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The Curious Development of Belmont Shore

Belmont Shore from approximately 1930. The empty commercial lots are evident along Second Street. At the top left is the original Lowell Elementary School with a prominent pre-earthquake control tower. Central in the photograph is the storied Tepee restaurant (conical building on the north side of Second Street). It was the hangout for Wilson High School students.
By Stanley Poe

Belmont Shore is a unique community in Southern California. Its major development began in 1920, although the area had been a part of the Naples tract that was purchased in 1903 by Henry Huntington. Its official designation was West Naples and included a very interesting feature in the form of a large natural canal which paralleled Ocean Boulevard on the north side of the current alley. It extended from Alamitos Bay on the east to the land rise near Termino Avenue. It was created by the formation of a sand bar much like that of the Peninsula. Huntington’s vision included dredging a similar canal to the north and returning to Alamitos Bay with waterfront lots lining it. Two large circular plazas were planned between the canals as well. 

Unfortunately that plan never came to fruition. Due to the extensive cost overruns and unforeseen problems associated with the development of the

Naples district, the Belmont Shore project languished until 1920 when Huntington was approached by developers McGrath & Selover with the intent to develop Belmont Shore as a premier recreational and residential area that would be affordable to young families. The biggest problem was the fact that it was under water to varying degrees depending on the tides. There were also various meanders through the swamp which hindered development. Mr. Huntington doubted the developers could support their plan. His concerns were expressed in a letter to which Selover responded: “We will be able to finance our project, and you, Mr. Huntington, have a lot of nerve questioning us when most of what you are selling us is under water more than half of the time!” 

Originally, The Toledo was to have been the main street next to the canal. One commercial building, Myer’s Meat Market, was constructed there, but has been remodeled into an apartment building. Due to the fact that the Pacific Electric tracks were located on Livingston Drive, Second Street became the primary commercial street. Pacific Electric tracks were laid down the center of the street, which continued to Naples and Seal Beach. Most of the streets in Belmont Shore were named after inland communities with hopes of luring buyers from those areas. The 320 acres which comprised Belmont Shore received a great deal of “fill” and extensive grading to raise it above high tide. Long Beach was eager to provide support for the area, although it was not annexed to the city until 1926. 

Oil was discovered on Signal Hill in 1921 and resulted in an astounding demand for inexpensive housing. Most houses in Belmont Shore were Spanish style bungalows with just enough arches to deserve the designation, built on 30’ x 80’ lots which were more generous than most seaside developments. With a modest setback from the street and three feet on each side, the homes included living room/dining room combinations with kitchens/ breakfast rooms, and laundry rooms behind. These houses generally had two bedrooms and tiled bathroom off small halls. Interspersed among the bungalows were larger, more architecturally significant two story homes on double lots. Numerous duplexes were also built. The livability of these homes is reflected in the fact that the majority of them still exist. There has actually been little redevelopment in Belmont Shore compared to other seaside communities. 

One of the most significant concepts was that the homes were built first and the commercial lots were vacant until it the community decided which types of businesses they really needed and would support. That was a successful formula and continues to this day, making Second Street a thriving business district. Belmont Shore remains a vibrant, homogenous community with high real estate values and a population that includes doctors, lawyers, and sundry professionals from all walks of life. Part of its desirability is the true community feeling due to its active and concerned residents.