Renderings courtesy of the DLBA.
For thirty years it has sat. Empty. Unused. The specter of its previous standby, the Jergins Trust Building, remaining long after its decadent halls, walls, and façades were demolished.
Long before Ocean and Pine became—at least in the term of a downtown intersection—the relatively quiet crossroads that they are, it was a bustling epicenter of pedestrian activity. This is why the Downtown Long Beach Association (DLBA)’s announcement of activating the section of Victory Park adjacent to the former Jergins Building is not only essential but deeply refreshing.
Dubbed The Loop, this part art installation, part event space is entirely devoted to the public sphere (and designed by the crew at Stereo.Bot, a firm that specializes in temporary structures). The Loop will bring much-needed activation to the 7,700 sq. ft. space that has been dormant after the Jergins Trust Building, which previously occupied the property, was demolished in 1985. The targeted opening of the temporary space is April 2016 and it is anticipated to have a minimum presence of two years before permanent development begins for the property.
Pundits are already screaming about the “sadness” with which this project is being built upon since The Loop’s existence somehow equates to the lack of permanent development—but let’s save that for later in the discussion.
Firstly, let’s talk historical context and why this area is so important from an urban design standpoint.
The area is key in regard to connectivity, given that it exists as the clearest crossroad of linkages between historic Pine Avenue, the Pike development, the Aquarium, the Promenade, the Convention Center, and the waterfront. The reason for it acting as the future link between these areas is because it once was, as previously mentioned, the link to a bourgeoning downtown scene.
In essence, what’s being told to the public is a rally cry: “This space used to hold a wonderful, towering building—one that we destroyed in the hopes of bringing another wonderful, towering building. Thirty years later, we have cracking asphalt and the ghost of people visiting. Enough is enough—and we won’t wait for permanent development. We refuse to.”
After the Long Beach Land and Water Company became owners of Willmore Town (named after W.E. Willmore) and officially named our city Long Beach, development sparked: a hotel was built between Pacific Park and the beach on the bluff, prompting an old horse-driven cart that connected Long Beach with Wilmington to be replaced by a spur of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This caused the town to boom—as Alan Burks of Environ Architecture pointed out in a 2012 meeting of architects and historian on the famed corner, “It was the beginning of Long Beach”—leading to the building of the once-iconic Jergins Trust Building.
This building, sitting on the southeast corner of Pine and Ocean, became an essential development attraction. Then-councilmember Alexander Beck even created a tunnel in 1927—which still exists—that went under Ocean and connected to the building, where businesses existed in the tunnel selling goods while people passed. It was built because, at its peak, Pine and Ocean was seeing some 4,000 cross the intersection per hour on the weekend.
Jergins Trust was a key part of fostering what became the wildly popular Pike, a stretch along Seaside Way that even went through Jergins western sister, the Ocean Center Building (which one can view the former Seaside Way’s tunnel through the building when facing either the west or east side of the building’s façade).
Come 1985, however, the destruction of the building sparked what many feel was the beginning of the downturn of downtown. Urban legend holds that the city itself cheered on its destruction when, in fact, it fought it: the owner of the building’s original request for a demolition permit was denied but, after claiming he simply could not afford a refurbishment, the city then granted the permit.
The new Pike development was then created and, being removed from the Downtown Plan due to planning zone requirements, prompted what Lowenthal and 1st District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez jointly call “a psychological barrier to conventioneers, tourists, and workers.”
Seaside Way, the once kinetic stretch of passersby, now serves mainly as a utility road for the sprawl of apartment complexes with little to no foot traffic on any level. The former site of the Jergins Trust building? It has sat empty since ’85.
So while some are lamenting about the lack of permanent development—which is not entirely true: the property is part of the City’s Long Range Property Management Plan that deals with RDA properties, with the property out to bid and already garnering bidders—the key takeaway from this wonderful project is re-branding empty spaces. Don’t do mural walls (as this space did with its cheesy shadow figures), don’t do fences… No, no.
Activate these empty spaces.
Who cares if it is temporary? It is a space that people can use. (Oh, by the way, The Loop is moveable. That’s right: once it’s done with its Ocean and Pine tenure, it can be transported to another area where activation is needed.) In essence, what’s being told to the public is a rally cry: “This space used to hold a wonderful, towering building—one that we destroyed in the hopes of bringing another wonderful, towering building. Thirty years later, we have cracking asphalt and the ghost of people visiting. Enough is enough—and we won’t wait for permanent development. We refuse to.”
To the DLBA and Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, we salute you and stand by you. Time to bring an icon—even if temporary—to a DLTB space that deserves as much love and traffic as it can get.
The Loop is expected to open in April of this year.