Long Beach Lost: The Gentleman’s Club that Opened with a Five-Day Long Party and Bankruptcy
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.
When the Pacific Coast Club (PCC) opened on October 27 of 1926 at 850 E. Ocean Blvd., it was attached to Long Beach’s most powerful white families and men: the Bixbys, the Llewellyns, W. Harriman Jones, and Walter Desmond.
And for good purpose: Southern California was becoming a haven for high-end, opulent gentlemen clubs that catered to the most wealthy of white men, mimicking East Coast and English clubs that offered exclusivity, amenities, and bragging rights.
After all, the PCC cost $1.25M to construct—or nearly $100M in today’s dollar value. Far pre-dating Disney and his love of mimicry for ancient and imaginary places, the PCC itself mimicked 14th Century French châteaus and castles such as the Montbrun Castle and Château de Bazaneix with hints of Norman architecture.
Designed by Curlett and Beelman, the firm behind the Cooper Arms Building and the Farmers & Merchants Bank in DTLB, and constructed by McGrew and Sons, the building’s key feature was its 8-story tower. Joining it was an Olympic-size indoor swimming poor, massive dining rooms—holding up to 2,500 guests—a 3,500 sq. ft. library overlooking the ocean, a women’s tea room, tobacco stand, a gym, a sauna, a wrestling room, and a haberdashery (old-school term for a men’s clothing shop).
According to a 1926 article in the Los Angeles Times, opening night festivities were nothing short of decadent. Five orchestras welcomed guests during a medieval dedication ceremony that included “mounted knights, heralds and pikemen will patrol the boulevard and guard the building during the ceremony.” Under chandeliers and high oak beam ceilings while beside giant fireplaces and a patent leather bar, revelers continues the party.
For five days straight.
Per the Los Angeles Times, the club’s opening started an odd but eventually revered tradition where ladies attending would try on a golden slipper made by jewelry design A.L. Letart. Once the contestants were whittled down to finalists, a contest to see who fit the slipper best would lead to that woman’s name being engraved onto the slipper and a “Cinderella Ball” would be held later in her honor.
This tradition would evolve into the actual Cinderella Ball held annually—and not to be confused with the Cinderella Ballroom on Seaside Way, which deserves one bit of attention with its dance rules. Let’s just have Long Beach historian Claudine Burnett break down the oddities of a society straining to both repress and remain prudish:
Everyone going to the Cinderella had to be aware of the rules. If they weren’t, they could end up with a six month jail sentence, a fine of $500, or both. “Hanky panky” of any sort was not allowed in any dance hall in Long Beach. In the early 1920s, certain dances, such as the shimmy and the bunny hug, and any cheek-to-cheek dancing was blacklisted. Men could not dance with their right hand upon any portion of their female dancing partner except her back between her shoulder line and waist, or with their left hand in any position except extended from the body and holding the right hand of their partner. Females could not dance with their left hand upon any portion of the male partner except his right arm, or with their right hand in any position except extended from the body and holding the left hand of her dancing partner. Minors under 18 had to be accompanied to public dances by chaperones, specifically parents or guardians, not one of their older siblings. Also forbidden was “spooners’ corner,” the darkened areas of the dance hall. To alleviate this, a Long Beach ordinance required a 16 candlepower light for each 36 square feet of floor. This left no twilight zone for couples who “sat out” dances. All dances ended at midnight, except for New Year’s Eve.
The PCC, with it’s exclusivity, was the opposite in a sense. Jack Smith wrote in a 1978 essay on the building “watched in envy as gleaming young naval officers drove up to its canopy and escorted nubile schoolgirls into its forbidden foyer[.]”
The club’s luxury came at a cost–specifically bankruptcy, prompting the PCC to merge with the financially stable Los Angeles Athletic Club (LAAC). LAAC leader Frank Garbutt was thrilled at the merge since the PCC provided his own clubmembers a seaside spot and, in his dreams, a yachting center (that remained in dreams and never came to fruition). The merge also led to a revered sports rivalry between the LAAC’s Mercuries and PCC’s Cagers.
Bankruptcy wouldn’t be the only thing plaguing the PCC, when in 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake caused so much damage that the club was forced to take out a massive loan for repair and reopened the following year—only to face the ongoing crisis of the Depression. They would be unable to pay this loan when it came due later, even when the war brought naval officers into our city and increased membership.
The PCC even became the hosting venue for Miss Universe, which the Los Angeles Times in 1953 hilariously describes “hordes of photographers, amateur and professional, clicked shutters at the long stemmed lovelies under the clear, hot sky. Miss Switzerland, Daniele Oudinet, used to Alpine climates, collapsed in a lovely heap and was carried into the club, where she revived. Despite the protests of their chaperones, some of the girls actually went near the water, and a few got wet. Thelma Brewis, Miss Canada, boldly splashed in up to her neck but kept her hair dry.”
Collapsed in a lovely heap. Boldly splashed. Literary gold.
But these kind (but still sexist) words and big events couldn’t save the PCC. Plagued by financial issues and the switching of owners, the PCC came to its wall in the 1980s when the owner, Robert R. Bellevue, filed two separate applications with the City in 1986 that, if granted, would allow either 70% restoration of the castle-like club or its demolition to make way for an entirely new project.
Come 1988, the latter plan would be chosen, marking the 16-story condominium tower that stands in its place.