This year was a big one for preserving Long Beach history, with some significant landmarks in the city getting much-needed facelifts and others receiving historic designations, potentially saving them for future generations to see.

Long Beach has lost a lot of historic spaces over the decades, but here are some that were restored or potentially saved in 2023:

Shuttered Fire Station 9 could be saved 

The 1930s-era Fire Station 9 in the Los Cerritos neighborhood was in danger of being demolished after closing in 2019 due to what the city said was a recurring mold problem that sickened firefighters.

Since then, residents have been trying to save the fire station from demolition. They hoped to preserve the building that was made possible by the Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era program created by President Franklin Roosevelt to employ more people and build up infrastructure.

A man in a blue shirt runs past a dilapidated firehouse with his black dog.
A man and his dog run past the now-defunct Fire Station 9 in North Long Beach Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The original Fire Station 9 was destroyed in the 1933 Long Beach earthquake and the existing one was facing a similar fate as the city sought to sell the property for potential reuse.

However, the Cultural Heritage Commission voted last month to recommend the exterior of the building, and some of its interior design be designated as historic. While the City Council will ultimately have the final say on whether the building becomes part of the city’s catalog of historic places, a council vote to uphold that recommendation could preserve the building for the next generation.

And there is a chance that its next life could be as a production facility for a local bakery.

Dolly Varden sign moving to a new rooftop 

Not every potentially historic building was saved in 2023, but in the case of the Dolly Varden Hotel in Downtown, its historic neon sign will live on.

A developer is proposing to knock down the hotel to build a new 141-unit apartment project and plans to display the “Bath In Every Room” sign prominently on its rooftop deck.

The Dolly Varden Hotel.
The Dolly Varden Hotel sign on top of the building in Long Beach, Friday, May 26, 2023. The building is scheduled for demolition to make room for a new multi-story building. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The Cultural Heritage Commission labored over whether the building should be designated historic as the sign was in 1995. However, after a consultant was brought in to assess the building, again, they determined that the hotel building did not meet the standard for historic status.

While the commission voted to require the developer to maintain the first 15 feet of the hotel in its project, something that threatened to kill the project, the city’s Planning Commission overturned that vote and cleared the way for the development to move forward.

When construction starts, the sign will be taken down and put in storage before it’s restored in preparation for the project to be completed.

Jergins Tunnel speakeasy? 

The Jergins Tunnel has had a busy 11 months after being closed to the public since the 1980s.

In December 2022, pop artist Lana Del Rey referenced the tunnel in her single “Did You Know There’s a Tunnel under Ocean Blvd,” and last month the developers of the recently announced Hard Rock Hotel said they intend to reopen the tunnel to the public once the hotel is completed, something that’s projected to happen in 2027.

Hey, there’s a tunnel under Ocean Boulevard! Who knew? Photo by Brian Addison.

The Jergins Tunnel opened in 1928 and allowed pedestrians to access the waterfront by crossing under Ocean Boulevard until it was closed in 1967. The Jergins Trust Building was torn down in 1988 and the lot has sat vacant with multiple hotel proposals being floated for the site over the past few decades.

Long Beach officials stipulated that the most recent hotel venture that appears to be moving forward would have to reactivate the tunnel as part of any plan to develop on the site at the intersection of Pine Avenue and Ocean.

If all goes well, the tunnel will be turned into a speakeasy that hotel guests and others can access once the Hard Rock opens.

Ocean Center Reopens 

Originally opened in 1929, the Ocean Center building was once a hub of activity at The Pike. It housed a menswear store, restaurant and other retail on the ground floor and had office space above that.

It was once firmly part of the “Walk of a Thousand Lights” in the Pike Amusement Zone, but as the beach was pushed farther away and infill was brought in to make what is now the land that Shoreline Village is built on and The Pike closed, the function of the building changed.

The Ocean Center Building with ornamental plaster as its grand entrance in Long Beach, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

After a years-long renovation effort to convert the building into luxury apartments, the building officially began leasing its units.

Things have gotten significantly more expensive since children could ride attractions for a few cents per ride. The 12th-floor penthouse was listed at $14,000 per month when the building opened in October.

Long Beach Airport’s mosaic preservation work

Long Beach announced plans in 2020 to overhaul Long Beach Airport with a new ticketing building, luggage carousels and the renovation of the historic 1941 terminal, which includes the mosaic floor that was discovered in 2012 under the carpet that covered the floor of the ticketing lobby.

Since then, the work site has been part construction and part archaeological dig as the city worked to restore the murals that are broken out into nine vignettes of oil wells, a sailboat, flight routes and an emblem of the city’s incorporation.

Numerous murals adorn the floor of Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal building, including the original city seal that features smoke stacks, a ship, an oil derrick and even the hand of Grace Richardson Clements dialing a rotary telephone. Clements is the artist behind the mosaics. Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Photos by Brandon Richardson.

The mosaic was designed by Grace Clements as part of a Works Progress Administration project in 1941.

For the first time in decades, the full mosaic was uncovered this year as the city continues to work toward the completion of the terminal improvement project, which the city expects to be done in 2024.

Looff’s neon sign heads to Glendale

Not everything that is saved always stays in Long Beach. This year, one of the last vestiges of The Pike, the Looff’s Light-A-Line neon sign was donated to the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale.

After it opened in 1941, Light-A-Line was one of the main attractions of The Pike, which opened in 1902 and closed in 1979. The game of skill, as it was determined to be by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge in 1961, continued operations through November 2022 when it permanently closed.

A crew removes the Looff’s neon sign. Courtesy of the Museum of Neon Art.

The business eventually was forced out of The Pike and had multiple homes before finally landing in a storefront at the corner of Long Beach Boulevard and 25th Street where players and history buffs were able to catch a glimpse of some of the artifacts leftover from The PIke like coaster cars from the Cyclone Racer rollercoaster or wooden horses from The Pike’s carousel attraction.

The game was part pinball, part bingo, where players would launch balls and try to light up a line to win cash prizes. The court ruling shielded Looff’s from being considered a gambling operation.

Looff’s may be permanently gone, but its sign will live on in Glendale.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.