Our ongoing series, Long Beach Lost, was launched to examine buildings, places and things that have either been demolished, are set to be demolished, or are in motion to possibly be demolished—or were never even in existence. This is not a preservationist series but rather a historical series that will help keep a record of our architectural, cultural and spatial history. To keep up with previous postings, click here.
Sometimes, when a structure becomes so run-down that it becomes a blight, it’s hard to imagine that it was once a mid-century modern and Googie masterpiece that is now demolished, its space becoming a massive retail center.
This is the tale of the SeaPort Marina Hotel that was once at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Second Street, right at the border of Seal Beach and Orange County.
Initially called the Edgewater Inn Marina Hotel and designed by famed black architect Roy Sealy, construction of the $3 million hotel kicked off in 1961—the same year that DTLB had part of the ocean infilled for a new pier—after the city decided to invest millions for the upcoming two-year long California World’s Fair that would start in 1967 at Pier J.
It eventually opened in the beginning of 1963 and reflected mid-mod decadence at its best.
The hotel included 200 guest rooms and suites; four restaurants with nightly dancing; a 24-hour coffee house; two cocktail lounges; convention and meeting spaces that could fit some 1,500 people; a liquor store; a gift shop; a children’s play area; a barber shop; a beauty salon; a newsstand; a dog and cat motel; a swimming pool; a cabin club; and yacht catering services attached to, at the time, the world’s largest yacht marina. On top of that, every room was fitted with air conditioning—a luxury in the early 1960s—and 16 of the suites were decked out with fireplaces.
Pair all this with textured stone, diamond-shaped railings, patterned concrete-block walls, and even telephone booths shaped as giant seashells to “remind one of Venus on the half-shell while phoning home,” and you have yourself a prime example of Googie wonder.
“Sealey’s design for the Edgewater came on the heels of a growing trend of ‘Garden Motels,’ modeled after the Bungalow Court apartments seen throughout the city,” said Long Beach historian and architectural guru Katie Rispoli. “The Garden Motel Style is characterized by central courtyards, landscaped garden areas surrounded by concrete patios, availability of parking for guests, and swimming pools. These motels were popularized for the interaction and sense of ‘apartment living’ they brought to a vacation atmosphere.”
And it also went beyond “apartment living”: A proposed yacht dealership never made it to fruition but showed the grandeur the Edgewater was (and clearly explained why the Edgewater was host to the both the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers for Super Bowl I in 1967 at the Los Angeles Coliseum as well as the place Elvis himself resided while performing at the Long Beach Arena in 1972).
Within a year of its opening, Edgewater had booked over 300 groups and conventions to take advantage of its accommodations, with its original operator James Stockman of Transwestern Hotels—the same group that owned the City Center Motel still in existence in DTLB at Third and Atlantic—telling the Independent, Press-Telegram in December of 1963 that he dropped the keys of the hotel along the coast of Ireland to “ensure the doors of the Edgewater never close.”
By 1964, it had 500 bookings and some $1.25 million in closed deals for conventions, meetings and galas.
Its food manager, Lubbock native Thomas Coleman, came from the Depression Era and quickly rose up as a star, featuring his recipes in the local paper and often joking with the bellhops, “Do you have a wife for the room and I?”
However, the luxury didn’t last long: The city of Long Beach eventually backed out of the “overhead sky rides, canals with gondolas, monorail rides and ultra-modern multi-storied exhibit halls” that would create the two-year World’s Fair at the Port of Long Beach—and with it, prompted the Edgewater to file for bankruptcy in 1966 at the loss of the business that was to have come from the fair.
By the time it had switched owners, maintenance and upkeep became a thing of the past as guests dwindled and grandeur became lackluster. The city opted to incorporate it into the South East Area Development and Improvement Plan (SEADIP) in 1977. Under the plan, new construction was limited in height in an effort to protect the wetlands located north of the hotel, along with the marina located to the south, according to Rispoli.
During these years, operating as the Edgewater Hyatt House (and later the Hyatt Edgewater Long Beach), it seemed to have a slight uptick in guests and locals enjoyed the coffee shop.
“The Hyatt was known to be a fine luxury hotel with excellent restaurants, banquet space, great rooms and service,” said longtime Long Beach resident Jayson Michaels. “It was one of Long Beach’s finest hotels during that time frame.”
When the 1980s arrived, new owners were desperate to capitalize upon, well, anything, and began building additions and offices like ornaments. Next to Sealy’s outright wonderful Googie coffee shop was a giant concrete wall filled with offices. By the 1990s, rooms went from nightly to weekly to monthly rentals. Its pool went from filled to unfilled. Its west-facing ballroom turned into seedy nightclub after seedy nightclub (one of which brought a tasteful mix of EDM and women wrestling to its floors).
By the millennium, owners were desperate for a change, but SEADIP’s regulations brought about stiff opposition. NIMBYs stated the corner was too congested and too crowded to bring about new development, especially buildings that surpassed two stories.
The first proposal—a lackluster hotel redesign by Lennar, the folks doing the equally uninspiring OceanAire in DTLB—was in 2006. The second proposal, a far more appropriate development for the area, was in 2009 by Studio One Eleven. Each are pictured above.
The latter proposal, a $320 million multi-use development that would have had hospitality, retail and housing, was shot down in 2011 with, as noted, NIMBYs infuriated that a 12-story residential tower was included in the project.
The project became so controversial that it inspired fellow rivals USC and UCLA to hold a competition among its architectural students to see who could maintain the SEADIP development rules while creating something the blighted corner really needed.
Ultimately, owner Raymond Lin, after decades of unsupportive neighbors and council members, opted for this OC-like retail sprawl that has lifted eyebrows from both housing advocates and urbanists alike.
Either way, there’s no way that someone could say the hotel didn’t have—at least for a brief glimmer of time—an absolute ball.
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