Local history: The story of Long Beach’s ‘bridge to nowhere’

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].

In the 1950s you could buy a lot of bridge for a million bucks. In Long Beach, the graceful span that crosses Marine Stadium, the J.H. Davies Bridge, more commonly called the Naples Bridge, was built for a bit more—$1,167,106. Today, that would buy a serviceable home in a good part of town, but in the mid-1950s, that would equate to more than $12.5 million in today’s dollars, so the Davies Bridge wasn’t cheap.

Built in order to connect Second Street out of Naples and Belmont Shore to Pacific Coast Highway and on into Orange County, the bridge was completed, if you could call it that, in 1956. Named for J.H. Davies, a local structural engineer who drew up the preliminary plans, the bridge was a flawless and graceful work of design and engineering and if it had any problems it was this: There were no approaches to the bridge from either end. It was just standing there like a giant piece of modern public art.

The lack of approaches should have been an easily rectified problem, but it wasn’t. Constant delays mostly due to litigation over the land, especially at the Naples side of the bridge, as well as public protests over the usage of that land, made the bridge unapproachable, hence useless as a bridge in the classical sense for nearly three and a half years.

Mocking headlines ensued: “Bridge of Sighs,” was the least of these, while the worst was “Million-Dollar Seagull Roost Gathers Guano.”

Davies, who had been in charge of emergency relief in the wake of the 1933 earthquake as well as supervising the design and construction of the Municipal Auditorium, wasn’t an arrogant man; he didn’t name the bridge after himself. In his plans, he referred to the structure as the Marine Stadium Bridge. It wasn’t named for Davies until after his death in 1953.

In September 1958 the bridge became of some use for a 30-year-old man who made a $100 bet that he could get to the top of the bridge and then dive into the waters of Marine Stadium. He accomplished the feat, only to be nabbed by the cops and hit with a $15 fine, for a net gain of $85.

The Davies Bridge was approved in October 1954 and was completed April 20, 1956.

Cars finally go over the J.H. Davies Bridge on Sept. 9, 1959. Photo courtesy USC Libraries.

On Sept. 5, 1959, after a delay of three years, four months and 20 minutes after its initial planned opening to traffic (the additional 20 minutes was due to the late arrival of Mayor Raymond Kealer), the mayor and Miss Welcome to Long Beach Karen Krancas, cut a ribbon on the east approach to the bridge and a motorcade of city officials and community leaders drove westward into Naples and on into the Shore.

The bridge to nowhere was, at last, finally going places.

Local history: The saga of Deadman’s Island

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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