By: Madeline Reeves
The original Pike in Long Beach, California opened in 1902 and it was the most famous beachside amusement park on the West Coast until 1969. It had a number of different names in its 77 years of existence; The Pike, Nu-pike, and Queen’s Park.
What started as a simple wooden boardwalk connecting Pine Street to the Pacific Ocean very quickly grew into a popular area to eat, be entertained, swim, shop local merchants and even bathe.
With each name came new attractions and new ways to draw crowds in, my personal favorite is the final name before being demolished in 1979, Queen’s Park.
In 1967 the City of Long Beach purchased the Queen Mary as a combination tourist attraction and hotel. This one is my favorite simply because it draws this question from my mind, will Long Beach ever stop trying to be a trendy tourist attraction? Shouldn’t this be home?
Beyond the fantasy playland we created to attract and entertain tourists and White people quite frankly, this city is not all sunshine and fake sandy beaches.
KKK History and racist past
The Klu Klux Klan has had a very strong presence in Long Beach throughout the years. In the 1920s their office was located on Anaheim Street in what is present-day Cambodia Town. Also by day, trading their hoods and sheets for blue coats and badges; they infiltrated the Long Beach Police Department.
They regularly held open rallies and events but specifically in 1926, the Klu Klux Klan had their annual convention at Bixby Park where 30,000 members met and marched down Ocean Boulevard.
The exact street where last Summer, thousands of Long Beach locals marched in peaceful protest against police brutality and the murder of innocent and unarmed Black people.
As we entered the 1920s many African-American families moved to Long Beach seeking refuge from the racism and violence in the South. The City’s population in 1920 was around 55,000 and roughly only 100 of those residents were Black.
In 1919 Long Beach resident Elijah B. Lane who resided at 506 Locust Street collected 20 signatures from other fellow Black residents to request city council that a “game” which went by the name “African Dip” be removed from The Pike.
The apparent point of this torture device of a game, was to throw a ball at a target, which when hit, would result in a Black person, usually a man, being dumped into a large tub of water. Many players would not even play by said rules and would instead throw the balls directly at the Black person, only amplifying their deep lack of human decency and morals.
Though this was an extremely disturbing and disgusting “game” the request to have it removed was denied by city council and it remained there until 1950.
The Pike’s different phases
Around this time is when the Navy’s Pacific and Atlantic fleet divided, making Long Beach the Pacific fleet’s west coast home port and after building a Navy landing in 1934 there were already over 50 ships and 30,000 sailors in Long Beach, bringing more business and rowdiness to The Pike.
Along with sailors came the need for their entertainment, ranging from places like seedy dive bar Rudy’s, open front liquor stores, many tattoo parlors and suggestive girly-shows like Hollywood on The Pike.
Only one establishment still stands from the original Pike and its known as Outer Limits Tattoo formerly known as Bert Grimm’s Original Tattoo Shop, currently the oldest tattoo shop in the United States. The Pike became a not so family-friendly place during this time,… people described it as “rough” and a “free-for-all”, discouraging some families from attending.
Around 1950 The Pike underwent another facelift making it a more family-friendly “Kiddieland” with train rides, a petting zoo, carnival rides, etc. and it was renamed Nu-Pike. Genius. Though after revamping they still struggled, only for different reasons this time…competition. Knott’s Berry Farm was thriving and in 1955 Disneyland opened and became stiff competition for Nu-Pike. A whole new experience less than 20 miles away and maybe one without inebriated men and inhumane games. Walt Disney knew what he was doing; he saw Nu-pike and thought this is the perfect example of the sleazy amusement zones that Disneyland is going to replace and he did.
Then of course the good old luxury ocean liner known as the Queen Mary came around in 1969 when the city bought it for $3.45 million. I’ve found they’ve spent millions on repairs over the years and in March 2017 naval architects and marine engineers found that the ship needs an estimated $235 million to $289 million worth of work.
The City of Long Beach’s purchase of the Queen Mary as a combination tourist attraction and hotel led to The Pike’s new name, Queen’s Park. Most locals continued to call it The Pike. I want to believe they saw the way the City was taking the opportunity to make money off of its residents and tourists. But they didn’t quite succeed…Queen’s Park was demolished in 1979, an extremely drawn out 10 years after the name change and revamp.
Various plans for development took form over the next 20 years and in 1999 they approved construction of The Pike or what I would call, a wasteland of empty dollars. Somewhere I read said, “The Pike now shows little resemblance to what it was, only a nod in reference.”
The enormous parking structures, amusement park-like walkways and staircases, Forever 21, Hot Topic, Starbucks, three different outlet stores and about 50 chain restaurants. I think I see a resemblance…Long Beach City was made to make money off of its residents. This trendy, luxury, boujee, get people in the door to spend money mentality that the City of Long Beach envisions for itself and will not stop trying to be has trickled through each and every community in this city. This goes for small businesses in Retro Row and even Belmont Shore’s 2nd Street Shops, any business in fact… are you opening a business to actually benefit all of Long Beach or are you picking a specific location and demographic to benefit yourself?
Long Beach is full of creative, eager, and smart business-minded people. Look at the history of our city and how it’s repeating itself. We can be better.