The Bath House and Board Walk, Long Beach, Ca. (1907)
|Location||Long Beach, California, United States|
The Pike was an amusement zone in Long Beach, California. The Pike was founded in 1902 along the shoreline south of Ocean Boulevard with several independent arcades, food stands, gift shops, a variety of rides and a grand bath house. It was most noted for the Cyclone Racer (1930-1968), a large wooden dual-track roller coaster, built out on pilings over the water.
The Pike operated under several names. The amusement zone surrounding the Pike, "Silver Spray Pier", was included along with additional parking in the post World War II expansion; it was all renamed Nu-Pike via a contest winner's submission in the late 1950s, then renamed Queen's Park in the late 1960s in homage to the arrival of the Queen Mary ocean liner in Long Beach. 1979 was the year Long Beach city council refused to renew the land leases and demolished all of the structures and attractions it could that weren't trucked away. The Pike museum is located in Looff's Lite-A-Line at 2500 Long Beach Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90806.
The first major attraction to the seashore at Long Beach was recreational bathing, long before trains and cars, when the only roads were dusty rutted paths littered with horse manure. Residents of Southern California escaped the summer heat by crowding the shore and beaches to enjoy the cool ocean breeze and the Pacific Ocean chilled by the Aleutian current. With the surge of health-conscious new residents and the ease of access to a beach near the services of local merchants, Willmore City became a destination. In 1888, Long Beach Land and Water Company bought William E. Willmore's failed platt of Bixby's Rancho Los Cerritos and changed the name to Long Beach in 1892. The amusement zone began in 1902, as a beach and grand bath house resort at the Long Beach terminus of the Red Car interurban commuter electric railroad system Pacific Electric Railway southern expansion from Los Angeles. A grand bath house was constructed at the shore, scheduled to open Independence Day, 1902. The grand opening of the bath house, known later as The Plunge, coincided with the inaugural run of the first "Red Car" from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach on the morning of July 4, 1902 - which established service connecting communities along the line to offices and shopping in Downtown Los Angeles as well as bringing bathers and families south to Pacific Ocean shoreline recreation.
Stretching Pine Avenue south from Ocean Avenue into the Pacific Ocean, the Long Beach Municipal Pier had an upper and lower deck to a service building on the end. Sheltered at the mouth of the Los Angeles River, the public pier served a range of purposes, primarily for trade and commerce, servicing freight and passenger shipping, but also served anglers fishing as well as pedestrian strolling. A simple wooden boardwalk was laid directly at the top of the sand west along the shoreline connecting the pier to the new bathhouse.
"Pike" was the name of the wooden boardwalk connecting the Pine St. incline of the Long Beach Pier west along the shoreline to The Plunge bath house. It gradually grew in length, was widened again and again and was later poured in concrete and illuminated with strings of electric bulbs as "The Walk of a Thousand Lights", the midway anchoring the widely dispersed attractions and "The Pike" changed context from the original wooden boardwalk to the entire amusement zone. As it grew from a simple beach access made of planks to a midway of concessions, it included The Plunge bathhouse (pictured), Sea Side Studio souvenir photography, the Looff carousel, McGruder salt water taffy, pitch and skill games, pony rides, goat carts, fortune teller, weight guesser and a variety of dark and thrill rides, amusements and attractions large and small.
For a short time, the Long Beach Pier and Rainbow Pier both existed, sharing combined shore access at the Pine street incline. Rainbow Pier was actually a horseshoe (rainbow)-shaped breakwater with a roadway constructed along its crest, connecting Pine St. and the Long Beach Pier eastward to Linden. In the early 1920s, the original Long Beach Municipal Auditorium was constructed on 20 acres (81,000 m2) of tidal zone landfill located south of today's intersection of Ocean and Long Beach Boulevards. After the construction of the auditorium, there were problems created by storms and coastal erosion in the area. In order to protect the auditorium from these problems, the horseshoe (rainbow) shaped breakwater and road was constructed around it. Because of its shape, it was named "Rainbow Pier".
In the late 1940s, the City of Long Beach began filling in the water area enclosed by the Rainbow Pier breakwater, creating Rainbow Lagoon and Wilmore Park [sic. Should have been Willmore, for William E. Willmore, the original developer of the origin of Long Beach - Willmore City] - additional public trust lands upon which a larger, more modern auditorium was constructed. Filling of the shoreline area continued in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the Tidelands Filling Project.
In 1954 there were 218 amusements in the park, but during that time the zone began to face stiff competition from Knott's Berry Farm and then Disneyland (both less than 20 miles (32 km) away) and the rough "free-for-all" reputation of The Pike may have discouraged some families from attending. In the 1950s, the area underwent another face-lift. Advertising with coupons appealing to families appeared in local newspapers. A Kiddieland collection of carnival flat rides, a 'Bud' Hurlbut miniature train and petting zoo were installed on the silted-in new sand and public restrooms were built of concrete and cinder-block near a new picnic area, giving it a post-World War II modern look, and the park was renamed "Nu-Pike" as result of a write-in naming contest.
In 1969, the name changed again to "Queen's Park", to coincide with the public opening of the historical ocean liner RMS Queen Mary, which the city had purchased as a combination tourist attraction and hotel. The park retained this name until closing and demolition (1979-1980). Most locals continued calling it "The Pike".
A grand bath house was constructed at the shore scheduled to open Independence Day, 1902 the first day the Pacific Electric Railroad established service connecting communities along the line to offices and shopping in Downtown Los Angeles and bringing bathers and families south to shoreline recreation. The indoor freshwater pool and change rooms behind a colonnade and sundeck charged admission to its clear 'vacuumed' pool and waterslide. An interior balcony surrounding the pool and an outdoor one facing the beach offered people watching on reclining lounges. The name was later changed to "The Plunge". When it closed, it was converted to the Strand Theater.
Until 1902, primary access to bathing was over unpaved roads by horse and buggy. A large livery and stables had been built to care for the animals of the bathers. Opening the Pacific Electric Big Red Car line to Long Beach diminished the importance of the livery, which closed as the automotive culture of Southern California developed. It was converted into skating rink in 1906 then a dance hall by 1911, "The Majestic" featuring big bands, and in the 1950s it changed hands and was renamed "The Lido Ballroom".
Long Beach downtown featured several theaters, many of which were along the "Walk of 1000 Lights". Starting East of Pine Street with access at Ocean Bl. and The Pike was Lowes, known for first-run major releases. Several small shop-front theaters, exhibiting side-shows and independent films, came and went along the Walk of a Thousand Lights, but one big (and very tall) one, the Virginia, was later converted into the dark ride "Whispering River". The Strand Theater offered a double feature, after being converted to a picture house when The Plunge closed.
The Long Beach Municipal Band played most Sundays and holidays. The band was led by Herbert L. Clarke, who had been a member of John Philip Sousa's Band.
Beginning at the entrance to the "Walk of a Thousand Lights" through the arcade (architecture) archway entrance of the last surviving building associated with The Pike, and unique, Ocean Center Building containing Hollywood on the Pike cabaret and an amusement arcade. One could stroll west along the midway past storefront games, such as ball-pitch and shooting galleries, as well as outdoor amusement machines such as fortune predicting weight-scales, and several large indoor collections of coin-operated Electro-mechanical amusements - pinball, skill-prize merchandisers, penny-pitch, nickelodeon viewers, love and strength testers, fortune tellers, the House of Mirrors and more. Among the most popular coin-operated amusement machines and devices were the redemption games which dispensed tickets, such as skee-ball.
Proximity to the Naval Shipyards and its many sailors on extended leave during retrofitting supported an ink economy. The dense collection of tattoo shops made next-door and cross-street neighbors of many minor and world-renowned artists. The most famous being Bert Grimm's original Tattoo shop and tattoo artist Rick Walters. The shop is the oldest in the US. Kari Barba purchased the shop in 2003, and it still operates to this day under the name "Outer Limits Tattoo". It is the last remaining business from the original Pike. Lite A Line was one of the last businesses to close on the Pike Midway.
From low-brow seedy dives like Rudy's (cocktails) and open front liquor stores to upscale cabarets featuring suggestive girly-shows like Hollywood on the Pike, many an opportunity existed for visiting sailors and locals to get drunk - which they did, often in excess. A side effect of mass inebriation and intoxication was that every pocket and corner of the entertainment zone had on it at one time any number of bodily fluids.
A variety of eating establishments ranged from snack stands with corn-dogs, cotton candy, popcorn and hot nuts, or one could sit at soda-pop fountains and counter service restaurants like Lee's Barbecue with menus of chicken, ribs and fish meals, to a secluded booth with table service on linen.
Charles I. D. Looff is considered[by whom?] to be the first of the great American carousel master carvers, having installed the first successful carousel at Coney Island, and developing amusements, carousels and roller coasters around the U.S.; examples of his carousels at Santa Monica Pier Looff Hippodrome (1922) and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with brass ring feature (1911) still stand. In 1911, Charles I. D. Looff installed a carousel at the Pike in Long Beach, and he took up residence with his son, Arthur Looff and the rest of his family in the second story above the shops in the carousel hippodrome building that would later become home to Light-a-Line. The horses of the original Long Beach Looff Carousel carved in 1911 were destroyed by fire in 1943, a new outdoor carousel was constructed nearby, and then the building was used as a gaming hall for "Lite-A-Line" bingo/pinball game and for many years was the last remaining building to survive the Pike demolition that began in 1979. The roof structure and cupola had been saved in the parking lot west of Pine Ave and the Ocean Center Building on Seaside Way was awaiting preservation by Mike Cincola, who married into the Looff family and has preserved much of the history of the Pike, some of which can be seen on display at his relocated "Lite-a-Line". The cupola was removed with its crest of popcorn lighted orb and saved intact by Cincola in 2010, but the roof was dismantled, it remains the last surviving original structure of The Pike.
According to its misnamed "Queens Pike" entry in the Roller Coaster DataBase, The Pike had the following roller coasters:
Bisby's Spiral Airship, built in 1902, had cars that were suspended beneath a steel monorail track and could swing freely. The cars traveled up an inclined lift track to the top of an expanding, spiral cone-shaped, steel tower. As they began their spiral descent, centrifugal force caused them to swing outward before returning to the station. This is commonly acknowledged as the first suspended roller coaster type ride. This tall steel tower figures prominently in early postcards of Long Beach Pier  (Pine Ave., later to join the west side of Rainbow Pier.)
Often confused - Many photos and postcards seen on the web are mis-captioned Bisby's Spiral Airship. If the structure has one long thin approach of steel to the top of a cylinder and camel-back return, that's Bisby's Spiral Airship. If the structure pictured is a thick wooden cone spiral slide, the entrance next-door east of Lee's Barbeque with a switchback stairway to a shack on top, the caption should read "Niagara Barrel".
The Pike's first more traditional wooden roller coaster opened for business in June 1907. It was built by Fred Ingersoll and named the Figure 8 after the shape of the tracks. It was built on pilings that reached out over the water.
According to a 1966 editorial in the High Tide, the newspaper of Redondo Union High School, a rider met tragedy when he disobeyed a sign instructing riders not to stand up: "He apparently thought this would spoil his fun, so he proceeded to stand up. Unfortunately, his head was knocked off."
Figure 8 was closed in 1914 and demolished to clear the way for new development.
In 1914, the Pike Amusement Zone undertook several upgrades and a new roller coaster named the Jack Rabbit Racer was opened in May 1915, becoming the second largest racing coaster in the country. It was again designed by Fred Ingersoll, this time with the help of John Miller. It was part of the Silver Spray Pier which included several new rides and concessions. One could look down through the tracks and see the water. In the mid twenties, several expansions were made to the area and the Jack Rabbit Racer was remodeled, raising the ride's dips to a greater height and steepness. An elevated band shell was built into the coaster with track running right over it. Jack Rabbit Racer was removed in 1930.
One of the best-known historic coasters, the Cyclone Racer was built in 1930 to replace the Jack Rabbit Racer. The Cyclone Racer was a dual-track (two trains could launch side-by-side at the same time), racing wooden roller coaster, the brain child of Fred Church and built by Harry Traver.
To increase thrill, the new coaster was built on pilings over the ocean, several hundred feet beyond the shore. Eventually the entire pier stood over sandy beach, not water, because of the sand deposition due the slowing of water caused by the new harbor expansion and breakwater. Over 30 million riders rode on the Cyclone before it closed in 1968.
It was removed to clear space for a Shoreline Drive cloverleaf to the Magnolia Bridge in anticipation of the RMS Queen Mary's imminent arrival (a connecting road which was later demolished when found unneeded, proving the Cyclone Racer was removed unnecessarily.) The Cyclone Racer was the last remaining seaside dual-track roller coaster of its kind in the United States until it was disassembled and cataloged in September 1968 with the promise to Long Beach citizens that it would be rebuilt elsewhere.
Enthusiasts seeking to re-create this roller coaster have made a three-dimensional model and are looking to perhaps have it rebuilt in Southern California. The last remaining Cyclone Racer roller coaster car is located in the Pike Museum at 2500 Long Beach Blvd, Long Beach CA 90806.
In the 1970s, the city of Long Beach began redevelopment of the area, expanding into the Pacific Ocean, eliminating the recreational bathing beach by pouring landfill over it. The city had purchased the RMS Queen Mary in 1967 and permanently docked the ship in Long Beach across the mouth of the Los Angeles River from the shoreline area of the Nu-Pike where a new road circled the parking lot and Londontowne shopping-dining complex serviced by a London Double Deck omnibus to Downtown Long Beach. The Nu-Pike was renamed "Queens Park" when the Queen Mary opened to the public in 1971 as a self-guided maritime museum tour on the upper decks and former engine room, hotel utilizing the former luxury staterooms of the mid-decks and Jacques Cousteau's The Living Sea. Focus and attention was further diverted from Queens Park with Shoreline Village and Rainbow Harbor marina, serviced by Shoreline Drive, built to connect to the Long Beach Freeway on even more ocean landfill south of the Pike, as locals continued to call it. Planning for Shoreline Drive and a cloverleaf connection to the new Magnolia Bridge was the excuse to demolish the Cyclone Racer in 1968. Since 1975, the area has been a major portion of the Grand Prix of Long Beach route.
In 1979 the Pike amusement zone was officially closed and demolished. By the time the lease with the city ended, The Pike had fallen into disrepair and most of the businesses had already left. The City of Long Beach then removed the remaining structures. Various plans for development of the area took form over the next twenty years. In 1999, the California Coastal Commission approved a plan for the construction of The Pike at Rainbow Harbor commercial and entertainment complex in the downtown shoreline area. The name is only a nod in reference to the original amusement zone, bathing beach and boardwalk -- the outdoor shopping mall bears no resemblance whatsoever to its historic predecessor.
With numerous debates over the area, and its use as a portion of the track for the Long Beach Grand Prix, the main development of the area did not occur until the construction and opening of The Pike at Rainbow Harbor (Renamed as The Pike Outlets in 2014) in 2003.
The Pike at Rainbow Harbor is located between the Long Beach Convention Center and the Aquarium of the Pacific. The tourist-oriented development had a large number of restaurants and a 14-theater megaplex Cinemark movie theater. The GameWorks keystone attraction closed and re-opened as Kitchen-Den-Bar, which, too, also closed. There is also a four-level, fee parking-structure, metered street parking, a pedestrian overpass supporting teaser artwork resembling a steel rollercoaster, an outdoor amphitheater, an antique Spillman carousel (1920) and a solar-powered Ferris wheel.
Although the area has been developed into a retail-entertainment center that pays homage to its past as an amusement zone in name only, it has yet to become as successful as hoped. There was controversy over the lack of a nearby recreational bathing beach and solutions have been sought for bringing back the excitement of the area's heyday.
The Pike Outlets is the shopping center today. It includes several outlet stores including Nike Factory Store, Forever 21, H&M, and Gap Outlet. There have been hopes that the redevelopment of The Pike would attract more shoppers. The Cinemark movie theater and most of the restaurants remained open during the redevelopment.