Thursday, May 30, 2024

Long Beach Lost: The gentleman’s club that opened with a five-day long party and bankruptcy

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Editor’s note: This series first appeared on Longbeachize in 2017 and 2018; some articles have been republished.

Want to read previous Long Beach Lost articles? Click here for the full archive.


When the Pacific Coast Club opened on Oct. 27 of 1926 at 850 E. Ocean Blvd., it was attached to Long Beach’s most powerful white families and men: the Bixbys, W. Harriman Jones, and Walter Desmond.

And for common reason: Southern California was becoming a haven for high-end, opulent gentlemen clubs that catered to the most wealthy of white men, mimicking East Coast and English clubs that offered exclusivity, amenities, and bragging rights.

After all, the Club cost $1.25M to construct—or nearly $100M in today’s dollar value.

Five orchestras welcomed guests on opening night during a medieval dedication ceremony that promised mounted knights, heralds and pikemen will patrol the boulevard and guard the building during the ceremony.

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The Pacific Coast Club. Courtesy of USC archives.

Far pre-dating Disney and his love of mimicry for ancient and imaginary places, the PCC itself mimicked 14th Century French châteaus and castles such as the Montbrun Castle and Château de Bazaneix with hints of Norman architecture.

Designed by Curlett and Beelman, the firm behind the Cooper Arms Building and the Farmers & Merchants Bank in DTLB, and constructed by McGrew and Sons, the building’s key feature was its eight-story tower.

Joining it was an Olympic-size indoor swimming poor, massive dining rooms—holding up to 2,500 guests—a 3,500 sq. ft. library overlooking the ocean, a women’s tea room, tobacco stand, a gym, a sauna, a wrestling room, and a haberdashery (old-school term for a men’s clothing shop).

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The Pacific Coast Club ca. 1940. Photo courtesy of the USC archives.

According to a 1926 article in the Los Angeles Times, opening night festivities were nothing short of decadent.

Five orchestras welcomed guests during a medieval dedication ceremony that promised “mounted knights, heralds and pikemen will patrol the boulevard and guard the building during the ceremony.” Under chandeliers and high oak beam ceilings while beside giant fireplaces and a patent leather bar, revelers continued the party.

For five days straight.

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The opening celebration at Pacific Coast Club. Photo courtesy of the USC archives.

Per the Los Angeles Times, the club’s opening, pictured above, started an odd but eventually revered tradition where ladies attending would try on a golden slipper made by jewelry design A.L. Letart.

Far pre-dating Disney and his love of mimicry for ancient and imaginary places, the PCC itself mimicked 14th Century French châteaus and castles such as the Montbrun Castle and Château de Bazaneix with hints of Norman architecture.

Once the contestants were whittled down to finalists, a contest to see who fit the slipper best would lead to that woman’s name being engraved onto the slipper and a “Cinderella Ball” would be held later in her honor.

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The Pacific Coast Club was often considered the sister to the Villa Riviera as they dominated Long Beach’s coastal skyline. Courtesy of Historical Society of Long Beach.

Jack Smith wrote in a 1978 essay on the building “watched in envy as gleaming young naval officers drove up to its canopy and escorted nubile schoolgirls into its forbidden foyer[.]”

The club’s luxury came at a cost—specifically bankruptcy—prompting the club to merge with the financially stable Los Angeles Athletic Club.

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A postcard highlights two of Long Beach’s most treasured bits of architecture: The Villa Riviera and now-demolished Pacific Coast Club. From Brian Addison’s personal collection.

LAAC leader Frank Garbutt was thrilled with the merger since the Pacific Coast Club provided his own clubmembers a seaside spot and, in his dreams, a yachting center (that never came to fruition). The merge also led to a revered sports rivalry between the LAAC’s Mercuries and the Club’s Cagers.

Bankruptcy wouldn’t be the only thing plaguing the PCC, when in 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake caused so much damage that the club was forced to take out a massive loan for repair and reopened the following year—only to face the ongoing crisis of the Depression. The club would be unable to pay this loan when it came due later, even when the war brought naval officers into our city and increased membership.

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The demolition of the Pacific Coast Club in 1988. Courtesy of the USC archives.

The Pacific Coast Club even became the hosting venue for Miss Universe, which the Los Angeles Times in 1953 hilariously describes “hordes of photographers, amateur and professional, clicked shutters at the long stemmed lovelies under the clear, hot sky. Miss Switzerland, Daniele Oudinet, used to Alpine climates, collapsed in a lovely heap and was carried into the club, where she revived. Despite the protests of their chaperones, some of the girls actually went near the water, and a few got wet. Thelma Brewis, Miss Canada, boldly splashed in up to her neck but kept her hair dry.”

Collapsed in a lovely heap. Boldly splashed. Literary gold.

But these kind (and still sexist) words and big events couldn’t save the Pacific Coast Club. Plagued by financial issues and the switching of owners, the PCC came to its wall in the 1980s when the owner, Robert R. Bellevue, filed two separate applications with the city in 1986 that, if granted, would allow either 70 percent restoration of the castle-like club or its demolition to make way for an entirely new project.

Come 1988, the latter plan would be chosen, marking the 16-story condominium tower that today stands in its place.

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.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Someone needs to get over their hatred of white men … that aspect of the Pacific Coast had nothing to do with this story, except your opportunity to vent guilt you’ve put on yourself.

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