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

© 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.   

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A century ago: G.A.R. Encampment

Military veterans moving in to their "tent city" at Huntington Beach for the Eighteenth Annual G.A.R. Encampment.  (Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 11, 1905)

   A little over a century ago this week, local beaches were filled with military veterans arriving for the annual Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Encampment.  The beginning of a new 20th Century community at Huntington Beach, was linked to the then still-living history of 19th Century America.

   Sheltered at the 13-acre Tent City, the 1905 Encampment broke previous records of attendance, while also honoring the loss of seventy-four veterans.  Encampments typically lasted a week to ten days.

(Image, Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 11, 1905)

   In addition to enjoying the beach, holding campfire meetings and special events at the Tent City, veterans visited the Sawtelle Soldiers Home in west Los Angeles County.  Veterans and their families took picnic baskets with them on the Pacific Electric Railroad into Los Angeles and spent the day with disabled veterans living at Sawtelle.

   The Encampments were not always quiet.  The veterans' gatherings also saw heated exchanges among the various camps, discussions regarding legislation affecting veterans, and censures of those thought to exhibit "unpatriotic and unfraternal" behavior.  The Encampment enlisted representatives to present "harmony news" to local media.

   Huntington Beach--still unincorporated--rolled out the red carpet for the annual Encampment.  The 1905 Encampment proved a challenge, with hundreds more veterans than anticipated, but was quickly resolved with more tent accommodations.  Carriages were provided free of charge to veterans to transport them about town.

The 1905 Encampment would "eclipse any previous gathering." (Image, Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 8, 1905)

The Encampment programs featured a variety of activities, including live music, recitations, and veterans' shared memories.  In 1905, "an original poem on 'Snoring' captured the audience." (Image, Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 12, 1905)

The annual Encampments continued to prove popular for non veterans, as well.  The Pacific Electric Railway advertisements encouraged a trolley ride to "go and fraternize with the boys in blue." (Los Angeles Herald, Aug. 21 1910)

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.