Article by Louise Ivers 2007

Reginald F. Inwood's name first appeared in the Long Beach
Press-Telegram in 1928, as architect of the Art Deco Belmont Shore Theater at 4918 E. 2nd St., corner of St. Joseph Ave. George T. Gayton was the contractor. The theater, completed in 1929, was owned by H. A. and W. C. Woodworth and was built especially for "talkies." The building included seven stores on the first floor and apartments above. It reputedly cost $120,000.The exterior of the theater was painted blue-green and had geometric ornamentation. A portion of this décor can still be seen on the exterior, but the murals inside that featured Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, a snake charmer, and exotic birds have been removed.

The Farmers & Merchants Bank Building

302 Pine Avenue, Long Beach CA 1923

2008 Louise Ivers

The Farmers and Merchants Bank is one of the most notable institutions in the city of Long Beach, not only because of its commitment to sound financial practices, but also because of the opulent architecture of its headquarters. Throughout its lengthy history, the prosperity of the bank has been guided by three generations of the Walker family. The founder, Charles J. Walker, opened a real estate office in Long Beach after he married Carrie Zeigler in 1895. Always involved in charitable endeavors, C. J. Walker was on the Board of Directors of the Y.M.C.A., as well as that of the Methodist Church. In 1900 he was elected President of the City Board of Trustees and then became Mayor. In addition, he was a major investor in the Long Beach Land and Navigation Company, which owned the future site of the harbor, and the Mercantile Company, which later became Buffums Department Store.

C. J. Walker's first foray into the banking business occurred when he became a member of the Board of Trustees of the First National Bank. Located at the southwest corner of Pine Avenue and First Street, the brick building was constructed in 1900 and had a distinctive clock tower, which was incorporated into the 1906 remodeling by the Long Beach office of Train and Williams. Gables and finials adorned the top of the tower of the original bank building and a two story oriel window projected from the oblique corner of the structure. In 1907 an anonymous group of Los Angeles investors took over the First National Bank and appointed C. J. Walker as President. He saved the institution from a run on its money and soon founded the Farmers and Merchants Bank in November 1907.

The Farmers and Merchants Bank opened on the first story of a remodeled commercial building at 227 Pine Avenue. Above the corner entrance a cornice supported by large brackets projected outward, but otherwise the structure was rather plain. The bank remained there until the present headquarters was built at the corner of Third Street. In September 1921 the East Long Beach Branch opened on Anaheim Road at Obispo Avenue in a striking neoclassical structure with engaged Corinthian columns on high pedestals supporting a cornice with dentils.

In 1922 C. J. Walker commissioned noted Los Angeles architects, Aleck Curlett and Claud Beelman, to design a new flagship for the Farmers and Merchants Bank at the northeast corner of Pine Avenue and Third Street. The Daily Telegram reported that it would "be built of reinforced concrete, with brick and terra cotta trim. It is the intention of the owners to make it pleasing to the eye and a credit to Long Beach." Ground was broken on 12 July 1922 and the grand opening took place on 7 April 1923.

The public banking room in the lower portion of the structure at the corner retains its red Italian marble entrance with double doors of brass-plated steel. Inside are a pink marble floor; marble benches for customers; original metal teller's wickets; terra cotta friezes with classical motifs on the mezzanine walls; twelve brass chandeliers with inlaid designs in turquoise enamel; and skylights of amber stained glass. The massive vault is reached by marble stairs leading down to the basement. On the exterior of the banking room giant Ionic columns support an entablature topped by a cornice with dentils. The ten story office tower has an entrance on Pine Avenue behind the public banking room and relief panels of urns with plants flank the attic windows. Acroteria line the roofs of both structures. The Farmers and Merchants Bank has recently undergone an impeccable restoration and is the only bank building in the Pine Avenue business district that remains intact.

Curlett and Beelman's design for the bank was typical of the early 1920s when financial institutions were mainly constructed in classical styles in order to present impressive facades to passersby. A bank that resembled a Greek or Roman temple connoted stability to potential customers. Curlett and Beelman also designed the Cooper Arms Apartments of 1922-23; the Security Bank Building of 1924-25; and the famed Pacific Coast Club of 1924-27 in Long Beach.

In 1937 Gustavus A. Walker became President of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, succeeding his father. Under his tutelage another branch opened at the northwest corner of American Avenue (now Long Beach Boulevard) and Fourteenth Street on 28 April 1941. Designed by Raymond A. Sites, a local architect, it had the first drive-in window in California and only the sixth constructed in the nation. The Streamline Moderne façade was clad in enameled metal tiles and the stainless steel doors were surrounded by glass blocks. No longer a bank, this distinctive building now faces demolition by the Redevelopment Agency.

By 1973, the Farmers and Merchants Bank had ten branches and in 1979 Kenneth J. Walker, grandson of the founder, became President. In 2007 the bank celebrated its one hundredth anniversary and published a handsome book to commemorate the Walker family. Due to its conservative financial practices, the institution will undoubtedly be around for another century to mark its two hundredth year in business. It is not only leader in the realm of finance, but also in historic preservation.

Bixby Bandshell

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.