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Taking a Peek at The Pike: Long Beach’s Oceanfront Amusement Zone

Photo Friends,
The Pike and warships
A view of The Pike amusement park in Long Beach. The roller coaster extends down the pier; underneath it is the Long Beach bath house. The Hotel Arlington is bottom, left. Next to the hotel is the Crystal Cafeteria and next to the cafeteria is the Ambassador ballroom dancing establishment. Hoyt's Theatre abuts the Ambassador. On the horizon are several naval or Coast Guard ships, [ca.1920]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection

William Willmore had a brilliant idea. He was going to create a farming community on the coast of Southern California. He bought 4,000 acres of Rancho Los Cerritos and subdivided the land into plots which comprised Willmore City. Living there would be idyllic, with plenty of sunshine all year round and cool ocean breezes in the summer. People would flock there to live! Unfortunately, his plans did not pan out and he was bought out by the Long Beach Land and Water Company. His erstwhile agricultural paradise became the City of Long Beach.

Five years later, a huge bathhouse opened at the spot in Long Beach where the Pacific Electric Railway’s Red Car ended its traverse from Los Angeles. People did flock to the area, coming to bathe, many people did not have bathtubs or showers [or even indoor plumbing] at the time, and afterward enjoy a stroll along the Long Beach Municipal Pier. The bathhouse was known as the Plunge and the nearby boardwalk as the Pike.

The Pike attracted people of all ages and developed from a simple wooden boardwalk along Pine Street to an amusement zone complete with food stands, gift shops, and carnival rides. Also known as Silver Spray Pier, Nu-Pike, Queens Park, and the Walk of a Thousand Lights at various times, the Pike was an amusement extravaganza that attracted fun seekers for over 75 years. While we cannot visit it today (it was demolished in 1979), the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library enables us to take a stroll down the Pike and enjoy the pleasures of its past.

indoor swimming pool in Long Beach 1920
The Plunge—the bath house located near the Long Beach station at the end of the Pacific Electric Car line—featured a shallow wading pool, a deepwater section, a slide, and a balcony with spectator seating, [1920]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
A view of The Pike amusement park in Long Beach, 1920
This photo shows the variety of entertainment one might seek at the Pike, with facilities including a theater, cafeteria, hotel, and dance hall (not to mention the roller coaster!) In the background can be seen warships on the ocean, [1920]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Carousel at the Pike, 1930s
The carousel at the Pike was enjoyed by all—those riding on it and those simply watching it, [ca.1930]. Photo credit: Winstead Photo, Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Sailors on shore leave enjoy a meal at a café
Sailors on shore leave enjoy a meal at a café on the midway of the Pike, [1937]. Photo credit: Inman Co., Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Jack Rabbit Racer at the Pike
Jack Rabbit Racer was a roller coaster built on a pier extending into the ocean. It ran from 1915 to 1930 when it was replaced by the Cyclone Racer. The flying airplanes were another ride located by the entrance to the Jack Rabbit Racer, [1918]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Native Americans at The Pike
Native Americans in traditional dress enjoy a roller coaster ride at the Pike, [1930]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection

Seen in the background of this photo, the Cyclone Racer replaced the Jack Rabbit Racer in 1930. A dual-track roller coaster, two trains could run at the same time, it was 94 feet high, had 17 hills and drops, and could accommodate 2,400 riders per hour. The coaster was designed by Frederick Church, built by Harry Traver, and regarded as one of the greatest wooden roller coasters ever constructed. It was featured in the hilarious climax of the movie Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. It ran until 1968.

Cyclone Racer at The Pike
A woman in a sweater talks to a small boy as she and her family walk by the merry-go-round at The Pike amusement park south of Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach, [1963]. Photo credit: William Reagh, Los Angeles Photographers Collection

In the early 1950s, the Pike was still a destination for many locals but began to face stiff competition from nearby Knott’s Berry Farm (a restaurant/shop complex which added a carnival aspect in the 1950s) and the newly opened Disneyland. Moreover, the Pike had gained a free-for-all reputation which dissuaded many families from visiting the park. The amusement zone underwent a renovation, installing a Kiddieland with children’s rides plus a petting zoo. Discounts and coupons were offered to families and various facilities (the bathrooms, for example) were upgraded to give the area a more modern look. A write-in contest was held to find a new name for the amusement park, with Nu-Pike being the winner.

Photograph shows a Nu-Pike ride called the "Hi Ride."
For those who want an aerial view (and are not afraid of heights), the Hi Ride at Nu-Pike offered excitement and unobstructed observation of the Long Beach pier and its surroundings, [ca.1970s]. Herald Examiner Collection
Photograph shows the "Looper", possibly at Nu-Pike in Long Beach
The Looper was a popular ride at Nu-Pike that featured cages where one or more people would sit and be looped about (leaving you feeling loopy!), [ca.1970s]. Herald Examiner Collection
People of all ages enjoyed visiting Nu-Pike and strolling down the Midway
People of all ages enjoyed visiting Nu-Pike and strolling down the Midway. Note the sign directing families with children to Kiddieland, [1966]. Photo credit: William Reagh, Los Angeles Photographers Collection
Orphans take a ride on the “Bud” Hurlbut miniature train at Nu-Pike
Orphans take a ride on the “Bud” Hurlbut miniature train at Nu-Pike. The train ride kicked off a week-long benefit to raise funds for the Los Angeles Orphanage, [1950]. Photo credit: Robert Perkins, Herald Examiner Collection

The sideshow on the midway of the Pike offered visitors a myriad of curiosities including a sword swallower, a snake charmer, a mystery girl, and other magnificent marvels. (NOTE: A real oddity was discovered at the Pike during the 1976 filming of an episode of the television show The Six Million Dollar Man. The Laff in the Dark Ride featured a hanging corpse, presumably made of fiberglass and leather. When someone on the set accidentally pulled off one of its arms, a physician examined it and discovered it to be an actual human corpse. An investigation revealed that it was the body of Elmer McCurdy, a bank robber whose corpse had at one point been displayed by a wax museum onsite at the Pike. The museum closed and McCurdy wound up in the carnival ride. An autopsy revealed that he had been killed by a bullet and had a 1922 penny in his mouth. His remains were shipped back to Oklahoma.)

Sideshow at The Pike
A barker tries to entice customers into a sideshow on the midway at The Pike amusement park south of Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach, [1950]. Photo credit: William Reagh, Herald Examiner Collection
Madam Anna at The Pike
Madame Anna was available to those visiting the Pike who wished to utilize scientific palmistry to improve their lives and avoid future mistakes and tragedies, [1973]. Photo credit: William Reagh, Herald Examiner Collection
Midway at The Pike
Crowds mill down the midway in this view of The Pike amusement park south of Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach. The Pike attracted people of all ages and stages in life from 1902 until 1979, [1918]. Security Pacific National Bank Collection
Midway at The Pike
Crowds mill down the midway in this view of The Pike amusement park south of Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach, [1966]. Photo credit: William Reagh, Herald Examiner Collection
Pike in Long Beach, then and now
Al Brown (whose family owned Looff’s Concessions which offered pinball and various other games to visitors of the Pike) holds up a photo of the Pike as it was in its heyday. In the background is the site of the former amusement park, [1988]. Photo credit: Mike Sergieff, Herald Examiner Collection

Should you wish to peruse more photos of Nu-Pike, see Stephen Brown’s book The Pike (Past Its Peak) available at the Art & Recreation Department in Central Library.


Written by Annie Murphy. Originally published on the Photo Friends Blog on January 7, 2019.


 

 

 

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