Photos by Brian Addison.
The Rowan-Bradley Building at the northwest corner of Pine and Broadway in DTLB is nothing short of an art deco masterpiece.
Originally designed for Bank of America in 1930 (and named after the building’s first tenant, dentist Dr. Rowan), it was initially only a single story followed by its ornate art deco-driven second story, complete with terra cotta details that mark the building as one of the most unique in Long Beach.
This is where audience members will be facing the stage, looking toward Broadway.
While lathered in architectural history, it is also home to some of Long Beach’s richest musical history—which is precisely why the decision by building owner Ron Hodges to turn the top floor into a live music venue makes any local music lover grin ear-to-ear.
Specifically, the Rowan-Bradley Building was the home of some of the best jazz Long Beach had to offer, when in 1986, jazz drummer and lover Al Williams hung a spectacular neon sign proclaiming “jazz and cocktails” for the opening of his Birdland West lounge. But come August of 1994—the same year that saw both Cafe Lido on Balboa Peninsula and Hollywood’s Vine St. Bar & Grill close as well, further disconnecting SoCal from live jazz—Williams shuttered Birdland with a farewell party featuring everyone from Ernie Andrews to Barbara Morrison and Lil’ Joe Dobbins.
Dubbed At The Top, it will be the city’s first live music venue to open in quite some time and, with the completion of 350 Pine coming along, welcomes Pine Avenue back as one of the city’s leading spots for live music.
Hodges has more plans for the building than just the top-floor venue, going into three different phases for the entire corner. Phase One welcomes At The Top, set to open before the end of the year. Phase Two will focus on the ground floor, welcoming his long-awaited prime rib concept, The Carvery, which will have a mezzanine bar overlooking the dining space. Phase Three is an activation of the mostly unknown underground passage on Pine, where Hodges hopes to create a speakeasy toward the south side of the tunnel.
But let’s get back to Hodge’s desire to start at the top. The venue (and the entire building) are part of a restoration of the building, with Hodges partnering with art deco expert John Thomas from the get-go: everything from the 27 clerestory windows at street level to the large plaques that are mounted between the window groupings.
Meanwhile, artist Rio Benavidez [pictured above right] has not only been brought to create the hand-carved molds for the plaques outside but is also creating gold plating designs to be featured at the bar space for At The Top. From classic art deco references—like the artwork of Ernesto Garcia Cabral also known as “Chango”—to contemporary pinup street art, Benavidez tends to bring the return of the old with a touch of the now.
And Mr. Al Williams, will he have a return himself?
Fear not: the Press-Telegram reports that he will be tapped to take on the entertainment at Hodges’ speakeasy below should everything go as planned. It’s certainly a bittersweet notion to have Williams come to DTLB yet again to bring the sweet, sweet sounds of jazz to the ears of the world again.
After all, when singer Ernie Andrews sang for the last time at Birdland West, he said, “It’s a shame that you have to wait for someone to close to get this many people out. This club looks today like it should have looked all the time in the city of Long Beach, because jazz is so great and there are so many great people in the business.”
Perhaps, just perhaps, that closing is precisely what will allow everyone to start at the top.
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