LONG BEACH - In its heyday, it was dubbed the King of Clubs. Toward the end of its life it was used as a backdrop for horror films. In the end, even its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places could not save the elegant Pacific Coast Club from the wrecker's ball.
To date, the old club once at 850 E. Ocean Blvd. is one of two Long Beach landmarks entered into the National Register only to later be removed from the list as far back as 1970, according to a national database. The Pacific Coast Club was the only one to be destroyed.
The other landmark, the Hughes H-4 Hercules, better known as the Spruce Goose, was delisted after it was disassembled and moved from next to the Queen Mary to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Ore.
Nationally, there are more than 88,400 listings on the Register, according to the National Park Service. About 1,500 new applications come in annually and, because most of the vetting is done at the state level, the vast majority of applications are approved.
But one of the persistent misconceptions is that once a site is designated historic, it will remain forever protected and unchanged. Not so. States can request that a site be removed from the National Register of Historic Places at any time, and for any number of reasons. National Park Service records show that states have requested the removal from the Register of at least 1,752 previously designated sites since 1970. That's 2 percent of
In the past decade, there have been about 51 removals from the National Register per year, with occasional spikes. In 1999, for example, 138 sites were delisted.
In the case of the Pacific Coast Club, all that remains are memories and a few fragments of the grand building.
Photos and a scale model are housed at the Long Beach Historical Society. Late history buff Ken Larkey reputedly plucked chandeliers from the building, and Marshall Pumphrey, who inherited Larkey's collection, is negotiating to have the chandeliers installed in the old Press-Telegram building at 604 Pine Ave., when it's restored. The facade of the club building is purportedly moldering in a city lot somewhere.
Julie Bartolotto, the executive director of the Historical Society, saw part of the facade in the Public Service Yard on San Francisco Street in 2010 before that land was swapped by the city for property in the Los Cerritos Wetlands. She is not sure where it is now.
Nancy Latimer, a longtime Long Beach preservationist, recalls dining with family at the Pacific Coast Club.
"I remember dancing with my father for the first time there, because they had music and dancing after dinner," Latimer said.
She also recalled swimming in the Olympic-size pool and sunbathing on the beach.
"Not only was it a gorgeous building, but the experiences were so special," Latimer said.
When Karen Clements was in the city's Junior League, the group met there because "that was the place to be," she said.
Was it ever.
A 2001 Press-Telegram story outlined the highlights of the building, which cost a whopping $1.25 million in 1926. That is more than $96 million in today's dollars.
As a leather-bound volume released for the building's dedication reads, the club stood for "all the highest ideals in club life and sportsmanship.
"It stands for civic prestige and pride," the book continues. "It stands for the furtherance and protection of the American home. It is the personification of the spirit of the American will to win. It gives to Long Beach a medium for the outward expansion of the civic ideals that are the basis of American principles and prowess."
The architectural firm that designed the Insurance Exchange, Cooper Arms and the Farmers & Merchants Bank buildings in Long Beach created the club, which had the appearance of a 14th century-style castle.
The building was dominated by an eight-story tower and included dining rooms that could accommodate 2,500 people, a 3,500-square-foot library with an ocean view, sauna, gym and even a padded wrestling room.
There were barber and beauty shops, a haberdashery and tobacco stand and 60 bedrooms for visitors.
The dedication book described the club as "rising abruptly out of the environing sea, almost like a fairy realm, this property commands an incomparable panorama of the languid Pacific with its gentle tides kissing the silver strand."
Charter members included early city leaders Llewellyn and Jotham W. Bixby, Walter Desmond, Frank Merriam, Glenn E. Thomas, Harry Buffum, C.J. Walker, Charles L. Heartwell and W. Harriman Jones.
The grand opening was staged over five evenings because of intense demand.
Eventually, such opulence could not be sustained. In 1964, the club went broke and through the 1960s and `70s it passed through a number of owners before it was razed to make room for The Pacific condominium tower.
Of course, Long Beach was accustomed to paving the past, with the Jergin's Trust, Municipal Auditorium and the entire Pike complex all being taken down.
The building didn't go down without a fight, as preservation and historical groups offered opposition.
Clements, a member of the original Cultural Heritage Commission, remembered lobbying to find ways to save the building through adaptive reuse.
"It was reusable and it was easy and plausible," she said. "It didn't have to go down. It could still be there. That familiar facade could still be there."
Ironically, the developer who had the building razed, Robert Bellevue, was one of its biggest supporters and worked hardest to save it.
Latimer said he "tried very hard to come up with a plan that would save (the building)."
"I still miss that building," Bellevue said.
Local attorney Doug Otto, a friend of Bellevue, didn't represent the developer at the time, but said "anyone in the know, knows he gave it a good shot."
Bellevue had financing and a plan that would have saved the building and redesigned the tower as a hotel/condo, but it was defeated in the City Council 5-4.
Numerous other attempts from reasonable to ridiculous also failed.
"Some of them only would have lost $5 million to $8 million - if everything went exactly right," Bellevue said.
"A lot of people tried to figure a way we could save (the club), but we just couldn't do it," Latimer said.
Clements had been part of the effort to land the building on the National Register in the first place in the early 1980s.
Contrary to popular belief, being on the register is no guarantee of a building's survival.
Historian Stan Poe said local regulations and protections are more effective than the national designation.
"You can just go into hearings and have the protections removed," Poe said. "It's just a layer of protection."
The demise of the Pacific Coast Club and the Jergin's Trust building did, however, lead to reform.
In 1988, Ruthann Lehrer became the city's first historic preservation officer and helped design regulations to protect historic structures.
Lehrer later said, "Out of the trauma of losing those buildings came this position."
The stronger commitment to preservation helped save buildings that might have had the same fate as Jergins and Pacific Coast Club, Lehrer said.
She listed the Walker Department building, the Masonic Temple, the Kress building, the Insurance Exchange building and the Harriman Jones Clinic as examples.
That doesn't mean all historic and significant buildings were saved, but it became considerably more difficult to demolish them.
But it was the loss of the Pacific Coast Club that really hurt.
"Everyone loved the building," Otto said. "It was like the Queen Mary is now, just something everyone identified with Long Beach."
Adrienne LaFrance of Digital First Media contributed to this report.