SHOOTING THE PIER — HUNTINGTON BEACH
This blog entry is about Huntington Beach, a beach city in North Orange County. To Huntington Beach’s southwestern edge is the Pacific Ocean. To its north are Seal Beach and Westminster. To the east isFountain Valley. North and east is the Little Saigon area. To the southeast are the towns of Costa Mesaand Newport Beach.
It’s the largest beach city in Orange County. Accompanying me on this installment was a mysterious new traveling companion and HB resident known only as Bao. As is usual, we being with a bit of history.
EARLY HISTORY OF HUNTINGTON BEACH
The area that now constitutes Huntington Beach was for thousands of years a border territory shared by the seafaring Tongva people to the north and the smaller Acagchemem nation to the south. At the time the area was an isolated mesa surrounded by a soggy expanse of bogs and shallow marshes fed by estuaries and artesian wells. At the western foot of the bluff was a large tidal lagoon.
THE SPANISH & MEXICAN RANCHO ERAS
After the Spanish Conquest, European settlement in the area began in 1784, when veteran Spanishsoldier Manuel Nieto was granted the large 1,200 km2 Rancho Los Nietos. The main route through the ranch was a cattle trail that’s now Beach Boulevard. After Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1822, the ranchos were secularized and subdivided, including into Rancho Los Alamitos and Rancho Las Bolsas where Huntington Beach now is.. American immigrants began arriving. Two years after the USdeclared war against Mexico (in 1846), ownership of California was transferred and more Americansarrived in the area.
THE AMERICAN ERA & PACIFIC CITY
A trader named Able Sterns acquired Rancho Los Alamitos and then the Rancho Las Bolsas. In 1862 Sterns sold the ranchos to The Los Angeles and San Bernardino Land Company, an agency for which Sterns acted as realtor. The large ranches were then subdivided and sold in smaller parcels and sold to farmers. In 1894, Colonel Robert J. Northam (then-manager of the Stearns Ranchos Company) acquired seven parcels. Much of the area was drained and seeded with barley, alfalfa and later, celery. A small succession of communities arose in the area of modern-day Huntington Beach including Shell Beach, Smeltzer, Gospel Swamp (a tent city community of Methodists pilgrims from Long Beach), Fairview and Pacific City.
Pacific City pier scene in the 1980s
Pacific City was envisioned as a west coast rival to New Jersey‘s Atlantic City by Philip A. Stanton andColonel H. S. Finley who in 1901 formed The West Coast Land and Water Company through which they acquired 1,500 acres.
To give Pacific City some legitimacy, several structures were moved there from nearby Newport Beach. Stanton sold his interest the following year to a group headed by J. V. Vickers. Vickers wooed railway ownerHenry E. Huntington with enticements in exchange for an extension of the Long Beach line to Pacific City. Perhaps chief among the inducements was the proposed change of name from Pacific City to Huntington Beach. Huntington changed the name of his company from West Coast Land and Water Company to The Huntington Beach Company and agreed.
EARLY HUNTINGTON BEACH
Huntington Beach was dedicated July 4, 1904 and the crowd of 50,000 witnessed the arrival of the firstPacific Red Car. The boom quickly died and by 1905, with the $126 purchase of an Encyclopedia Americana set, free parcels of land were given away. By then, celery and sugar beet cultivation dominated the economy. In 1906, the first school was built, Huntington Beach High School. The city of Huntington Beach was incorporated on February 17, 1909, under mayor Ed Manning.
Huntington Beach c. 1910
HUNTINGTON BEACH FLOWS AND GROWS
The original pier c. 1910
The original, wooden pier was destroyed in 1912. In 1914, the pier was replaced with a concrete one, primarily to support fishing. From 1910 to 1920 the small population of 815 more than doubled to 1,687. However, when Col. Northam dug a well to irrigate his alfalfa and struck oil in the Holly-Seacliff area, the economy of the sleepy seaside resort shifted focus.
Holly Sugar converted from processing beet sugar to oil refining. The Huntington Beach High School team changed their team name to The Oilers. The oil reserves were quickly depleted for the most part but numerous oil rigs still rhythmically bob (and there are several offshore rigs too). The last oil strike occurred in 1953. Growth came to an almost complete halt during the Great Depression.
In 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake struck – its epicenter was underneath Huntington Beach. 115 people were killed and $40 million worth of damage was done. In 1939, the Huntington Beach Pier was again destroyed and subsequently rebuilt.
In the 1940s, growth in Huntington Beach resumed at a measured pace in the 1940s, with much of the city’s land still devoted to oil production. The Huntington Beach Airport began operation in the mid-1940s, using as a runway a deposit of sediments left by the Flood of ’38. It was still standing but had ceased operation by 1955.
In 1957, Huntington Beach annexed a great deal of land between the original city and the proposed San Diego Freeway and the population growth reached a new peek during the decade.
In the 1960s the population increased almost tenfold, exploding from 11,492 to 115,960.
HB TERRORIZED IN THE 1970s
With most of the city by-then developed, population was slowed since the 1970s. During the decade, Huntington Beach (and nearby areas) were terrorized by a serial killer from Long Beach, Randy Steven Kraft, a pro-Vietnam War activist/Barry Goldwater-supporter and bartender at a Huntington Beach gay bar. In 1968 he joined the Air Force but was discharged the following year for being gay and he resumed bar tending. In 1970, Kraft gained the trust of a thirteen-year-old runaway he met on the Huntington Beach pier. After Kraft took him home, drugged and raped him, he went to work and the victim escaped. The victim led the cops to the apartment who found drugs and the victim’s shoes… but since the search was conducted with a warrant, Kraft wasn’t charged. In 1971, Kraft found work at a bottled water plant in HB. That year police found a decomposing body next to the freeway, believed to have been Kraft’s first murder victim. For the next eleven years, dozens of men were murdered, mainly in North Orange County and The Harbor. After his arrest, police recovered a “death list” that claimed 67 victims, 22 of them not found.
Huntington Beach was again rocked by violence when Rodney Alcala kidnapped and murdered a Huntington Beach twelve year old on her way to ballet class in 1979.
In the 1970s, Native activists began fighting for preservation of sites of historical importance, especially theBolsa Chica Wetlands (near the dump site, coincidentally, of one Kraft’s teenage victims). In the 2000s, the developers of the Brightwater Hearthside Homes subdivision began churning up bones and artifacts dating back up to 8,500 years. In 2006 the state approved continued reconstruction as long as the disturbed human remains were reinterred somewhere else. In 2008, the remains of 174 Tongva bodies uncovered by workers who’ve apparently never watched Poltergeist!
HB IN THE 1980s
HB IN THE 1990s
A large, beautiful marsh, the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, lies between Downtown Huntington Beachand Huntington Harbour and remains largely undisturbed. A $110 million restoration of the wetlands was completed in 2006. There is a small, free parking lot that should not be confused with the adjacent beach parking, which costs $15. Also, there is no crosswalk between the two. The flora and especially fauna change with the seasons and on the early summer day we visited there were pelicans, least terns, clapper rails, two black-necked stillts and maybe some western snowy plovers.
The waters are home to grey smoothound sharks, round stingrays but, most terrifying were the massive, revolting, capitvating slug-like California Sea Hares. There were also many birders snapping pictures. One was accompanied by his young son who carried a small bow and said, “ah juh shi! ah juh shi!” to me. I’ve heard that before but was unsure of the meaning. South of Downtown are more, smaller marshes; theTalbert, Newland Brookhurst and Magnolia Marshes, which lie behind Huntington State Beach.HUNTINGTON BEACH’S BEACHES
The northern and southernmost beaches, Bolsa Chica State Beach and Huntington State Beach, respectively, are state parks and only Huntington City Beach is maintained by the town. Camping and RVs are permitted and popular at Bolsa Chica, which is a sandbar separating the Bolsa Chica wetlands from the ocean. A portion known as “the cliffs” is home to a dog beach. Sunset Beach is maintained by Orange County and lies between the ocean and the city’s marinas.
Huntington City Beach is popular with sand volleyball players, surfers and huge crowds of others. It also boasts the pier, which provides lovely views of the city, the oil rigs, the aquamarine-colored waves and the smokestacks in the distance. Huntington State Beach borders the southern marshes and ends at the mouth of the Santa Ana River.
SURFING SURF CITY
With four beaches and a consistent surf, Huntington Beach has long been popular with practitioners of the sport. The first road large redwood board in the 1920s. In 1955, Gordon Duane opened the city’s first surf shop, Gordie Surfboards.
In 1959, the first West Coast Surfing Championships were held in Huntington Beach. The Huntington Beach Surf Club was established in 1963 with over seventy members. Huntington Beach, in fact, has trademarked the nickname “Surf City.” The U.S. Open of Surfing and Beach Games are held in Huntington Beach.
Huntington Beach is also home to the International Surfing Museum, which features the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, surf-related exhibits and, on Sundays, the back lot hosts surf bands.
Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku
On the day of our visit, we were treated to the sounds of Tower 21 and 3 Balls of Fire.
Statue of Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku
Bao and the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame
Outside the museum is the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame honoring those who’ve contributed to surf culture.
By the 1980s, Main Street Huntington Beach had acquire a reputation as a haven for drug-dealing, prostitution and violent crime. In 1983, the city approved a redevelopment plan and condos and businesses began popping up in the years that followed. Tourists and locals descended on the revived district and in April of 2011, the LA Times reported that revenue for the area was by then twenty times what it had been in 1988.
The area is the site of many of Huntington Beach’s local events. Every Tuesday, Surf City Nights includes food booths and live, free entertainment. In March, the Beachcruiser Meet showcases hundreds of classic cars in the Main and Pier parking lot. Miracle on Main Street is the name for the Main Street Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. The third Wednesday of every month there’s the Huntington Beach Art Walk. Chili at the Beach is a chili cook-off which benefits the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) and occurs during the Fathers’ Day Weekend.
However, when the sun goes down the families go home and a three-block stretch of Main Street takes on a different character, that of the “Jersey Shore of the West.” Although the alcohol sales help fuel the economy, Huntington Beach is ranked No. 1 in victims killed and injured in alcohol-involved traffic accidents among cities its size in the state. Even though the sun was still up on the day of my visit, I did witness an SUV packed with young men pumping their fists to trance, presumably in anticipation of the night’s drunken debauchery (e.g. beer pong, more fist pumping, public urination). The cops even have a special code for drunks breaking into someone else’s house to pass out because it’s so common, a “Downtown 459.”
THE HUNTINGTON BEACH PIER
Main street ends (or continues) onto the Huntington Beach Pier, the longest municipal concrete pier in California. It’s another popular site for Huntington Beach events. Every year in May, the Sunset Wine Tasting at the Pier features wines from around California and raises money to benefit AltaMed’s Huntington Beach Community Clinic, which serves thousands of uninsured and medically underserved patients. The following two days, the Annual Duck-a-thon is held in the water off the pier, a rubber ducky race.
On the day of our visit, the DJs in a booth representing KIIS FM hyped the crowd of four children.
At the mouth of the pier, Pier Plaza, street performers wowed the crowds and drum circle-types pounded away.
PARKS – THE OTHER ATTRACTIONS
Huntington Beach was a very large, beautiful Central Park. The parking lot is landscaped with attractive xeric plants (nice!) and there are fairly developed forests with large Blue Gum Eucalyptus.
It’s also the location of the Richard Neutra and Dion Neutra-designed Huntington Beach Public Library(which was closed on the day of our visit). A Concours d’Elegance (a prestigious car show) is held at Central Park in June and benefits the public library. On the other side of the street is the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center.
On the day we visited there was a large crowd gathered for live music under an inflatable band shell.
In addition to the aforementioned events, Huntington Beach hosts a biathlon in July. A Fourth of July parade has been held annually since 1904. The Cruise of Lights Boat Tour is held in the Huntington Harbour neighborhood. The annual Kite Festival is held in late February. An informal “Donut Derelicts” car show occurs every Saturday morning at the intersection of Adams and Magnolia Street. Huntington Beach also hosts the National Professional Paintball League Super 7 Paintball Championships in March.
There are two major shopping areas in Huntington Beach, Bella Terra and Old World Village. Bella Terra is a large, outdoor shopping center. In its amphitheater, live music is performed regularly. There are also regularly-held special events for kids. It opened in 1996 and was built on the ruins of the old, indoor mall, theHuntington Beach Center.
In the shadow of the Towers at Bella Terra, a group of tall business complexes, is the Old World Village… a much older outdoor mall with a German theme (that can feel, during slow times, like a Bavarian ghost town). The 50 buildings were built, I believe, in 1978.
It’s just the sort of fading, charming simulacrum that I like. It hosts numerous events including Dachshund Races, classic car shows, RICO’s Comedy Revival Show!, the Plum Festival, German Heritage Day and, biggest of all, Oktoberfest.
As I wondered the winding, shady streets I saw only one other soul… sitting still as stone on a bench… kind of creepy in an abandoned-theme-park kind of way …and a total HB gem! Read my Block By Blockpost, Kitsch and Kultur: Exploring SoCal Bavaria, for more.
For a city it’s size, Huntington Beach has an insane amount of places to eat. The people love to eat and, not surprisingly, it hosts the annual Taste of Huntington Beach. Perhaps the most celebrated joint was theGolden Bear, which opened in 1929 and became a popular nightclub in 1963. It hosted the likes of BB King, Janis Joplin, Steve Martin, Charles Bukowski and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Unfortunately it was demolished in 1986.Especially well-represented are Italian, Mexican and sandwich joints seem to be especially well-represented but in the HB, eating, drinking, music, TV all seem to go hand in hand so here’s a let of eateries and drinkeries of different stripes. We, nonetheless, ate at Bodhi Tree, a nice, tasteful and tasty Vietnamese joint.
Other options include: Adami, Alberto’s, Aloha Grill, Aloha Hawaiian BBQ, An’s Restaurant, Avila’s El Ranchito, Aztecas, Bagelmania & Coffee House, Baci, Baci di Roma Trattoria, Baja Sharkeez, Basilico’s Pasta e Vino, BBQ Bistro, Beach Burgers, Beach Pit BBQ, Beachfront 301, Bella Roma,Bhodi Tree Cafe, Black Bull Chop House, Big Chopsticks, Buffalo Wings ‘N Things, Bukhara, Bun & Burger, Buon Gusto, Burtucci’s New York Pizza, Cafe Enchante, Caffe Gazelle, Cancun,
Capones Italian Cucina, Casa Jimenez, Catalina Fish Kitchen, Catch of the Day, Cavallino Ristorante,Centerfield Sports Bar, Champa, Cherry On Top, Chicago Ribs, China Kitchen, Charo Chicken,Chronic Tacos, Coach’s Deli, Coache’s Mediterranean Grill, Cobantigua Cafe, Corner Bakery,Crabby’s Boat House, Crivello Ristorante Italiano, Cucina Alessa, Daimon, Daphne’s California Greek,De Simone Bakery & Delicatessen, Deli-licious, Deville, Digg’s, Don Jose’s Mexican Restaurant,
Don the Beachcomber, Don Ramon’s, Dukes, Dwight’s Beach Concession, East Winds Asian Cuisine, Eat at Joe’s, El Chavito, Eggroll King, Endless Food & Fun, Esther’s Place, Euro Market Bakery & Deli, Fiesta Grill & Catering, Fiesta Grill 2, Fish Camp, Fitzgerald’s Pub, Five Guys Burger and Fries, Frank’s Big O Pizza, Fred’s Mexican Cafe, Fresca’s, Fritzankotters, Fuji’s Famous Burger, Gallagher’s Pub & Grill, George’s, Golden Chopsticks, Gong’s Chinese Food, Good Day Cafe, Great Wok,
Green Rice Kabob, Hank’s West Pizza, Harry’s Cafe, Harvey’s Steakhouse, Hashigo Sushi, Hero’s Pub, Himalayan Grill, Honeybaked Ham Co, Hot and Spicy Thai, Hot Off the Grill, House of Brews, Huckleberry’s Famous Sandwiches, Huntington Beach Beer Company & Restaurant, Hurricane’s Bar & Grill, In-N-Out Burger, Inca Gourmet, Irassae, Islands, Jan’s Health Bar, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Joe’s Sushi, John’s Philly Grille, Johnny’s Saloon, Jon’s Coffee Shop, Joy Sushi, Ka Shabu,
Kathy May’s Restaurant, Kelly’s Donuts and Burgers, Kiku Restaurant, Killarney Pub & Grill, King’s Fish House, King’s Pizza, Kirby’s Surf City Pizza, La Brique Steakhouse, La Choza Restaurant, La Fontana Ristorante, LaRocco’s Pizzeria, Lamppost Pizza, Las Barcas, La Capilla, La Casita, La Petite Baquette, Lee’s Lucky Wok, Linda’s Mexican Restaurant, Lino’s Pizzeria, Longboard, Los Primos Cantina, Lotus Chinese Eatery, Lou’s Oak Oven Barbecue, Lucci’s Deli, Luggatti’s, Luigi’s,
Malibu Fish Grill, Mama’s on 39, Mangia-Mangia, Mangiamo Gelato Caffe, Mario’s, Mario’s Fiesta Maya, Market Broiler, Marlin Bar and Grill, Massimo’s Pizza, Matsu Restaurant, Mazara Trattoria, Mike Thai Bros Bistro, Minimex Everywhere, Mitasie 3, Molcajete Grill, Mona Lisa Italian Cucina, Monkey House Cafe, Mother’s Market & Kitchen, Mr P’s Espresso Italiano Caffe, My Place, Niya, No Ka Oi, Nonna Lucci’s, Norm’s, Normita’s Surf City Taco, O’Connell’s, OC Juice N Gyro, Ocean Pacific Market,
Oceans Sushi & Oyster Lounge, Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Company, Olive Pit, Old World German Restaurant, Pacific Coast Hot Dogs, Pacific Crust Sandwiches, Pancho Frijoles, Panda Palace, Park Bench Café, Pee Wee’s Famous Hot Dogs and Hamburgers, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Pei Wei, Pelican Isle,Perq’s, Perry’s Pizza, Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken, Pete’s Sunset Grille, Photastic!, Phuket Thai Restaurant, Pick Up Stix, Pizza D’oro, Pizzarito, Polly’s Pies, Porky’s Pizza, RA Sushi Bar, Randazzo,
Rathskeller, Red Chair Lounge, Robek’s Juice, Rockin’ Baja Coastal Cantina, Rockin’ Crepes, Rodrigo’s, Sakura Shabu Shabu, Sakurai, Sammy’s, Sancho’s Tacos, Sandy’s Beach Grill, Sango Sushi, Sea Siam, Sebastiani’s Italian Bistro, 2nd Floor Food ART Drinks, Secret Spot, Shades, Shima, Shogun, Shooters Sports Bar and Grill, Silk Thai Cuisine, Slapfish Truck, Slow Fish, Soya, Spark Woodfire Grill, St George Pizza, Suds Surf City Sports Grill, Sugar Shack Cafe, Sullivan,
Sunny’s Waffle House, Super Mex, Sushi on Fire, Suhsi Top, Sushi Ya, Sweet Elle Café, Sweet O Donuts, T’Kila, Tacone Flavor Grill, Tacos Jerez, Tacos el Chavito, Tacos Jerez, Taqueria Don Victor, Taste of France, Thai Gulf, Thai Pepper, Thai Wave, The Bread Crumb, The Californian, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, The Corner, The Donuttery, The Firepit, The Gourmet Crepe Company, The Loft, The Orange Dog, The Seafood Zone, Three Monkies Japanese Kitchen, TK Burgers, Todai, Tokyo Deli,
The Wok Experience, Tower 15 Pizzeria, Tsunami, Tumbleweeds, Tuna Town, 25 Degrees, Two Brothers Pizza, Valentino’s, Vittorio’s, Waba Grill, Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Whata Lotta Pizza, Woody’s Diner, Z Pizza, Zimzala and Zubies Dry Dock.
With booze, karaoke and food mixing so readily, perhaps it should come as less of a surprise that there are far fewer clubs than bar & grills vying for nigh owls. There’s the gay Ibiza Bar & Nightclub, the strip clubSimply Seductive and, my favorite, the mostly Asian crowd-attracting Avec Nightclub, where Vietnamese New Wave is often played and danced to.
THE HUNTINGTON BEAT
For a city as associated with surfing, it may come as a bit of a surprise that the surf music of the 1950s and ’60s didn’t produce any major acts that I’m aware of. It was mentioned, however, in “Surfer Joe” by The Surfaris as well as “Surfin’ Safari” by The Beach Boys. Oh, and Ashlee Simpson‘s music video for “La La” was filmed in Huntington Beach. HB did produce a number of famous punk bands, however, including The Vandals, The Offspring and Reel Big Fish. There are also bands that drew upon punk as well as other genres including bands like The Dirty Heads, Hellogoodbye and Avenged Sevenfold. Huntington Beach-born musicians include Matt Costa and Keri Kelli. Other Huntington Beach bands include Millionaires and smaller acts. DJ Culture is Huntington Beach’s primary electronic music store and Vinyl Solution is the main punk store.
FILM(ED) IN HB
The Surf Theatre was a famous and beloved theater located near the pier that showed independent surf films including Endless Summer and Fiver Summer Stories. It was owned and operated by Hugh Larry Thomas from 1961 until it was demolished in 1989.
Today, the SoCal Independent Film Festival takes place every September. The Southland’s PBS station,KOCE-TV, is broadcast from the city’s Golden West College Campus. HB was the subject of the TruTVseries Ocean Force – Huntington Beach.
It’s also served as a filming location for All that I Need, BoardRoom, Children of the X-Files, Convict, Frost/Nixon, Hallowed, Kate So Far, Lava Lounge, Locked In, Marmaduke, 90210, Pink Lemonade, Raspberry & Lavender, Rats & Bullies, Route 66, Slasher, Starsky & Hutch, Surf Nazis Must Die, The Born Losers, The Hog, The Legends of Nethiah, The Living Curl, The OC, The Plotters, Triangle Square and Waterworld.
HB is also the birthplace of actresses Amy Grabow and Bridgette Monet (born Dana Kunath Height).
One last note about my day in HB. When I returned to the CARDIS, someone had written in the dust on the rear window, “Jesus loves u… doubt it”, “wash me” and “the power of Christ compels you.” Huntington Beach has a history of “Jesus freaks” too. In 1968, when his mother died, her son David Berg took control of her tiny Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation and began recruiting hippie Teens for Jesus. In 1969, he changed the name to The Children of God and left Huntington Beach. By 1970, the Children of God were receiving guidance (via Berg) from Abrahim, a 13th century Bulgarian king. In the early 1970s, Berg started pimping female followers for Christ in a practice called “Flirty Fishing.” They’ve since called themselves The Family of Love, The Family and now, The Family International… could this have been their work? or was it that Korean family who parked next to me… anyway, message received. Till next time, shaka brah!
To vote for any communities you’d like to see covered in California Fool’s Gold, name them in the comments. If you’d like a bit of inspiration, there are primers for:
- Imperial County
- Kern County
- Los Angeles County
- Angeles Forest
- the Antelope Valley
- the Channel Islands
- the Eastside
- the Harbor
- Mideast Los Angeles
- Northeast Los Angeles
- Northwest Los Angeles
- the Pomona Valley
- the San Fernando Valley
- the San Gabriel Valley
- the Santa Monica Mountains
- the South Bay
- South Los Angeles’s Eastside
- South Los Angeles’s Westside
- Southeast Los Angeles
- the Verdugos
- the Westside
- Orange County
- Riverside County
- San Bernardino County
- San Diego County
- San Luis Obispo County
- Santa Barbara County
- Ventura County