What was happening 100 years ago? (Part 2)

Long Beach City Hall, as seen in 1912

The following is Part 2 in a series of columns documenting Long Beach’s history one century ago.
Today’s column is focusing on a purported tidal-wave crisis and the development of City Hall.

Tidal wave
On May 21, 1919, children stayed home from school as their families moved away from the shore, seeking refuge on Signal Hill. All this was due to a prediction that a tidal wave was going to hit Long Beach. It made no difference that the prediction came from an unknown astrologer. The mere fact that someone had predicted the tidal wave was enough for many to flee the area in an effort to escape the great wall of water that they feared would engulf the city. That day, a heavy ground swell and rain storm made the sea appear threatening, adding to the terror.
[related title=”Related Stories” stories=”40396″ align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”] The Long Beach Press had received a long letter from a woman signing herself “M.M.” “M.M.” claimed she had predicted the sinking of both the Titanic and Lusitania, and now she claimed a gigantic tidal wave would hit Long Beach on May 21 between 4pm and midnight. The article about the prediction was supposed to be humorous, not to be taken seriously. But even local merchants got into the “swim” (so to speak). Walp, Reynolds & Dodd (a men’s clothing store at 110 W. 3rd St.) ran a quarter-page ad that read:
“The Tidal Wave. Prepare for It.
Get a bathing suit tonight and ride the crest of the big wave. Then after the wave goes by you’ll have it for the summer’s enjoyment – nothing like having a bathing suit of your own – use it when you want – it’ll appeal to you as being more sanitary.”
(LB Press May 22, 1919)
On May 22, 1919, Long Beach was still afloat, and the Long Beach Press apologized for printing the story that was geared to make people laugh, not create panic.
City Hall
By 1898, the city council decided a real city hall and fire department was needed. With proceeds from a city-hall bond issue, a site on Pacific and Broadway was purchased from the Long Beach Development Company. The price was $3,000, but the company made the city a gift of $1,000, reducing the cost to $2,000. The building, constructed on a 48-by-60 foot lot, was brick, two stories in height, with an ornamental dome. In the rear was a fire station and the city jail. The lower floor housed the council chamber and public library. The upper floor was one large room, used as a public hall. It was dedicated Sept. 29, 1899.
By 1919, quarters had grown so small and the population had increased so drastically (from 2,254 to 65,520) that a new city hall was sorely needed. Additional land was also required. The Southern Pacific Railroad was willing to sell its passenger-station site just north of Lincoln Park to the city for $108,500. When this offer was made, the city commissioners secured options on the remainder of the block from eight private owners for $137,250. This would fill the need for more city offices.
The “new” City Hall would not have been built if all the ballots had been approved.
On July 1, 1919, an election was held. At first count, the new City Hall project did not receive a two-third majority. A recount was held on Aug. 28, 1919, and the vote carried by eight votes. Judge Hewitt, the Daily Telegram stated, was amazed at the manner in which some of the ballots were mutilated. He threw out 13 ballots, which were completely blank, and 76 ballots, which had been marked incorrectly. Some of the rejected ballots were marked with pencil or pen, instead of the official rubber stamp; some were stamped over the printed words, instead of in the blank spaces below the words; while still others showed the rubber stamp had been used like a pencil and dragged across the ballot in such a manner as to form a cross. If these had been counted, there would have been no new City Hall.
The other project, which included the $137,250 needed to purchase land and erect community buildings, lost by 271 votes. A new City Hall could now be built as soon as $400,000 worth of municipal bonds could be sold.
Pacific Fleet visits
On Aug. 9, 1919, thousands of people gathered on the beach, pier and tops of buildings to greet the Pacific Fleet as it came into view. When the ships first appeared off the coast, they fired their salute, and 300,000 people from San Pedro to Seal Beach returned a mighty cheer. Shrieking whistles soon drowned out the human cries when all the factories and industrial plants in San Pedro, Long Beach and Wilmington let their sirens roar. Before the whistles died down, Fort MacArthur’s guns thundered their greeting. While the fleet was maneuvering into anchoring position, airplanes darted overhead dropping flowers.
Thirty six vessels, manned by 600 officers and 12,000 sailors, comprised the main squadron. The second squadron consisted of 24 vessels. The fleet, which was to have stayed four days, extended its stay until the 24th to partake in all the activities Long Beach had planned.
There was much Long Beach was doing to make the fleet feel welcome– a banquet and grand ball was held at the Hotel Virginia for the officers, and a street dance (between Cedar and Ocean) for the enlisted men. People with cars lined up to take the men on sightseeing trips. There were programs on the beach, fireworks, band concerts, games and much more. Long Beach was doing everything she could to promote her harbor and her community as one the U.S. Navy might want to call home.
Flood control and the union of two harbors
The Long Beach harbor had been fighting a losing battle against rain runoff, and the silt brought with it, ever since dredging began in 1906. Every year, the rains brought sediment, which filed in the harbor, and more money had to be found to get rid of the mud and deepen the channels. Attempts were made for years to get Washington to pay for keeping the port navigable and to prevent flooding. Washington, however, was not about to divert money to both Los Angeles and Long Beach, nor was it going to choose one port over another. But by 1919, the citizens of both Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor districts had put their differences aside to form a joint flood-control project.
Following instructions from government authorities in Washington, the flood-control channel contract was signed on Oct. 25, 1919, by the federal-district engineer in Los Angeles and the United Dredging Company. On Oct. 27, 1919, the first earth was removed from the flood-control channel right of way through Long Beach. The proposed channel would be six-miles long and 720-feet wide. Five hundred Long Beach citizens, including C. J. Curtis and John F. Craig, whose establishment of shipyards in the harbor began the city’s industrial life, were present. $10,000 would be spent by the county to search titles, and $4,000 to print the flood-control condemnation notices. Rail lines and homes had to be moved. In all, $800,000 was needed to secure the flood-control right-of-way.
Burnett is a former Long Beach librarian who, during her 25 years of researching local history, has uncovered many forgotten stories about Southern California that she has published in nine books. She has degrees from UC Irvine, UCLA and Cal State Long Beach. For more information, visit claudineburnettbooks.com.


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