The American Hotel
by Stan Poe Summer 2006
The American Hotel is a large and impressive masonry building at 224 Broadway just west of Long Beach Blvd. It stands as a sentinel on an otherwise empty block. The cornerstone was laid on Oct. 1, 1905. It was to be the "Psychic Temple" for the Society of New or Practical Psychology, "the first building in the world dedicated to psychological work." It was built by William C. Price who ran the Holy Kiss Society. Apparently fortunes changed and in 1911 it was sold to Anna Sewell for $2,910. 09. From that point on it was known as The American House and became a prosaic single room occupancy hotel.
The exterior of the building is a beautiful execution of the Panel Brick style and has Romanesque details. Even with the black glass alterations on the storefronts and the removal of the original cornice, it still has an impressive and dignified presence.
The building went through several commercial uses during the last century. In 1930 the first floor housed a small stationery and notions shop on the east end, while the rest of the first floor housed a cigar factory. The hostelry at that time was called The American House. Reached by a narrow stairway on the west side of the building, the second floor of the hotel contains a very large lobby with soaring ceiling that is open through the third floor balcony to a large skylight which originally would have flooded the space with light as a true glassed atrium. There is a rather striking staircase with Arts and Crafts detailing which rises from the center of the lobby. The stairs are two flight courses with a landing midway creating a stately illusion. The third floor railing was probably wood to match the stairs, but has been replaced with inexpensive wrought iron.
All of the rooms which surround the lobby on the second floor and the continuous balcony on the third floor are surprisingly small and simple with a corner sink in each room and a rudimentary wooden closet. Each floor held but one "tub room" and water closet. The Spartan accommodations hardly match the rather grand and imposing Romanesque facade. Given the original use of the building, a theosophical institute, these rooms may well have been appropriate for meditation. With three steps up, each floor has one raised room at the west end which may have been used for group sessions. The thought of people living out their lives in these Spartan, little rooms paints a grim picture of gritty reality. Although the interiors have been stripped of most of the millwork, there may still be a possibility of rehabilitation.
The Advocacy Committee of Long Beach Heritage has been closely monitoring the status of the American Hotel. Our official stance is to save the façade at the very least and if feasible to incorporate the interior in some fashion in whatever development occurs at the site. The handsome building is a designated Long Beach landmark.