know how big a block of ice to haul from his truck into the house.    

    The ice man became a friend, a regular visitor, a neighborhood institution.  He was part of the family, walking into the kitchen to place the heavy block of ice in the ice box for the busy housewife.

   Two blocks east of the historic downtown's Main Street is Huntington Beach's ice man: Brewster's Ice.  

   Although not a featured spot on the walking tour, it's definitely worth wandering over to take a look at vintage Huntington Beach.

Directions to Brewster's Ice:  Walking north (inland) up Main Street, turn right on 6th Street.  Brewster's is two short blocks east, at the corner of 6th and Lake streets.

ABOVE: Brewster's famously-faded exterior is the perfect spot for a unique photo backdrop and has been used for commercials and print advertising.  Brewster's owner says children used to hang around the ice chute, hoping for a chunk of ice on a hot day.  (Photo, August 28, 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   City historian Jerry Person wrote about Brewster's Ice in a 2004 column, A journey up Railroad Avenue, for the Huntington Beach Independent.  

   "This piece of Huntington Beach history has stood at this location since 1945," notes Person, "when Virgil Brewster purchased the war surplus icehouse from the military just after World War II ended."   Brewster, a graduate of Huntington Beach High School on Main Street, moved the icehouse to its current location.

   The 1940s and 1950s were still a busy time for the ice business.  Although refrigerators were put into mass production post World War II, it took a while for refrigerators to become commonplace appliances.  And, large quantities of ice were still needed by fish mongers, restaurants and markets.  Today, Brewster's Ice is a favorite for locals, beach goers and event planners.

ABOVE: Brewster's Ice, at the corner of 6th and Lake streets.  Hours and prices are posted outside.  (Photo, Sept. 15, 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   Local author and columnist Chris Epting wrote about Brewster's Ice for the Huntington Beach Independent in 2007 (In the Pipeline: Old school ice shop stays cool)*.  Epting wrote that Virgil Brewster would "lug ice over to the old Golden Bear, the Surf Theater, and most restaurants. If you wanted ice, you'd call Brewster's, plain and simple."

ABOVE: Virgil Brewster delivering ice at the back of the Huntington Beach jail, circa 1940s. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Haynes) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   Epting also got a tutorial on ice, learning that "not all ice is created equal."  He writes, "you might think you know ice, but until you hear it explained, believe me — you don't know ice."  Brewster's Ice is a living lesson in how someone adopts a craft and does not take shortcuts to compromise quality.

   One reviewer on Yelp called Brewster's the "coolest thing (pun intended) besides the super fresh and clear ice is that they deliver (only in HB)!  Just like the olden days of milk, bread, coal, and yes ice, that was delivered right to your door (yes I am old enough to remember all of them)."   

   Another said, "by far the best place to get ice. way cheaper than the grocery store. the owners are some of the most friendly people. when you go budget for some extra time. it is way too easy to get wrapped up in a good conversation with the owners. I have been coming to this place all of my life." 

This 1906 cartoon illustrates how much the ice man was part of American culture and daily life.  (Image, Los Angeles Herald, November 4, 1906)

    We highly recommend you wander off the beaten path for a few minutes to see some true Americana and a beloved piece of Huntington Beach history: Brewster's Ice.

Editor's note: Huntington Beach isn't the only California city that loves its historic icehouse.  The Sausalito, California, Historical Society's downtown historic exhibit and visitors' center is in their old icehouse. 

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Walking Tour: Beach Court and Valentino

ABOVE: The Beach Court, built in 1923, still provides vintage apartments a few blocks from the beach.  Note the beach cat guarding the entrance.  (Photograph, M. Urashima, August 30, 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

  Haunted by Rudolph Valentino?
    The Los Angeles Times once asked, "where doesn'’t cinema'’s famed “Latin Lover” haunt? Valentino, who died tragically at the age of 31 in 1926, is one restless spirit. His famous Beverly Hills manse on Bella Drive...The beach house that he stayed in in Oxnard while making 1921’'s 'The Sheik'”...Room 210 at the Santa Maria Inn in Santa Maria...

   Well, add the Beach Court to that list....maybe.  It is a locally reported (and fun) rumor that the spirit of silent film star Rudolph Valentino haunts the Beach Court now and then.  Since it is a short walk from the beach and on a charming street, who would blame him?
Left: Rudolph Valentino, doing his best "blue steel" for the 1924 film, A Sainted Devil.  If the rumor is true, the Italian star would have stayed at the Beach Court between 1923 (the year it opened) and 1926 (the year he died). (Photograph, Wikicommons)
Directions to Walking Tour stop:  The Beach Court is located at the corner of 6th Street and Orange Avenue at 323-32 6th Street (parallel to Main Street).  If you're strolling inland up Main Street, just take a left at Olive or Orange Avenue and continue to 6th Street.

ABOVE: The Beach Court is across the street from Walking Tour stop #15, a 1906 Baptist Church, now the Community Bible Church. (Photograph, M. Urashima, August 30, 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   The arched entrance of the Beach Court--along with its tiled roof line--are trademark of the Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture that hit popularity in Southern California around 1915.  (Just like Rudolph Valentino's famous home, Falcon Lair, in Los Angeles County.)

   The Beach Court was built in 1923 during the early days of the motion picture era, the same year the famous Hollywoodland (now Hollywood) sign was installed in the hills above Los Angeles.  It was still several years before the first Academy Awards in 1929 and before  the late 1920s dawning of the "golden age" of film.

ABOVE: The dawning of the silent film era on Huntington Beach's Main Street, circa 1915. (Photo, University of Southern California Libraries) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   Ahead of its time, seaside Huntington Beach knew the film industry was coming.  

   In 1915, the City board of trustees (city council) enacted its first ordinance requiring city permits for motion pictures theaters and that this trendy new activity could only be "on the first or ground floor...shall front on a public street, and the back, or rear, of such room or one side thereof, shall abut upon a public street or alley. No moving picture exhibition or entertainment shall be held, conducted or carried on, in a building, house, barn shed or structure, the outer surface of which are in whole or in part constructed or built of wood or other combustable (sic) material..." (Huntington Beach Ordinance 152, 1915)  

   When most of your community is wooden structures, it's good to make sure movie moguls don't set you on fire.  The rest of the ordinance is fairly specific about theater safety standards, aisle widths, room capacities, and electrical requirements, with exceptions for showing films in churches or schools.  A century later, much of the ordinance stands up to what would be required today.

LEFT: The tree-lined courtyard once was filled with moneyed beach goers or oil workers. The demand for housing was intense in early 1900s Huntington Beach--with many camping in tents.  By 1923 (three years after the first major oil discovery), the Beach Court was a popular alternative for those who could afford to pay a little extra.  (Photograph, M. Urashima, August 30, 2012)

   But, back to Valentino.  As the Beach Court opened its doors in 1923, Valentino already had hit films, including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and The Sheik.  And, he had yet to make his final film, The Son of the Sheik

       Also in 1923, Valentino took some time off from film and published a book of poetry, Day Dreams, which became a best seller (MacFadden Publications, Inc., New York, 1923).  The 1920s popularity of the Ouija board, spiritualism, and the occult coincided.  Valentino and his wife, Natacha Rambova, "dabbled."  After his death in August 1926, Rambova, said she continued to communicate with him in the afterlife.

LEFT: Valentino's Arabian horse from The Son of the Sheik, Jadaan, was from the W.K. Kellogg horse ranch in Pomona, California, now part of California State University - Pomona.  Starlets clamored to be photographed with Jadaan, the last horse ridden by Valentino.  (Image, Willard Library)

   Rambova and Valentino were reported to be spiritualists.  After his death in 1926, the reports of the supernatural continued, furthered by his former wife (Rambova and Valentino divorced in 1925).  Valentino is said to have participated in seances and claimed two spirit guides: Meselope, an ancient Egyptian, and Black Feather, a Native American, per Rambova.  

RIGHT: Natacha Rambova. (Photograph, WikiCommons)

   In the book, RUDY: Intimate Portrait of Rudolph Valentino By His Wife, Natacha Rambova (1926) she claims Valentino was a medium and channeled the spirits of deceased poets, writing his poems while in a trance and using automatic writing. (Editor's note: Dealing in the occult, seances, and automatic writing is above our pay grade.  But, you can see how the rumors surrounding Valentino linger to this day.)
   By the time of his passing on August 23, 1926, at age 31, Valentino had been part of the young motion picture industry for only twelve years.  His mark on film, and the persona of the devastatingly handsome silent film star, remain nine decades later.

   Does Valentino haunt the Beach Court?  We'll let you decide.  He is said to have loved collecting "muttiola-ing," or collecting mussels along the beaches to cook up Italian style for dinner.  Valentino and Rambova traveled to Mexico to marry (the first time, illegally, which is another story).  And, part of the silent film The Sheik, was reportedly filmed at sand dunes in Yuma, Arizona.  It's conceivable he might have traveled down Pacific Coast Highway and stopped, if not stayed in Huntington Beach.   We already were a beach destination, once a popular stop on the famous "balloon route" for the Red Car, and a lively oil boom town in the 1920s.

   One thing is for sure: Beach Court definitely is a bit of old California, from a time of silent films and film industry publicity teams that loved a good story.  We encourage you to stop for a moment, get out the camera, and strike a pose that would make Valentino proud.

ABOVE: Holding a pose for the cameras is no big deal when you're a star.  The I'm-ready-for-my-close-up-Mr.-DeMille cat that guards the Beach Court.  (Photograph, M. Urashima, August 30, 2012) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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