The Uncertain Future of Vacant Historic Buildings in Long Beach
By Louise Ivers 2009
There are a number of historic properties in the city of Long Beach that are presently vacant. Some are in historic districts, while others are not. Some appear to be abandoned, are boarded up, or vandalized, while others are in foreclosure. Many of them are houses from the turn of the twentieth century and all of them have wonderful architectural details that are typical of the periods during which they were constructed. These elements include bay windows; leaded glass panes; ornamental verge (gable) boards; cut shingle patterns on exterior walls; classical porch columns; jigsaw cut motifs; built-in cabinets and bookshelves; tiled fireplaces; and balustraded staircases.
Most of the earliest homes and commercial buildings constructed in the downtown area of Long Beach have been demolished, moved, or altered beyond recognition. Some were even the victims of arson. It is important for local citizens to ensure that as many early twentieth century structures as possible will be saved for future generations to enjoy, whether they are actually in recognized historic districts or not. Historic properties enhance the built environment and draw tourists to the city to view and photograph them. They are living history lessons for children growing up now. The preservation and restoration of older homes and commercial buildings create pride of ownership and revitalize borderline neighborhoods.
In the present economic recession, real estate prices have spiraled downward rather rapidly and many properties have been repossessed by lending institutions. These include historic houses which may already be restored or are in need of extensive work. According to local realtor Mikle Norton, "the downturn in the real estate market can be good for older, run-down historic homes....With higher prices investors were not buying" them or they bought them to tear down and build larger structures. When prices go down it is "easier for people to buy the older homes and live in them. Owner occupied property helps to restore a neighborhood one house at a time."
Recently both the Redevelopment Agency and the Willmore City Heritage Association moved several home to lots in the Willmore City Historic District where they are for sale. It would be wonderful if other derelict buildings could be moved to areas of Long Beach where they would be safe from demolition. The pictures that accompany this article portray structures that are in various types of limbo. One shows the Looff roof that is decaying down near Shoreline Drive, a sad reminder of the glory days of the Pike amusement park which drew tourists from near and far. Two are commercial buildings, the American Hotel of 1905, which is a city historic landmark, and the Jolley Market of 1931 by Schilling and Schilling. They are awaiting the wrecker's ball unless they can either be adaptively reused by developers or moved, brick by brick, to new sites. The rest are photographs of typical residences that were originally occupied by middle class citizens and are in various states of disrepair. It would be unfortunate if Long Beach lost any more historic buildings, especially if they are replaced by vacant lots. The city's historic fabric has already been seriously compromised, Pine Avenue has lost many of the commercial buildings designed by our most notable twentieth century architects, and a large number of fine old houses have been bulldozed to make way for crackerbox apartments, skyscraper condominiums, and other developments near the ocean.