civiccenterThe Long Beach Civic Center by Louise Ivers  2008

The Long Beach Civic Center has gone through many changes over the last 120 years. The first City Hall was in the Tower Building at Ocean and Pacific Avenues when Long Beach was incorporated in 1888. In 1899 Henry F. Starbuck, a trained architect who lived in Long Beach, designed an imposing brick building with a classical temple front on Pacific Avenue, which contained the City offices on the first floor and the Library on the second floor. The Fire Station was behind the building. In 1907-09 a Library funded by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and designed by Franklin P. Burnham of Los Angeles was constructed in what was known as Pacific Park, donated to the city by the Long Beach Land and Water Company in 1905. Also in the neoclassical mode, it had a portico with paired Doric columns. Damaged in the earthquake of 1933, it was remodeled in 1936-37 by local architects D. Easton Herrald and Edward F. Mayberry in a more simplified style with fluted piers. In 1915 Pacific Park was renamed Lincoln Park when a statue of Abraham Lincoln, a replica of the one in Chicago by the famous American artist Augustus St. Gaudens, was erected. By 1920 the city had outgrown the 1899 City Hall and commissioned W. Horace Austin, the "dean" of Long Beach architects, and his former partner, civil engineer Harvey H. Lochridge, to design a new structure. This eight story classical building had an arcaded entrance and four domed towers and was completed in 1923. It sustained some damage in the earthquake and was remodeled by local architect Cecil Schilling and engineer C. D. Walles with Art Deco details in 1933-34. The City Hall was complemented by the Municipal Utilities Building of 1931-32, an Art Deco structure designed by local architects Warren Dedrick and Earl Bobbe with reliefs by Merrell Gage, a noted Los Angeles sculptor, and the Veterans Memorial Hall of 1936-37 by another local architect, George W. Kahrs. These three Modernistic buildings together with the Library constituted the Civic Center which was constructed around and in Lincoln Park. A farmers' market was also set up along one side of the park where the vendors sold foods of many nations. The 1899 City Hall was moved across from the 1923 building and was used as offices for the Public Utilities department. 

By 1947 the city was experiencing growing pains again and Hugh R. Davies, another noted Long Beach architect, proposed a design for a sixteen story City Hall. His project was a Modern glass skyscraper that was four times as large as the remodeled building by Schilling and Walles. However, it was not constructed. In 1973 the city commissioned a consortium of local firms headed by Hugh and Donald Gibbs and called the Allied Architects to design a new Civic Center. The present City Hall and Library, completed in 1976-77, are examples of Late Modern architecture. These types of buildings were an extension of the "ideas and forms of the Modern Movement... exaggerating the structure and technological image of the building in [an] attempt to provide... aesthetic pleasure," according to Charles Jencks in his seminal book, Late-Modern Architecture. Other examples of Late Modern architecture include John Portman's Bonaventure Hotel of 1974 in Los Angeles, William R. Pereira's Transamerica Building of 1968-72 in San Francisco, and Gibbs and Gibbs' Terrace Theater of 1978 in Long Beach. The Long Beach City Hall and Library complex was innovative for its time. The former structure contains fourteen stories of tinted glass supported by paired concrete piers at the corners and the latter once had rooftop planters and grass berms above reinforced concrete walls, retaining the park like aspect of the former Civic Center. The Allied Architects, Gibbs and Gibbs; Wing and Wing; Killingsworth, Brady and Associates; and Homolka and Associates, combined concrete, glass, and steel, as well as landscaping, in a design that spoke the language of Late Modernism. 

Each of the Civic Center designs represented the best work of local architects over the years: from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Neoclassicism, to the Art Deco mode of the 1930s, to the Late Modern trend of the 1970s. The Long Beach architects of each period contributed imaginative solutions to the urban planning of Pacific/Lincoln Park, as well as signature buildings in and around it.