A Brief History and Update of the Bixby Park Band Shell/Speakers Stand
By Catherine Morley (2007)
To write of the history and future of the Bixby Band Shell is almost impossible without incorporating it into a discussion of Bixby Park as their significance in the development of Long Beach is most certainly entwined.
The Band Shell was built in 1927 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, which was popular in this time for recreational public buildings. It is located in Bixby Park between Cherry and Junipero where the park is divided by 1st Street. The main building is constructed of brick covered with cement stucco and a hand made red tile roof. Originally there were pergolas adjoining each side, which are now gone. The decorative/ornamental grill work on the windows, amber cathedral glass and round decorative gable window pendulum glass lamp and carved Philippine mahogany 7' double main doors have amazing that the shell survived the benign neglect and vandalism throughout the years.
It was actually built as a Speakers Stand to be used for community events, public speeches and pageants, as well as municipal band concerts. It was a venue for communication of local news, opinions and events. In the twenties people mainly read newspapers for information and radio was available, but only a few events were transmitted via this medium. The famous State Picnics held at Bixby Park were attended by thousands of transplanted Midwesterners from Iowa, Illinois, and Ohio. This gave them the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends, reminiscing about the "old days" in their home state. Thus Long Beach gained the nickname of "Iowa by the Sea". Imagine voting for President of the United States and never knowing what the candidates looked like or being able to hear their voices. Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover solved that problem when on August 17, l928 he spoke to a crowd of over 5,000 at the Bixby Park Speakers Stand. An article in the Press-Telegram stated: " Following a tremendous ovation at City Hall in Los Angeles, where he addressed a great crowd and won boisterous applause by whole hearted endorsement of the Boulder Dam project, Herbert Hoover is en route to Long Beach, due to arrive at 3 o'clock this afternoon. Here the streets were jammed early in the afternoon with motorists and pedestrians, awaiting the opportunity to extend him welcome. Lines of automobiles all but blocked every available highway in Long Beach headed for Bixby Park."
Eventually the state picnics lost attendance, and radio, television and the Internet replaced the need for public speaking locations. The park remained popular for family picnics, soccer games, and recreational activities. The band shell fell into disuse, except by skate borders and those attending pottery classes held in a back room.
In February 2005 wind and rain from a winter storm toppled a large tree in the park, crushing most of the structure. Fearful that the building may be deemed un-repairable, neighborhood residents and activists pushed for restoration. Fortunately the city parks department agreed with that assessment. An engineering firm was commissioned by the city to prepare construction drawings and cost estimates for the restoration.
Reconstruction has been delayed by obtaining the necessary assessment of significance
required to obtain federal funding, per the National Historical Preservation Act, to assist with the cost of the restoration. An outside consultant has been hired by the city to provide this documentation. Once the building has been identified as eligible for national recognition the approval process
will begin. This is not to be confused with city landmark status which is not required to receive the funding. After this report is completed there will be many levels of approval and hurdles to overcome including ADA considerations, an environmental impact report and approval from the State Historic Preservation Office.
So, as the saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day" and apparently the restoration of the Bixby Band Shell/Speaker Stand won't be either. But, let's keep the faith that eventually this important city icon will again be the location of municipal band concerts, and perhaps another presidential candidate will again speak from its stage.
Note: Restoration of the Bixby Bandshell was completed by the Long Beach Parks & Recreation Department in the summer of 2008.