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 MEMORIES 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 pike?
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 it:
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 the Pike?
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 Beach freeway.
PS Sorry this was so long, I've got lots to tell, and I hope you can use some of it.

 
 

 

 

 

 

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