A home away from home.
This is how Peter Allen described the Long Beach Petroleum Club (LBPC) as it ends its 62-year history.
“Every weekend, and some nights during the week, we always had entertainment,” Allen, the club’s president, told the Signal Tribune in an interview on March 12. “We didn’t have to go up there to downtown Long Beach. We had it right here at 3636 Linden Avenue.”
During its history, the LBPC acted as a meeting place, where the oilmen of Long Beach could drop in during their lunch for a drink and a few games of gin rummy in the Red Room. Members lived it up at the club with glitzy parties, and neighborhood children enjoyed its Olympic-sized pool.
It was a place where business was done with a handshake and where guests could dine on fine food in the Red Room, where members brought children and grandchildren to visit Mr. and Mrs. Claus during the Christmas season or gather to countdown the new year.
“[People] wanted to be members of the club because we had great parties and super food,” said Ron Dulin, a former club president and second-generation member, told the Signal Tribune on March 8.
However, as times have changed, so has the club. Declining membership and a lack of new recruits has made it impossible for the current board to continue the club’s operations. On Feb. 19, the club announced it had sold the property at 3636 Linden Ave. and will cease operations on March 31.
Despite the impending closure, the remaining members would rather remember the good times and the tight-knit friendships that the club forged.
Founding the club
In 1954, two men lounged in the steam room of the Pacific Coast Club, where they began to go over a familiar topic. The two men, Lee Foust and C.L. “Slim” Fowler, had discussed the idea of opening a club for the oilmen of Long Beach before, but so far, the idea had been nothing more than talk.
However, this time the conversation took a more serious turn, and the pair decided to set the wheels into motion. The first part of the plan was to determine who would be willing to join the club. This meant finding members who would be willing to help invest in the club’s start-up costs.
“They put together a list of 150 independent oil people […] that they felt would be guys who would be interested in putting the dough on the table to put together a petroleum club,” Dulin said.
The pair’s plan received a warm reception from many of the potential members willing to help finance a petroleum club, and in the fall of 1954, the fledgling club met for the first time in Brower’s Restaurant. Here, the members drafted up the original constitution and by-laws for the group.
At this meeting, the club also selected the first board of directors. Fowler was selected as third vice president, and Lee Foust was elected fourth vice president. The position of president was given to Jerry L. Evans.
After the formation of the board, the next step was to look for a residence where the club could operate. The club eventually chose to settle at Ricart’s Restaurant at 4635 Atlantic Ave., where they leased the clubrooms adjacent to the restaurant.
Construction began in March 1955 and was finished by September. On Sept. 20, the club held a banquet for members and the press. A Sept. 22 article from the Long Beach Independent described the guest list for the new “ultra-modern” club as a “‘who’s who’ of the oil industry in this area.”
As the organization began to grow, the members realized that they needed to find employees who could help with the restaurant.
The first of the original club employees was Vernon Castle, who was enticed to leave his position at the Lakewood Country Club to become manager for the brand-new petroleum club. He would later hire a secretary, Dorothy Thompson, as the second employee.
The last of the original employees was the bartender, Willie Williams, a former Ricart’s employee. Williams would go on to become one of the club’s most respected and loved employees.
“I don’t care how many back-bar people you get– he was a rare find this guy,” Dulin said. “[Willie would] meet you once, and he’d remember your name forever. Perfect for a private club. Just a great guy.”
During this time, the club was also beginning to establish itself in the community. During this period, it began many of the traditions that would carry on through its history, including its first reception for the Miss Universe Pageant participants in the summer of 1956 and the club’s first golf tournament in the fall.
Finding a new home
In 1956, while the club was occupying space at Ricart’s, a series of disagreements between the members of the club and the lease owner, Arthur V. Morgan, began to rise. After exiting its lease agreement with Morgan, the club arranged a new committee to find a location for construction.
Eventually, the new committee of Fowler and two others, Wilbur Harrison and Chet Yunker, settled on two locations. The two possible sites were owned by a contractor, Al Reingardt, who had the properties on Atlantic and Linden avenues.
The members originally considered the property on Atlantic, but Linden offered more land and easier access to guests. Reingardt also offered the chance for the club to buy the Linden property and adjacent lot for parking, which sealed the deal.
Once the location was decided, the club moved forward with obtaining a final building permit for the club’s plans and a liquor license. However, both permits came with challenges.
The new property was surrounded by three churches in the immediate area. Two of these churches would later protest the new group’s application for a liquor license, until one of the three churches, the Church of Religious Science, threw its support behind the club.
Facing a challenge from both a fellow church and the club, the two other churches eventually withdrew their objections to the liquor license. The club then gained final approval for the remaining building permit.
Construction of the new grounds finally began in September of 1956, but plans began to change. It wasn’t long after this that the board decided to put together a Swimming Pool Committee to acquire financing. Headed by one M.H. “Curley” Stansbury, the committee was given the task of finding additional funding– since the initial plans did not include a pool.
As the club continued to grow, more land was bought to accommodate the growing project. The club’s initial 12,000 square-feet of land grew to 23,165 square-feet.
More land was also purchased that included a large basement, expanded lobby and raised terraces. The club also purchased the center piece of property on Linden Avenue for parking to conform with the building committee– along with a lot to the north of the club for potential expansion.
With additional property purchased, the club was ready to be occupied in May 1958, with the club’s grand opening on May 17. It is there, at 3636 Linden Ave., that the club has resided ever since.
Growing up in the club
As the club became a fixture in Long Beach, it gained a reputation for its high-end food and social gatherings. In the early years, oil companies would treat clients to lunches and cocktails in the Red Room. Some businesses, such as Douglas Aircraft, would rent out the ballroom to throw retirement parties.
However, for many of the club’s members, the establishment was more than the western parties or Hawaiian luaus. It was a place where they could meet up with friends or even watch their children grow up.
Board member Cheryl Moland joined the club in the ‘70s, before the birth of her youngest son. She would bring her three boys for meals in a time before many members were used to seeing children at the club. Yet, her son’s proper manners won over the other members, and they went on to each become lifeguards at the club’s pool.
“They were good lifeguards, too– because they knew their mother was watching,” Moland told the Signal Tribune on March 25.
She still remembers the time she arrived at the Red Room, only to find that her sons’ favorite meal, Chicken Cordon Bleu, had been taken off the menu. Faced with three crestfallen young men, one of the staff, Leroy Frederick, came to the rescue.
“Leroy said, ‘Don’t you worry. As long as we have chicken and the ingredients, we will make you Chicken Cordon Bleu.’ And he did,” Moland said.
The end of an era
Even though the members of the Long Beach Petroleum Club would rather focus on the good times, there is an acknowledgment that the club’s closure marks an end of an era. Moland, who grew up in Long Beach, sees it as another way the city has changed over the years.
Growing up, Moland remembers the oil companies that populated Long Beach and Signal Hill. Accompanied by her father, she would go down to the Pike, where she would see sailors in their uniforms.
Now this history only exists in her memories.
“I said [to my children], ‘At one point, Signal Hill was covered with oil wells.’ [And] they look at me as if I didn’t know what I was talking about,” Moland said.
As the club approaches its last day on March 31, this history and the founders of the club are what Allen wants the community to remember.
“I want people to know that this club was founded by some wonderful people,” he said. “[…] They wanted a place to meet. They wanted a place to socialize. They wanted a place to do business; a place to just [get] away from home.
“This is our home away from home.”
A home away from home.