The original city hall and jail--built in 1908, one year before Huntington Beach incorporated--is now home to HB Top Nails. The 5th Street building is on the Historic Resources Board's Walking tour of Historic Downtown Huntington Beach, and is an example of "neo classical commercial architecture." The small civic complex served as the hub of city activities during the early years and was used as a polling place for the town's first elections. Later known as the "Pickering building," 218 5th Street housed Fred Pickering's City Cleaners in the 1940s.
Top HB Nails in the old city hall and jail complex on 5th Street, #18 on the Historic Downtown walking guide.
What sent you to jail in early 1900s Huntington Beach? In addition to the usual (horse thievery, murder, allowing your chickens to run wild), it was alcohol (unless you were a licensed pharmacist) and gambling that landed you in the little big house. If you were caught making, selling, distributing, giving away or drinking alcohol, you might go directly to jail. If you were caught gambling on cards, checkers, chess, or bagatelle (a billiard-like game), you might go directly to jail.
The alcohol and gambling ordinances were among the first enacted by Huntington Beach's board of trustees in 1909 (alcohol made ordinance #6 and gambling #9). If you were sentenced, you might pay "up to a $300 fine" (a sizable amount back in the day) and stay for "up to three months" in the jail. Look at those cells again.
By 1916, the City enacted Ordinance 181 to regulate the sale of "second hand" merchandise, such as "motorcycles...bicycles, junk, diamonds...clothing, tools, harness, robes, whips, garden hose, firearms, junk, watches or musical instruments..." Reading between the lines, we might have had a little problem with stolen goods.
A couple years later in 1918, the city board of trustees enacted Ordinance 188 regulating the sale of bread, which dictated all loaves of bread "shall weigh, unwrapped, twelve hours after baking, sixteen ounces avoirdupois..." The penalty for violating the bread ordinance was "not less than ten, nor more than five hundred dollars" and/or by "imprisonment not more than one hundred days." In other words, if you didn't have enough dough...you get the idea.
The crime fighting spirit lives on
On a lazy weekend afternoon a couple years ago, the pedicure chairs of HB Top Nails were filled with locals and visitors. In rushed a man, who immediately sat down in the waiting area with shopping bag in hand, speaking to no one. David Nguyen--owner of the salon with wife, Michelle--asked "can I help you?"
"Yes," said the man, dressed in baggy track clothes. "How much is a pedicure?"
David answered and told the man it would be about five minutes and they would seat him. David turned back to work on my manicure. I noticed the man pulled off his track pants, revealing shorts underneath. Normal in a beach town, except that the shorts had a store tag on them.
I turned to the woman next to me and mouthed, "do you see the tag?" She looked and I saw her eyes widen. I found out later, she recognized the tag was from the store where she had just sent her teenage son. The man pulled off his shorts, revealing another pair of shorts, also with a tag still on them. He kept pulling off more clothes.
The woman next to me started quietly texting her son. I leaned down and whispered to David who was working on my manicure, "that man has been taking off his clothes and there are tags on them."
David and Michelle Nguyen, the owners of HB Top Nails in the 1908 city hall and jail building (and crime fighters on the side).
David--always cool--looked directly at me and nodded. "Can you excuse me for a minute?" he asked. From my line of sight, I watched as David discretely strolled out the back door into the alley (next to the 1908 jail cells). Of course, he was calling the police. A minute or two later, he walked back in.
"We can help you now," David told the man. "Come on back here and we'll start your pedicure." David helped the man settle into the oh-so-comfortable massaging pedicure chair, sliding his feet in the warm water. The man relaxed into the chair.
Within a few minutes, a couple of Huntington Beach's finest walked in the front door and looked questioningly at us. We nodded toward the pedicure chair in the back of the salon.
"Sir, can you please step outside with us?" said the policemen, escorting the man out of the salon in his bare, wet feet. Just then, a wide-eyed clothing store owner ran in the front door, alerted by the teenage son of the lady next to me. The clothing in the shopping bag had been stolen from his store. Busted.
David, returned to continue my manicure. "Everything is OK," he said, responding to our stares, "It's all OK." We watched the police officers---two more had arrived---as they questioned the man outside.
About five minutes later, one of the officers walked in with a twenty dollar bill and handed it to the manicurist who had started the shoplifter's pedicure. It was David's wife, Michelle. Confused, she protested, saying she hadn't really done anything.
"Oh no," said the officer, "this man really wants to pay for his pedicure." The officers were having a hard time keeping a straight face. They were wrapping their head around the idea the man thought he could hide out in a salon, and it was probably one of the rare arrests prompted by a pedicure.
Law-abiding citizens from all over come to HB Top Nails for the friendly atmosphere and distinct airbrush designs. The bonus is a living piece of Huntington Beach's 100-year-plus history. HB Top Nails, 220 5th Street, 714-374-4040. "Walk ins" welcome. Shoplifters, not so much.
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