Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hidden History: Old Civic Center and Memorial Hall

American eagles, the California State Seal and an early Huntington Beach seal, were saved from demolition at the City's Old Civic Center.   (Photo, M. Urashima, April 2013) © All rights reserved.

   Hidden away in the public works yard parking lot are survivors of Huntington Beach's Old Civic Center, once located between 5th and 6th streets in the historic downtown.  Previously the site of one of the first grammar schools, the original Civic Center was situated next to present-day Triangle Park, home of the Main Street Library. 

After washing away the dust, a small metal plaque reveals the history of the monument to early Huntington Beach, re-dedicated in the public works yard over thirty years ago. Note the date of 1930, should be 1923, the year the city hall at the Old Civic Center opened. (Photo, M. Urashima, April 2013) © All rights reserved.
The eagles originally were not painted and matched the stonework on the building.  Today, the pair of eagles have landed near the public works administration offices. (Photo, M. Urashima, April 2013) © All rights reserved.  

Close up of painting detail on eagle. (Photo, M. Urashima, April 2013) © All rights reserved.

   In a Civic Center history published by the City in 1974, the firm of Walker and Eisen is reported as the architects of the city hall and auditorium.
   Based in Los Angeles, Walker and Eisen also designed the twelve-story Fine Arts Building on 7th Street in Los Angeles, which was designated as a Historic Cultural Monument in 1974 and is featured in the film, 500 (Days of Summer).  Walker and Eisen's other buildings include the Hotel Normandie and the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Under construction - From a different angle, the solid brick "new city hall" under construction circa 1922.  The original Pacfic City city hall--predating the 1909 incorporation of Huntington Beach--operated out of a building at 122 Main Street.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach Archives, circa 1922)

   The Old Civic Center opened its doors in 1923 and served as Huntington Beach's official seat of government for 51 years.  The impressive stairway led to the second floor where main city government offices were located.

   The Civic Center history notes, "Many notable decisions were made by the board of trustees (city council) during this time, one of which awarded the contract for the installation of the ornamental street lights along Main Street from Mansion (Yorktown) Avenue to the ocean."

A City of Huntington Beach seal from the Old Civic Center features ocean waves and Catalina Island across the sea.  Also noted is the City's birthday, February 17, 1909, (we're Aquarius, a water sign, naturally).  (Photo, M. Urashima, April 2013) © All rights reserved.

The State Seal,  simplified version not featuring the official seal's golden bear and ships in the harbor, but including the Greek phrase, "Eureka," meaning "I have found it."  The wheat sheaf symbolism typically means prosperity, the harvest of one's hopes, and is a nod to Huntington Beach's agricultural roots.  The axe symbolizes patriotism and military duty.  (Photo, M. Urashima, April 2013) © All rights reserved.

   The 1933 earthquake damaged the city hall building, causing city staff to move into tents around the civic center for a short period.  The municipal tent city was a reminder of the temporary shelters in Huntington Beach's earliest years when housing construction could not keep pace.  This included the Bungalette Court, known by locals as "Cardboard Alley," allowed for a short time on a portion of Block 505 (Triangle Park) until directed to vacate by the city council in July, 1923.

This 1930s photograph of the art deco Memorial Hall at the Civic Center locates the stone eagles on pedestals flanking the main entrance.  The Memorial Hall was dedicated in 1931.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

The finished city hall building, reveals the City and State seal plaques above arched niches at the entrance.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

    When fully established, the Old Civic Center included the city hall, Memorial Hall (of which the second floor was managed by the American Legion), fire and police departments, chamber of commerce, and the Horseshoe Clubhouse with recreational activities and a ballpark on present-day Triangle Park.
   The Horseshoe Clubhouse was constructed at the civic center in 1931 and put into use by community groups.  See photos of the Horseshoe Club at  

   During World War II, the Clubhouse was occupied by the Red Cross until they were asked to vacate after the war in 1950.  In the late 1960s, key city departments relocated to the Clubhouse when they outgrew city hall.

Inside the Memorial Hall auditorium, circa 1940, which was managed by the American Legion. The little boy at front, center, does not appear happy to be in the adult crowd. The couple in the lower right seem to be having a better time.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

A war memorial was installed in 1949 on the 5th Street side of the civic center.   During World War II, a watchtower was stationed on the roof of Memorial Hall.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

  By the early 1970s,  the City departments were spread out into multiple buildings and planning began for the new Civic Center at Main Street and Yorktown Avenue where it remains today.  A decision was made to demolish the old civic center and redevelop the land as housing.

Demolition of the Old Civic Center, circa 1974, with apparent brick salvage.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

Memorial Hall demolition, circa 1974, the eagles saved by some unknown hero.  Its unknown if someone saved the wings above the entrance.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   From 1945 to 1972, the City of Huntington Beach grew from its original 3.57 square miles to almost 28 square miles.  The City's population boomed from 11,000 in 1960 to 150,000 in 1974.  In a little over a decade, Huntington Beach had become the fastest growing city in the United States.

Civic Center construction at present-day Main Street and Yorktown, across from Huntington Beach High School, circa 1974.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   By 1968, the City purchased the new civic center site at Main Street and Mansion (Yorktown) Avenue, across from Huntington Beach High School.  The new city hall--designed by architect Kurt Meyer, who designed a number bank buildings in Los Angeles--opened its doors in 1974.  

   The dedication event featured bands from Huntington Beach and Marina high schools, the Edison High School drill team, and hostesses from the Orange Coast College stewardess trainees.  The dedication address was made by Robert H. Finch, Counselor to President Richard Nixon, with a presentation of keys to the building by the architect.

   Six years later, the paired eagles and plaques from the Old Civic Center quietly found their new home in the public works yard.

An aerial of the Old Civic Center, circa 1950, shows the building placement.  The city hall and Memorial Hall site is now condominiums.  The Triangle Park site is retained with the 1951 Main Street Library.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives).

Location: The monument to the Old Civic Center is located in the parking lot of the City of Huntington Beach public works corporation yard, 17371 Gothard Street, between Slater and Warner avenues.  It can be viewed during the days and hours the public works offices are open.

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.   

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