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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. 


civiccenterThe Long Beach Civic Center by Louise Ivers  2008

The Long Beach Civic Center has gone through many changes over the last 120 years. The first City Hall was in the Tower Building at Ocean and Pacific Avenues when Long Beach was incorporated in 1888. In 1899 Henry F. Starbuck, a trained architect who lived in Long Beach, designed an imposing brick building with a classical temple front on Pacific Avenue, which contained the City offices on the first floor and the Library on the second floor. The Fire Station was behind the building. In 1907-09 a Library funded by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and designed by Franklin P. Burnham of Los Angeles was constructed in what was known as Pacific Park, donated to the city by the Long Beach Land and Water Company in 1905. Also in the neoclassical mode, it had a portico with paired Doric columns. Damaged in the earthquake of 1933, it was remodeled in 1936-37 by local architects D. Easton Herrald and Edward F. Mayberry in a more simplified style with fluted piers. In 1915 Pacific Park was renamed Lincoln Park when a statue of Abraham Lincoln, a replica of the one in Chicago by the famous American artist Augustus St. Gaudens, was erected. By 1920 the city had outgrown the 1899 City Hall and commissioned W. Horace Austin, the "dean" of Long Beach architects, and his former partner, civil engineer Harvey H. Lochridge, to design a new structure. This eight story classical building had an arcaded entrance and four domed towers and was completed in 1923. It sustained some damage in the earthquake and was remodeled by local architect Cecil Schilling and engineer C. D. Walles with Art Deco details in 1933-34. The City Hall was complemented by the Municipal Utilities Building of 1931-32, an Art Deco structure designed by local architects Warren Dedrick and Earl Bobbe with reliefs by Merrell Gage, a noted Los Angeles sculptor, and the Veterans Memorial Hall of 1936-37 by another local architect, George W. Kahrs. These three Modernistic buildings together with the Library constituted the Civic Center which was constructed around and in Lincoln Park. A farmers' market was also set up along one side of the park where the vendors sold foods of many nations. The 1899 City Hall was moved across from the 1923 building and was used as offices for the Public Utilities department. 

By 1947 the city was experiencing growing pains again and Hugh R. Davies, another noted Long Beach architect, proposed a design for a sixteen story City Hall. His project was a Modern glass skyscraper that was four times as large as the remodeled building by Schilling and Walles. However, it was not constructed. In 1973 the city commissioned a consortium of local firms headed by Hugh and Donald Gibbs and called the Allied Architects to design a new Civic Center. The present City Hall and Library, completed in 1976-77, are examples of Late Modern architecture. These types of buildings were an extension of the "ideas and forms of the Modern Movement... exaggerating the structure and technological image of the building in [an] attempt to provide... aesthetic pleasure," according to Charles Jencks in his seminal book, Late-Modern Architecture. Other examples of Late Modern architecture include John Portman's Bonaventure Hotel of 1974 in Los Angeles, William R. Pereira's Transamerica Building of 1968-72 in San Francisco, and Gibbs and Gibbs' Terrace Theater of 1978 in Long Beach. The Long Beach City Hall and Library complex was innovative for its time. The former structure contains fourteen stories of tinted glass supported by paired concrete piers at the corners and the latter once had rooftop planters and grass berms above reinforced concrete walls, retaining the park like aspect of the former Civic Center. The Allied Architects, Gibbs and Gibbs; Wing and Wing; Killingsworth, Brady and Associates; and Homolka and Associates, combined concrete, glass, and steel, as well as landscaping, in a design that spoke the language of Late Modernism. 

Each of the Civic Center designs represented the best work of local architects over the years: from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Neoclassicism, to the Art Deco mode of the 1930s, to the Late Modern trend of the 1970s. The Long Beach architects of each period contributed imaginative solutions to the urban planning of Pacific/Lincoln Park, as well as signature buildings in and around it.

The Uncertain Future of Vacant Historic Buildings in Long Beach
By Louise Ivers 2009

There are a number of historic properties in the city of Long Beach that are presently vacant. Some are in historic districts, while others are not. Some appear to be abandoned, are boarded up, or vandalized, while others are in foreclosure. Many of them are houses from the turn of the twentieth century and all of them have wonderful architectural details that are typical of the periods during which they were constructed. These elements include bay windows; leaded glass panes; ornamental verge (gable) boards; cut shingle patterns on exterior walls; classical porch columns; jigsaw cut motifs; built-in cabinets and bookshelves; tiled fireplaces; and balustraded staircases.

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Design Approved for Downtown's Ocean Center Building

by Joe Segura (Reprinted from the Press Telegram (2008)

An 18-month effort was capped when the Cultural Heritage Commission approved the conceptual design for modifications to the historic landmark Ocean Center Building. The 1928 landmark, with its whitewashed exterior that presents a stark contrast to the neighboring modern marble-slabbed structures, is on the southwest corner of Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard.

The building, according to Interstices architect Jonathan Glasgow, was originally built as a mixed-use retail and office building. The mixed-use feature will shift to retail and residential-the latter with 82 boutique hotel rooms and 18 condominiums, Glasgow said.

The archway at the base of the building along Pine initially served as the entrance to the original Pike Amusement Park. The base of the building was right on the beach at the time of construction, according to Glasgow. Swimming pools and sun decks will be introduced to two of the roof-tops, the architect said. A unique feature of the project is a lantern cupola that originally capped the tower. Glasgow noted it was removed after the 1933 earthquake. Long Beach-based Interstices, according to Glasgow, has designed several other adaptive reuse projects in the city, including the Kress Building, the Walker Building, the Newberry Building and Courtyard Lofts.

Top Illustration: Proposed restoration of the Ocean Center Building by Interstices.
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Above Photo: Historic Photo