A Photo of the Fourth of July in Long Beach, 1916

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

While a great many people flock to fireworks shows, parades and other community events in celebration of America’s day of independence, another popular pastime, especially because of the warmer temperatures of early summer, is to head down to greater Los Angeles’ many miles of coastline to enjoy our region’s beaches.

Fortunately, today will be a mild one in terms of weather before we are broiled in what are forecast to be record hot temperatures (up to around 110 degrees in the inland valleys) this weekend.  Still, there are a lot of folks heading to the shores for swim, sun, food and drink, and other activities.

Today’s post highlights a great snapshot photograph from the Homestead’s collection of crowds strolling along the coast in the booming city of Long Beach on 4 July 1916.  The view looks east from Pine Avenue at what became Seaside Way, in the area commonly known as the “Pike” because of its amusement zone, with the city pier behind and to the right of the photographer.

4th of July Long Beach 1916
This snapshot photograph from the Homestead’s collection shows crowds of formally dressed folks strolling down Seaside Avenue east from Pine Avenue in Long Beach on this day just over a century ago.

The large structure at the right is the first Long Beach Municipal Auditorium, a massive wood-frame structure completed in 1905 and capable of seating 6,000 persons.  The landmark was the scene of a horrible disaster in 1913 when the floor gave way during an event celebrating the British Empire and hundreds of participants fell 25 feet to the sands below the building, killing a few dozen and injuring well over 100.

Yet, the structure continued to be used for many years afterward.  By 1928, the city devised a plan to fill in some of the beach area for a semi-circular “rainbow pier” and a new civic auditorium, a Spanish Colonial Revival design opened four years later, despite the growing depths of the Great Depression.

Evidence of the dramatic growth of Long Beach is seen with the steel framing of a multi-story building at the left, while smaller structures line the coast eastward.  One of these has a sign offering “Furnished Rooms” while an adjacent building advertises “Billiards.”  A lengthy, but very interesting essay by noted local writer D.J. Waldie discusses the history of the Pike, which grew into a major series of attractions over the years, but dwindled in use in the post-World War II era and finally closed in the late 1970s.

Finally, there are the crowds of folks plying the wide Seaside Avenue.  If a photo was taken today of a similar scene, people would be wearing shorts, bathing suits and other typically and very casual “beachwear.”  But, a close look at the photo shows everyone dressed very formally.

Women wear dresses or skirts and blouses, all of them with hats (though maybe a girl or two lacks one or uses an umbrella, while the younger women wear newer models that are wide-brimmed and low slung compared to their older contemporaries sporting older varieties).

Gents uniformly wear suits, some three-piece, with ties and almost all wear hats, as well, though some of these are more formal and other are more casual straw boaters or caps.  Teens or boys might only wear a button-down shirt and short pants and not wear any headgear.

Anyway you look at it (literally) it’s a striking difference in how people dressed just over a century ago (though formal dress was still pretty standard for a few decades afterward) compared to now.  What hasn’t changed is that denizens of greater Los Angeles still flock to the beaches in droves on the 4th of July holiday (though it will almost certainly be far more crowded as the inland areas bake this weekend!)

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