Fire Station 9 has officially been recommended for historic status, which could save the Los Cerritos firehouse from demolition and potentially see it transformed into a bakery.

The Long Beach Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend the City Council designate the exterior of the building as a historic landmark along with some elements of its interior. The recommendation will now be forwarded to the City Council, which will have the final say.

The vote came as a community group sought to preserve the entirety of the 1930s firehouse, including many elements inside, but city staff said that recurring mold issues that closed the station permanently in 2019 will likely require floorplan changes and extensive remediation, which could undermine any broad historic designation inside the building.

Commissioners voted to ask the City Council to designate the reception room and fireplace, the engine room and its wood truss ceilings, and the fire hose tower on the inside as historic, with a request that any other elements inside the building be adaptively reused to the best extent possible or photographed for the historic record.

The commission’s recommendation comes as the city is trying to sell the building. It’s currently in negotiations with the Tolentino family, which owns Gemmae Bake Shop in West Long Beach.

A representative from the family was on hand Tuesday night to support the commission’s vote and share the family’s hopes of expanding their operations to Fire Station 9.

The bakery has made a name for itself over the past 30 years selling its Filipino cuisine like pepper steak and rice, and its ube-flavored baked goods out of a strip mall west of the 710 Freeway on Willow Street.

Prescilla Tolentino and her daughter Catherine Tolentino own and operate Gemmae Bake Shop, which has served the community for 30 years. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

“As Long Beach has been home to our restaurant, Gemmae Bake Shop, for over 30 years, we are excited to embark on the next chapter of our family business’ growth,” the family said in a letter submitted to the commission. “We have a vision to bring back Firehouse 9 to its former glory, and we look forward to being a part of continuing its legacy.

Included with the letter was a preliminary floor plan for the proposed expansion of the bakery that includes a dining area, kitchen and bakery production space in what was once the garage where fire engines and apparatus were stored.

“There is no doubt that Gemmae Bake Shop has outgrown its current location, and we want to expand the business to enable us to increase output at higher volumes and be able to reach a new customer base,” the letter said.

Gemmae’s negotiations with the city are ongoing, and a vote by the City Council to decide if it will agree with the recommendation to declare the building as historic could likely be pushed to next year.

The building was built in the late 1930s after the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake destroyed the original Fire Station 9 and damaged City Hall.

It was built through the Recession-era Works Progress Administration program with federal funding and was designed by W. Horace Austin, who also designed other notable buildings in the city like the Farmers & Merchants Bank building on Pine Avenue and the historic terminal building at Long Beach Airport.

As part of its vote Tuesday, the Cultural Heritage Commission asked the City Council to require whoever purchases the building to replace the historic Works Progress Administration plaque that was taken off sometime after the station closed.

The station shut down in 2019 after the city said recurring mold issues led to firefighters becoming sick, something that community groups have disputed in their efforts to save the station from demolition.

A vote in 2021 by the city’s Planning Commission to allow the building to be knocked down was postponed indefinitely and for the past year, the city has tried to sell the property for potential reuse.

A new Fire Station 9 was approved by the City Council in January, which will be located just a few blocks north of the old station. Construction has yet to begin on the new building, which has been estimated to cost upward of $20 million.

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