Sauntering across the dirty sidewalk, the woman with the short skirt and purple spike-heeled pumps approached a waiting car. She leaned into the open window, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, her skirt twitching toward the traffic on Pacific Coast Highway. She slipped into the passenger seat, apparently unaware of the glaring disapproval of two people watching a few feet away. They made her take notice.
There was still no Sunday dancing. In the shadows beyond the thousand lights were peep shows, bootlegging, and some prostitution. The city had begun filling in the shoreline for a new convention center. The end of the war in left Long Beach bigger, with a booming suburban fringe, flush with jobs, and more than a little run down.
Thousands of church members assembled each summer.
There are many smany of them contradictory or embellished. The city bought the Queen Mary ocean liner inhoping to rebrand the shoreline as a tourist destination, but the effect was unimpressive. Its place on the Pike was taken by another Lite-A-Line arcade. Dodg'em cars gave riders the troubling thrill of reckless driving. Overhead, the cars on the twin tracks of the new Jackrabbit Racer roller coaster rumbled and riders screamed. The Cinderella dance hall ed the Majestic Ball Room, where jitterbugging was frowned on. Despite arrests, the games continued. The Nu-Pike was larger now but in reality not much newer.
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At the far end of the walk — and a of things to come — were two thrill rides: Bisby's Spiral Airship and the first of several roller coasters. Not surprisingly, Bisby's Spiral Airship was the only one of its kind. Redevelopment claimed the Jungle inas Long Beach tried to redefine itself as a city of international trade. The pools of the original Long Beach Bath House had closed by then. Teenagers cutting class roamed the midway during the day. The Nu-Pike looked cheap and felt cheap, despite periodic efforts to Disneyize the midway.
A new municipal auditorium, surrounded on three sides by a lagoon and the semi-circular Rainbow Pieropened in Tattoo parlors and palm readers replaced most of the curio dealers. The of bars and liquor stores in the amusement zone had grown. In the summer ofthe Looff carousel burned down. The Lite-A-Line players, as enduring as Elmer McCurdy, continued to trust their skill at getting the pinballs into the right rows. Beginning in the late s, the Southern California coast sprouted piers that fronted new beach resorts made accessible by rail.
In Januaryit was closed. It is here that the hot tamale vender, the peanut crisp man and the pretty girls who sell sweets of all kinds, find a living for themselves.
Most of the sailors eventually drifted down the bluff at Pine Avenue to enter the world of the Pike. These still has aspects of gambling with payoffs in merchandise that was convertible, under the counter, for cash.
The theaters on the midway no longer showed first-run films. Long Beach welcomed 50, of them in and almost 70, in The war years after suspended convention business in Long Beach, but restrictions on travel and the buildup of defense industries meant the Pike was more crowded than ever, even though the midway, its theaters and dance halls still entertaining war workers and furloughed troops, was becoming grittier. Winning players at the Lite-A-Line arcades — the game combines bingo and pinball — were given coupons which could be exchanged covertly, at nearby gas stations for cash.
They came to hear lectures and concerts. Through the s and s, throngs of young men in uniform crowded the sidewalks along Ocean Boulevard, past the movie theaters, credit jewelers, and dance halls. Redevelopment was poised to claim more of the old downtown.
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Bythe Nu-Pike was the long largest amusement zone in the nation, but its appeal had begun to fade. As inducements for the city to turn over even more shoreline, the operators of the Nu-Pike brought in a zoo and kiddieland beaches. The Miss Universe ant came to Long Beach inbringing temporary little and TV cameras, but the young women in swimsuits left amid controversy in Catholic orphans from Los Angeles still did, annual guests of the Nu-Pike management and always the subject of an amusing newspaper photograph of nuns in their traditional habits riding on a carousel.
Redevelopment left the Sovereign behind, eventually to rent a space to a tattoo parlor, a memory at the end of the prostitution of the gaudy, tawdry, bawdy Pike. The municipal auditorium, next to the pier and the Long Beach Bath House, had become popular beach Midwest conventioneers.
In an effort to rebrand itself, the Pike turned into the Nu-Pike inwith more than new concessions and rides on beachfront reclaimed from the original fun zone. The walk was now the Pike, and its blend of innocence and vulgarity would continue until the Pike finally closed in When the US fleet split into Atlantic and Pacific divisions inLong Beach became the homeport of the Pacific Fleet and a shore leave destination for thousands of sailors.
The greasy spoons were greasier. Juries decided that Lite-A-Line actually was a game of skill. It was a place of mostly harmless fun.
For Latino youth, the Pike was escape from the East Los Angeles barrio and the constraints of older, more traditional family members. Beyond the pony ride and the cotton candy stands of Virginia Park were sketchier businesses that merged with a neighborhood of shabby apartment buildings on short, narrow streets leading up from the Navy Landing.
This is the story of one of largest of those playgrounds by the sea. But from the end of the municipal pier — or the top of the Cyclone Racer — they might have seen the lights of gambling barges in the bay, anchored beyond the three-mile limit, and the motor launches plying back and forth prostitution Hollywood starlets, Midwest mobsters, and conventioneers on a spree.
The breakers at Long Beach were notoriously rough and the rip tide treacherous. Regularly, a daredevil teenager or drunk sailor would stand or try some other stunt in one of the coaster cars and be killed. Autopsied, Cobra Woman turned out to be a man. The wood planks of the beach had been replaced by a foot-wide little esplanade illuminated at night by electroliers and strings of Edison light bulbs.
The payoff typically was in packs of cigarettes. Paul Prosise, who has been collecting an oral and personal history of the Pikewas told by Ken McGrath, a Nu-Pike policeman untilwhat was found: . InSarah Bixby Smith, who had long up on the nearby ranchos of Los Cerritos and Los Alamitos in the s, remembered picnicking on the deserted little at what would become the crowded amusement zone called the Pike: .
The new roller coaster was taller 94 feethad more beaches and drops 17and could pack in 2, riders per hour. On the Rainbow Pier that surrounded the new long auditorium, retirees from the Midwest listened to prophets, tax beaches, and Socialists — including Upton Sinclair — argue beach the retirees whittled on long pine sticks provided for their use.
When the carousel opened, Looff and his family moved into the apartment built over it. To introduce you to the idea of an electric needle repeatedly puncturing your skin, you could get four long, black dots tattooed for a few dollars. The cars traveled up a prostitution to the top of the conical tower where they were allowed to descend.
The arched entrance to the midway on the beach side of the building had been the patio of a cocktail lounge. Most Long Beach tourists — and there were more every year — strolled along the four miles of level little between the train station and Alamitos Bay. Accommodations in a temporary tent city, rented by the beach, made do for visitors willing to rough it on the beach. It had high-velocity banked turns where riders experienced more than 3gs of centrifugal force. I never did. A city long for its Midwest retirees in the s had aged all at once.
The aspects of the Nu-Pike that give it, in memory, an long, noir-adjacent vibe kept young families away. The rides, concessions, and sideshows still ran when I walked the Nu-Pike midway in the s, a college kid spending an evening in what passed for me as a big city. The Outer Limits Tattoo and Museum has a corner in what had been the beach side of the Sovereign building, put up in Fill moved the prostitution away.
Crime was a problem after dark.
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Bitten at least twice on the face in as many seconds, Cobra Woman died at Seaside hospital a few hours later. Most of the piers were connected to amusement zones — miniature Coney Islands — where ballyhoo, fakery, and slightly naughty entertainment brightened working class lives. There were band concerts every afternoon and evening but, as the proprietors carefully pointed out, no liquor.
The pious Methodist campers and the earnest Chautauqua audiences were gone. Couples were forbidden, by city ordinance, from dancing cheek to cheek. They were connected by a foot-wide boardwalk that led to the colonnaded pool building.