Postcard showing the roller coaster over the beach. Hotel Virginia in the background.

Local History is a weekly feature that looks at the people, places and events of Long Beach’s past. Have a question or a piece of history you want us to explore? Email [email protected].

For the first 14 years after Long Beach’s incorporation—the real one, in 1888, not the fake second one in 1895—there wasn’t much to do in the city other than go to church hang out at the park or spin some platters on the Victrola. The little town had the giant Pacific as its main draw, but it was far from the fun capital of the world.

The amusement factor picked up a bit with the establishment of the Pike in 1902, with its new bathhouse and a few scattered amusements. By 1914, the Pike was a bustling amusement park, with vaudeville stages, dance halls, moving picture theaters and thrill rides. And chief among those hair-raising rides full of terrified, screaming people, was the city’s first roller coaster, which had no official name, but was commonly called the Figure 8, which described the layout of the track.

It was built in 1907, joining the ranks of scores of similar coasters, all inspired by the popularity of the country’s earliest roller coasters, especially those built in the late 19th century in Coney Island, New York. That park’s early star attraction, 1884’s Switchback Railway, hurtled riders around the track at a velocity of 6 mph. Over the decades, thrill-seekers’ thresholds for terror have increased to the point where roller coasters today blast riders upside-down and sideways and backward at speeds of up to 200 mph. Some people maintain that it’s fun.

The Figure 8’s official opening was on July 20, 1907, following a few months of delays to iron out the bugs and deal with mishaps, like the time in May when a large delivery of heavy lumber for the ride’s construction was left on the beach and subsequently floated out to sea when the tide came in and then back out. Fortunately, the tide was generous enough to drop most of the wood back a few yards down the beach, where workers hauled them back to the construction site on the strand at the foot of Cedar Avenue.

The attraction was a big hit, according to the Long Beach Telegram, which reported that “the roller coaster, which is the largest on the Pacific Coast, is not sufficient to accommodate the many who clamor for a ride.”

For a dime (a nickel for kids), riders cruised the track for three laps above the ocean and the bathers below. I could find no reports about it being a terrifying ride; more likely it was a leisurely and enjoyable sightseeing cruise that the coaster provided.

The coaster was located across from Tarrytown-on-the-Pike, a fairly, for the time, ambitious one-stop entertainment complex in an area enclosed by 15-foot-tall white walls in battlement style with flags on top. It featured a 50-foot-long stage for vaudeville acts and along the sides were concession areas with game booths, cigar stands, food grills and moving picture shows. It opened on June 29, 1907, a month before the Figure 8, and was destroyed by fire six months later in December.

The roller coaster lasted longer, running daily until it was torn down in 1914 to make room for a more ambitious roller coaster, the Jackrabbit Racer, which opened in 1915. The Jackrabbit enjoyed a 15-year run until it, too, was torn down to accommodate the Pike’s most famous roller coaster, the Cyclone Racer in 1930, a terrifying ride that continued running until the Pike was closed in 1979.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.