OF THE PIKE
By Floyd Farrar
Hawaiian Gardens CA
Retired Power Plant Operator October 1996,
32 years with So Cal Edison Company
@ Long Beach Steam Generation Plant
Seaside Blvd (Below Gerald Desmond Bridge)- Terminal Island
1. About how often did you go to the
How old were you when you first went?
Who did you usually go with?
How did you get there?
In the early part of my life going to the Long Beach Pike
was only at sporadic times. I was raised in Montrose, just above
Glendale and in the early 50's it was a long drive and at that
time being underage, I didn't drive. My dad was in the Navy over
in Korea so we had little money for entertainment. My two sisters
and me had to be content with what was around that area. I think
I was around twelve years old when I was there first, not accompanied
by an adult, or it might have been when I was much younger. Although
I was always with other relatives. I do remember swimming in
the salt-water plunge when I was very young, maybe around seven
or eight, that would be around 1947 or '48. Occasionally when
we could afford it my neighborhood friends and I would hitch-hike
to Glendale and ride the Yellow street Car down to LA then transfer
to the Big Long Beach Red Car and get off at Ocean Blvd and Pacific.
Walk down the stairs past the salt-water plunge and we were there.
After I was stationed at Pier 9 on the naval station in February
1959, I made many nightly journeys to the Pike. Usually by bus
from the station or hitchhiking in front of the Naval Station
Gate 1. (Gate one was just west of the present trash burner plant).
If you were an underage sailor, you couldn't go to the many bars
along the boulevard, so you went to the Pike.
In the interest of space, I won't go on and on about my experience
on the old streetcars and growing up in Glendale and La Crescenta.
Mom driving the, not old then, '49 Chevy two door down
Alameda Street through downtown LA to the beach, or driving out
to Pasadena and down Rosemead Blvd all the way to the Beach.
Then the installation of the Long Beach freeway made it a little
easier to get to the Pike. These are all short stories in
and of themselves. I could do an entire one on my memories of
the Red Cars alone-
2. Many of us never even saw the Pike. Please tell us about
What was it like to go to the Pike?
What did the Pike look like?
What did it sound like?
What did it smell like?
When we would go to the pike, before my Navy days, it
was always a big deal.
You younger ones must remember the majority of the amusement
parks you are used to now didn't exist back then. Except Knott's
Berry Farm and that was nothing like it is today! My folks took
us there a few times in the late '40's and early '50's and it
was boring as hell. They had absolutely no rides except the train
and stagecoach, nothing more! When we could, Mom might take us
down to Griffith Park, and we could ride the merry go round and
that was about it. Not much else except the Pike or out to Santa
Monica and their small amusement zone and that didn't even compare
to the Pike. Or for amusement we would go to Venice Pier and
Muscle beach. No it wasn't as weird as it is now but we thought
so then. Now you must remember to get to these places in the
early 50's it took quite an effort. If you lived up in the foothills
of Glendale as I did at the time, there were no freeways to whisk
you around. So you took advantage of things as they presented
themselves. Sometimes the neighborhood moms would take us or
what ever. We could usually find a way to go somewhere in the
summer. Very few kids had cars and even if they did, we had no
gas money to operate them, and gas was very cheap then. Culture
and society were much different then. Parents weren't as permissive
or so loose with their hard-earned money.
It is hard to describe what the pike looked like then. I know
how it looked as I got older and frequented it after I was eighteen.
But in my younger days it looked like, well a county fair type
atmosphere. Kinda like all the stuff you see on the midways.
They had the many games of chance, baseballs at milk bottles,
darts at balloons, pitching dimes in plates, swinging the heavy
sledgehammer to try and make the bell ring atop the pole, etc.
Just next to the Salt water taffy place on the same side was
the sideshow. You could see the bearded lady, the man who was
turning to stone, the 500-pound man, the world's smallest lady,
and the other "freaks of nature" as PT Barnum called
them. Yes it sounds like a circus atmosphere and maybe that would
closely describe some to the scenes. I remember right outside
the exit to the Cyclone Racer was the guy who always wanted to
guess your weight. They had many or at least it seemed
more than a few Penny arcades with many games that were designed
in the thirties and World War 2. Why do I remember this? The
submarine torpedo game had us torpedoing Japanese Navy ships
and the airplane gunnery game had us shooting at Nazi planes.
The baseball game had us hitting against the likes of the 1935,
St Louis Browns with Dizzy Dean and the "Gashouse gang"
or the late '30's New York Yankees consisting of Lou Gehrig,
Babe Ruth, along with Nellie Fox and other now hall of
famers. Remember these games weren't digital computerized as
now, but hey, to us they were just as fun. And they really were
PENNY arcades!! You could go in there with a dollar and make
it last. The walkways in between the carnival hucksters, the
rides, the movie theater, the dance hall, and the tattoo parlors
and bars, was usually crowded with people especially in the summer.
There were many hot dog, hamburger joints, as well as the salt-water
taffy place diagonal from the salt-water plunge. The double Ferris
wheel was hard not to miss. The white wooden Cyclone Racer dominated
the whole scene. It sat kinda off the beaten track out towards
the water and we would kinda save it for last because it was
the best. Then there was the "rotor" and the bumper
cars. I really don't remember age or height restrictions on any
rides as they do at most parks now. Any kid could ride anything.
Didn't have many law suits in those days eithertimes were
simpler. Placing blame, pointing fingers, and whining for free
monyey were in the future.
As I get older my mind wants somehow to take on a yellowish,
sepia tone to the memories of what it actually looked like. Maybe
because it was about the time that Southern California was first
experiencing severe bouts of eye stinging smog and haze. It was
so thick that it was sometimes hard to see very far as we had
been used to as kids growing up before smog was a big factor.
The Pike had many sounds; there were day sounds and night sounds.
Young sounds and sounds when I was a little older. The younger
day sounds were an unbelievable racket of carnival hucksters
barking to have you try their game of chance, The sounds of the
people talking, kids crying because they couldn't go on a ride.
The music coming from the calliope of the carousel ride and people
screaming trying to catch the brass ring for a free ride. Of
course you could hear the sounds of the roller coaster and the
riders screaming and hollering. The unmistakable sound of the
fat lady laughing at you as you tried your luck at getting lost
in the Fun House of Mirrors. The night sounds included the music
from loud speakers in the arcades, not much different now as
then, only Elvis Presley was one I distinctly remember as singing
Heartbreak Hotel over and over again till I left
and went to another game. The game I was playing was, you slid
a penny into a slot and if it fell on a neon board and touched
a red spot, the thing would tilt over towards your side and you
would get all the pennies that had been played by you and others.
I think it was challenged at the same time Lite o' Line
was challenged and it lost. You would wander down the street
and hear music from the dance hall; yes it had live bands. Some
were quite famous I was told. Didn't go there much as I was always
doing other things then. In later years I did go to the "Hollywood
on the Pike," a country and western place and saw
Johnny Cash there. It is still there but is an eatery now off
Pacific Avenue just down the hill and under the overhang of the
white Jergans building. There was constant racket of pinball
machines, ski-ball machines, shooting galleries, etc. Yes they
were there and they shot REAL BULLETS! Only .22 shorts,
but real none the lessWith no age limit to shoot, can you imagine
that today? The anti-gun freaks would have a heart attack over
that one!! Not to mention what the gangsters might do.
What did it smell like? Well as I said the smog was really becoming
a factor in those days so my memories may be clouded with that
aspect. Yes your eyes stung and it made your throat sore, but
we carried on regardless. Fun was on our minds and looking for
girls tooLet's see, you had smells from old, over used fry cooking
oils clinging to uncleaned vents and strainers in the many hot
dog, hamburger and fries joints. You had the human factor also,
sweat, and body odors of so many people. Most girls and women
for that matter wore gobs of makeup, including a lot of perfume.
Most had large smell radiuses, some good, some not so good.
You had the unmistakable odors of popcorn being popped, cotton
candy being whirled around, salt-water taffy, chocolate fudge,
ice cream, etc. Then on top of that you had the smells of the
rides, the hydraulic oils, the diesel smells, the grease and
oil to run the things. Now remember this was just down from Ocean
Avenue. It had it's own smells that filtered down to walkway
level. Car and bus exhausts, no unleaded gas in those days
and no pollution controlled mufflers. All of the above coupled
with smog (day and night) and the wonderful salt air of
the beach and that is kinda what it was like. It never bothered
you, it was just part of going to the Pike
3. What was you favorite thing to do at the Pike?
Why did you like it?
That's a tough one. In the early years it was the shooting
galleries because you could actually fire live ammunition guns.
If you were good you could win prizes. Later on they had one
that if you shot out the entire red star you'd win five bucks.
Doesn't sound like a lot now but I can assure you during the
early 50's that was a lot of money! Don't think I ever won, but
I tried. You must remember there wasn't the emotions attached
to firearms as there is now. Us kids were still fighting World
War 2 in our minds and Korea was either going on or just ending.
Hollywood was flooding us with patriotic black and white flicks
about the military too. All of my friends joined some branch
of the service as soon as we were old enough. Now in later
years it became the Cyclone Racer, then looking for unattached
girls (in my fresh cleaned Navy uniform). Then after I
was over twenty-one, playing shuffleboard in the "Checkerboard"
bar and drinking beer or at the "Four-Oh" club. Then
looking for good music and girls to dance with. Occasionally
we would go on a lively jaunt down to the "Jungle"
That was a motley collection of bars and wood frame hotels and
rooming houses south of Ocean and Magnolia. A sailor could get
mugged and rolled in a heartbeat if you weren't careful at night.
Mostly though it was people watching and trying to stay out of
the way of the strong Long Beach Police presence and the ever
present Navy Shore Patrols.
Now in later years it would have been the roller coaster, but
I was just growing up and it was always there and it seemed as
if it would always be so. Ah civic progress in Long Beach. AlasI
remember Rainbow Pier and the first Miss Universe Pageant tooOh
well we'll have the Queen and some overblown fish tanks to gaze
atand drain away taxpayer's money.
4. What was the most interesting thing you remember about
Again another tough one
It was all interesting and fun. It was like going to a circus
without having to wait while they marched in the elephants and
set up the big top. And best of all, it was there all the time
with no fees to get in like at the newly installed Disneyland.
Just a short Red Car ride or then at the end of the new Long
PS Sorry this was so long, I've got lots to tell, and I hope
you can use some of it.