THE MAN BEHIND THE SPAN: One way to gauge your impact as a citizen of this world is the length of time between your death and when you become the answer of a trivia question.
Question: Who was Gerald Desmond, of the bridge fame?
Answer: Desmond was a Long Beach City Council member and city attorney. He was not a trivial man, but a lifetime of service to the public and the community doesn't guarantee immortality. You're darned lucky if you get a bridge, and only a little less lucky if that bridge stands for fewer years than your own short lifetime.
Tuesday, after the iconic Gerald Desmond Bridge has stood more than 44 years, Port of Long Beach officials are breaking ground on a new, even larger span to replace it.
Desmond was a Long Beach councilman in the 2nd District, serving two terms from 1954 to 1960, and he followed that as city attorney from 1960 to early 1964, winning his first attorney term by almost a 2-1 margin and the second unopposed.
He died in January 1964 after a long and stoic battle with liver cancer. He was 48 and left a wife, Virginia, and five children, born in five-year intervals.
Desmond died beloved, and grieving city officials wanted to honor him in some way and, well, there was this bridge being built to connect Long Beach with Terminal Island - to replace the pontoon bridge that had served that purpose for 25 years. What better way to honor the man?
It was not an inappropriate gesture.
Desmond was more than just an office holder. He was a career Long Beacher. Born in town in 1915, he attended Poly High and Long Beach City College, where he met his future wife (who had attended Wilson High).
Virginia was born in Panama, where her father worked on the canal. She told an interviewer in 1982 that she and her siblings were sickly and the family moved to Long Beach for its healthy climate when she was 6.
She accompanied her husband to Cambridge, where he studied at Harvard Law School. After passing the bar, he was offered a job with the U.S. Attorney's Office, which he turned down so he could enlist in the Navy during World War II, where he served as a fraud investigator in the States.
After the war, the Desmonds returned to Long Beach, where Desmond opened a private law practice, while being perpetually involved in all manner of civic endeavors.
He worked, as president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce to get Veterans Stadium built. As president of the Long Beach Recreation Commission, he was active in supporting the establishment of El Dorado Park on the wild and sprawling Eastside. He was commander of the Alamitos Bay post of the American Legion, the Exalted Ruler of Long Beach Elks Lodge 888 and president of the LBCC Alumni Association.
He worked not just to acquire tidelands money but also to solve the associated subsidence problem that was causing the harbor lands to sink into the sea and Signal Hill to deflate like a balloon.
You look at it that way and you feel that maybe a lousy bridge wasn't good enough.
At Desmond's funeral at St. Matthew's Church, he was eulogized by virtually every Long Beach officeholder, including Mayor Edwin Wade and City Manager John Mansell, who said, "The personal loss I feel upon the death of Gerald Desmond is beyond description... He was one of the most dedicated, courageous and able persons to serve this city."
The bridge that bears his name was declared officially completed in a dedication ceremony attended by more than 200 invited guests on June 6, 1968. Virginia stood on the bridge between two fluttering flags and watched proudly as her son, 16-year-old Gerald Desmond Jr., tightened the last bolt into place.
You might've missed the story on the bridge opening, it was way deeper in the paper that carried the front-page headline about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.