Thursday, May 30, 2024

31-story Hard Rock Hotel to break ground in Downtown Long Beach come 2024 (music venue in Jergins Tunnel included)

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Yes, that Hard Rock Hotel. And yes, that parcel of land at the southeast corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue, once home to the Jergins Buidling and still home to its now covered tunnel at 100 E. Ocean Blvd.

Mayor Rex Richardson formally announced, following speculation, that the Hard Rock Hotel will indeed be taking over the parcel, which has sat empty since the 1980s after a failed promise to rebuild on the land was stated following the demoltion of the Jergins Trust building; it was then put up for sale by the city in 2016. It will mark the third Hard Rock Hotel property that does not have a gambling element, joining New York and San Diego—and the first new hotel development in decades.

The plan? Break ground in the summer of 2024 and open 2027. And for those that think the Hard Rock died and went to Vegas with Gen X, well…

What the Hard Rock Hotel will bring when it breaks ground next year

“Long Beach boasts an incredible mix of hotels in our downtown area,” Richardson said at a press conference near the site. “The addition of Hard Rock Hotel raises our gameby bringing an internationally recognized brand to our city. It also helps showcase our city’s rich history—Snoop, Sublime, Jenni Rivera, Vince Staples, all from here—and that’s something we can continue to capitalize on in the future as we work to cultivate more arts and entertainment venues and events in Long Beach.”

For those wondering if these renderings look familiar, they should because they are precisley the same as those proposed in 2018.

Originally part of American Life’s portfolio, a developer based out of Seattle who bought the parcel in 2016 for $7 million, it now belongs to Gregory Steinhauer, former president of American Life. He and partner Henry Liebman formally parted ways shortly after this project received another extension for development by the city’s Planning Commission in 2021. It was decided that year that Liebman will continue to own American Life, while Steinhauer launched his new development company based in Bellevue, Washington; part of that deal was separating assets, of which Steinhauer received the 100 E. Ocean Blvd. parcel via his Steinhauer Properties.

American Life’s original video presentation regarding the hotel proposal at 100 E. Ocean Blvd. in Downtown Long Beach in 2018.

“When we come to cities, we alter them,” Steinhauer said in an interview. “And my love for this project has been there since day one.”

At its apex, which are the penthouses at the top, the building is expected to reach a height of 402 feet, just above the World Trade Center but below Shoreline Gateway, making Shoreline and Hard Rock the only buildings in the city to achieve a height above 400 feet.

The massive project will include 537,075-square-feet of hotel space spanning 429 rooms—171 king rooms, 152 double-queen rooms, 76 suites, and 30 penthouse suites—along with 23,512-square-feet of restaurant space and 26,847-square-feet of conference, ballroom, and pre-function spaces. This will also include a new restaurant dubbed Sessions.

And, perhaps most exciting, Steinhauer’s mention of a newly minted music venue—a much-needed addition to a neighborhood that was once booked with perpetual lineup of live acts. (We won’t forget the sale of The Vault—a venue that once hosted everyone from BB King to the B-52s—to a church.)

And where will that music be?

“We want to put it in the Jergins Tunnel,” Steinhauer said.

Wait—we’re finally going to see the Jergins Tunnel again with the Hard Rock Hotel?

In short, yes—because the city required its inclusion when it sold the property in 2016 and that doesn’t change for the Hard Rock Hotel.

Steinhauer, when he was with American Life, already had ambitious plans for the historic tunnel back in 2018 when said project faced the Cultural Heritage Commission, the oversight body that examines alterations and renovations of historic spaces in the city—and it is likely, to avoid the headache of any revisions, will stick to these plans.

Headed by Portland-based GBD Architects (the firm behind the hotel’s overall initial design) and assisted by the San Francisco-based historic preservation firm Page & Turnbull, the interpretative plan for the space—design-speak for the initial step in special projects such as this—was, first and foremost, to return the tunnel’s access to the public via a street-level entrance on Ocean that descends two levels.

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Jergins Tunnel Entry
Plans presented in 2018 for access into the tunnel show an entry point on the southern side of Ocean Blvd., followed by two levels of entry via escalators. Courtesy of GBD Architects.

This has long been the request of Long Beach locals and visitors alike: “How can we access the tunnel?”—even Long Beach Heritage President Cheryl Perry noted this in her letter of support in re-opening the tunnel.

And the answer to that was always complicated after the tunnel had closed because it was not up to code in terms of fire escapes and ADA requirements—and that’s because, well, it’s an extremely old space.

The tunnel is very old and we have updated standards—how will it look?

The building was initially dubbed the Markwell Building between 1915 and 1919, with three stories facing north on Ocean and six stories facing south of Ocean due to the fact that it was built on the bluff that lines our coast. Around 1925, A.T. Jergins of the Jergins Oil Company purchased the building and, thanks to the work of original architect Harvey Lochridge, constructed three additional stories and a penthouse by 1928.

In between the purchase and the construction of the additional stories, then-Councilmember Alexander Beck was concerned about pedestrian safety. Not only were 4,000 people crossing Ocean and Pine every hour but pedestrians deaths were increasing significantly with the advent (and lack of laws concerning) the automobile.

Hence, Beck’s proposal of the tunnel in 1927, which became quickly filled with merchants, passersby, and an assortment of history—some of which still exists today, even after the building was controversially demolished in 1988.

But what about this renovated tunnel?

“We will have some alterations from our 2018 proposal in terms of how it is accessed,” Steinhauer said, “but the plans themselves will largely remain the same… The tunnel is very, very old—so we’re thinking of using the tunnel as more of a backdrop for the music venue rather than a space people could directly explore thoroughly. Things change consistently but in the end, the hopes are a music venue in the tunnel.”

How could this look? Think a plexiglass face that cordons off access to the tunnel but innovative lighting effects allow the tunnel to be used as, well, a backdrop, as Steinhauer said.

Some other artifacts that could be incorporated into the renovated Jergins Tunnel at the Hard Rock Hotel, including:

  • Four 23-foot-tall columns that appear to originally flank the building’s main entrance doorways on Ocean Boulevard
  • Three 11- to 12-foot-tall decorative pieces from the building’s parapet, with shield, cherub and other designs in polychrome terra cotta
  • One, 3-foot corbel-like terra cotta piece from an unknown location
  • One four-by-two-feet terra cotta/stone piece inscribed with “1930” from an unknown location

Each of these, including multiple historic photographs like this one, could also be featured at various levels.

As of now, the first level, dubbed Landscape & Entrance, could likely include some type of totem or kiosk that would “provide information on the history of Long Beach’s tunnels, the Jergins Trust Building and the historic location of the entry and skylight of the Jergins Tunnel.” Steinhauer said this “museum feature” is certainly to be included.

The Corridor Gallery on the second level is part of the story dedicated to public meeting rooms for the Hard Rock Hotel. Given this, the corridor that leads to the tunnel’s lobby “offers an opportunity to provide wayfinding and pique interest in the tunnel with simple graphics and text,” including the overlay of historic images. The tunnel’s lobby, meanwhile, will be entirely dedicated to the history of the tunnel, including interpretive boards, artifacts on display, the re-creation of wood paneling used from original wood pieces, and video displays.

As for the Jergins Tunnel itself, which Page & Turnbull call “the star of the show,” existing casework from the 1960s will likely still be removed to show off the full volume of the tunnel as said backdrop. However, the larger portions of the proposal could include:

  • Sense of Skylight: The hope is to “partially re-open—if feasible—or raise the infilled ceiling to re-create the sense of the skylight void. Showcase a parapet terra cotta piece with the added height. Ideally, it would be lit with natural lighting, but the raised ceiling is an opportunity for more lighting.”
  • Supergraphic/Projection: At the north-end concrete wall, “an enlarged photograph or mural of the original conditon–with the center fountain and side stairs–could be installed on the concrete wall. Alternatively, it can be used as a screen for projecting slideshows or video.”
  • Glass Gate: Located at the southern end of the tunnel where it meets the lobby, this gateway “allows visitors to see into the tunnel” as well as create the dividing line of the backdrop.
Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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