Middough Building’s journey from boys’ and men’s clothes to luxury lofts

The brothers Lorne and Way Middough built their Boys’ and Men’s shops on the corner of Broadway and Locust Avenue back when the area was tossing up new buildings even more frantically than it is today. The still-young city—it was in its peak 40s during the mid-to-late 1920s—was busting out all over and many of the city’s most notable buildings were being erected on Downtown streets.

In the half-decade between 1924 and 1929, Long Beach residents witnessed the completion of the Farmers & Merchants and Security Pacific bank buildings, the Willmore, the Villa Riviera and Cooper Arms apartments, the Kress Department Store, the Pacific Coast and Ebell clubs and the Jergins Trust Building.

Given all that, it would’ve been easy to overlook the Middough Building amid all the dust and civic construction. Built by the brothers in 1925 for $400,000 and designed by the Jergins architect Harvey Lochridge, the Middough brothers moved their shops into the first floor and rented out the rest of the eight-story building.

Some of artist Sarah Arnold’s bas-relief art on the Insurance Exchange Building. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

Among the early tenants was the newly created Long Beach Municipal Court, which gobbled up the third, fourth and sixth floors.

The Middough Building kept its name for a brisk six years before the Great Depression, and in 1931 the brothers closed up shop. With the court decamping to Jergins in 1929, the building became a place for insurance agents to work from and its name became the Insurance Exchange Building.

The new owners, and all subsequent ones, admirably, kept the Beaux-Arts building’s design work, most notable its terra cotta tiles depicting griffins, tridents and sea serpents, and the lower bas-relief work for the Boys’ Shop showing bas-relief renderings by local artist Sarah Arnold of boys running, boating, playing tennis and otherwise in full frolic.

The Men’s Shop sign is still visible on the Insurance Exchange Building. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

It changed hands a few more times, always maintaining its role as a place to park insurance agents, until 1999 when Dan Peterson purchased the Insurance Exchange for $1 million and then proceeded to throw another $6 million at it for renovations, including an earthquake retrofit because the building was slated for demolition due to its seismic inadequacies.

Peterson used architect Jonathan Glasgow, of Interstices, to work the same magic on the Insurance Exchange Building that he brought to bear in converting Pine Avenue’s Walker and Kress buildings into loft living spaces. The conversion was a major pioneering move in activating the moribund Promenade.

The Boys’ Shop sign is on the Broadway side of the building. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

The luxury lofts feature the urban looks of Glasgow’s other projects, including exposed ducts and distressed brickwork. The lofts sold out before the conversion was even completed in 2005, with then-2nd District Councilman Dan Baker being one of the first to move in (and the first to move out, when he abruptly resigned from the Council and blew town amid allegations of shady real estate dealings, or, as he put it, a “witch hunt” by the press.) Peterson still lives in the building’s penthouse.

Today, the Insurance Exchange Building still stands where it has since 1925, the “Middoughs’ Men’s Shop” carved into stone on the Promenade side and the “Boys’ Shop” on Broadway. Harvelle’s music club is in the basement and Congregation Ale House on the first floor. The 14 lofts in the building sell today for between $475,000 and $1.4 million.

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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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