Our ongoing series, Long Beach Lost, was launched to examine buildings and places that have either been demolished, are set to be demolished, or are in motion to possibly be demolished. This is not a preservationist series but rather an historical series that will help keep a record of our architectural, cultural, and spatial history. To keep up with previous postings, click here.
Above: the original rendering for what was then called the Edgewater Inn Marina Hotel, later to be called the SeaPort Marina Hotel.
Sometimes, when a structure becomes so run-down that it becomes a blight, it’s hard to imagine that it was once a mid-century modern and Googie masterpiece that is sadly only a shadow of what it once was.
This is the tale of the SeaPort Marina Hotel at corner of Pacific Coast Highway and 2nd Street on the easternmost edge of Long Beach, right at the border of Seal Beach and Orange County.
Initially called the Edgewater Inn and designed by famed black architect Roy Sealy [pictured], construction of the $3M hotel kicked off in 1961—the same year that DTLB had part of the ocean infilled for a new pier—after the City decided invest millions for the upcoming two-year long California World’s Fair that would start in 1967 at Pier J.
It eventually opened in the beginning of 1963 and reflected mid-mod decadence at its best.
The hotel included 200 guest rooms and suites; three restaurants with nightly dancing; a 24-hour coffee house; two cocktail lounges; convention and meeting spaces that could fit some 1,500 people; a liquior store; a gift shop; a children’s play area; a barber shop; a beauty salon, a newsstand; a dog and cat motel; a swimming pool; a cabin club; and a yacht catering services attached to, at the time, the world’s largest yacht marina. On top of that, every room was fit with air conditioning—a luxury in the early 60s—and 16 of the suites were decked out with fireplaces.
Pair all this with textured stone, diamond-shaped railings, patterned concrete-block walls, and even telephone booths shaped as giant seashells to “remind one of Venus on the half-shell while phoning home,” and you have yourself a prime example of Googie wonder.
“Sealey’s design for the Edgewater came on the heels of a growing trend of ‘Garden Motels,’ modeled after the Bungalow Court apartments seen throughout the city,” said Long Beach historian and architectural guru Katie Rispoli. “The Garden Motel Style is characterized by central courtyards, landscaped garden areas surrounded by concrete patios, availability of parking for guests, and swimming pools. These motels were popularized for the interaction and sense of ‘apartment living’ they brought to a vacation atmosphere.”
And it also went beyond “apartment living”: a proposed yacht dealership never made it to fruition but showed just grandeur the Edgewater was (and clearly explained why the Edgwater was host to the both the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers for Super Bowl I in 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum as well as the place Elvis himself resided while performing at the Long Beach Arena in 1972).
Within a year of its opening, Edgewater had booked over 300 groups and conventions to take advantage of their accommodations, with its original operator James Stockman of Transwestern Hotels—the same group that owned the City Center Motel still in existence in DTLB at 3rd and Atlantic—telling the Independent Press-Telegram in December of 1963 that he dropped the keys of the hotel along the coast of Ireland to “ensure the doors of the Edgwater never close.”
By 1964, it had it five hundred booking and some $1.25M in closed deals for conventions, meetings, and galas.
It’s food manager, Lubbock native Thomas Coleman, came from the Depression Era and quickly rose up as a star, featuring his recipes in the local paper and often joking with the bellhops, “Do you have a wife for the room and I?”
However, the luxury didn’t last long: the City of Long Beach eventually backed out of the “overhead sky rides, canals with gondolas, monorail rides, and ultra-modern multi-storied exhibit halls” that would create the two-year World’s Fair at the Port of Long Beach—and with it, prompted the Edgewater to file for bankruptcy in 1966 at the loss of the business that it was built upon capitalizing from.
By the time it had switched owners, maintenance and upkeep became a thing of the past as guests dwindled and grandeur became lackluster. The City opted to incorporate it into the South East Area Development and Improvement Plan (SEADIP) in 1977, which “included the location of the Seaport Marina Hotel in its jurisdiction. Under the plan, new construction was limited in height in an effort to protect the wetlands located north of the hotel, along with the Marina located to the south,” according to Rispoli.
During these years, operating as the Hyatt Edgewater, it seemed to have a slight uptick in guests and locals enjoyed the coffee shop.
When the 1980s arrived, new owners were desperate to capitalize upon, well, anything and began adding on additions and offices like ornaments. Next to Sealy’s outright wonderful Googie coffee shop was a giant a concrete wall filled with offices. By the 1990s, rooms went from night to weekly to monthly rentals. Its pool went from filled to unfilled. Its west-facing ball room turned into seedy nightclub after seedy nightclub (one of which brought a tasteful mix of EDM and women wrestling to its floors).
By the millennium, owners were desperate for a change—but SEADIP’s regulations brought about stiff opposition and, paired with NIMBYs stating the corner was too congested and too crowded to bring about new development, especially buildings that surpassed two stories.
The first proposal—a lackluster hotel redesign by Lennar, the folks doing the equally uninspiring OceanAire in DTLB—was in 2006. The second proposal, a far more appropriate development for the area was in 2009 by Studio One Eleven. Each are pictured above.
The latter proposal, a $320M multi-use development that would have had hospitality, retail, and housing, was shot down in 2011 with, as noted, NIMBYs were infuriated that a 12-story residential tower was included in the project.
The project became so controversial that it inspired fellow rivals USC and UCLA to hold a competition amongst its architectural students to see who could maintain the SEADIP development rules while creating something the blighted corner really needed.
Ultimately, owner Raymond Lin, after decades of unsupportive neighbors and councilmembers, has opted for this OC-like retail sprawl that has lifted eyebrows from both housing advocates and urbanists alike.
Either way, there’s no way that someone could say the hotel didn’t have—at least for a brief glimmer of time—an absolute ball.