Mayor promises at vigil that Long Beach will rebuild burned rainbow-colored lifeguard tower: ‘The gayer the better’

Jeremy Rochas, a 24-year-old lifeguard who helped paint a prominent lifeguard tower in bright rainbow colors in honor of Long Beach Pride last year, stood with tears in his eyes Wednesday evening near the same tower, now burned beyond recognition.

It was an emotional experience, first at the thought that someone burned it down deliberately in a hate crime—and now standing amid roughly 100 community leaders and residents who gathered in solidarity of the LGBTQ community, promising to rebuild.

“It truly is amazing,” said Rochas, who is gay. “It makes me feel so welcome, so wanted here.”

Wednesday’s gathering at the tower, located in Alamitos Beach near 12th Place, included Mayor Robert Garcia, Councilwoman Cindy Allen and Angel Macias, founder and CEO of California Families in Focus, among other leaders.

“It is hurtful,” said Garcia, who is the city’s first openly gay mayor. “It is angering and it is sad to see folks cause destruction in our community.”

The city will restore the tower, he said: “The gayer, the better.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia speaks at a unity rally in support of the LGBTQ+ community at the site of the Pride Tower in Long Beach Wednesday, March 24, 2021. The rainbow-colored lifeguard tower, painted by lifeguards in honor of Pride month last year, burned down in the early morning hours on Tuesday. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The tower burned down in the early hours of Tuesday morning, in what many believe was a targeted attack on the LGBTQ community.

The tower was the only one painted in the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ Pride flag—and the only one to burn down in the past 70 years, if not ever, according to Marine Safety Chief Gonzalo Medina.

The incident is currently under investigation by the Long Beach Fire Department.

Alan Jones, sporting a black leather cap emblazoned with the California bear and a rainbow pin inscribed with “LGBTQ Elder,” said he was disgusted with what he also feels confident was a deliberate attack.

“It’s just unbelievable that this would be targeted,” the 60-year-old said.

Jones, who left his native North Carolina at age 17 but still speaks with a slight Southern twang, said despite his strong suspicion that the fire was an act of hate, it hasn’t changed his view of Long Beach as an inclusive, welcoming city.

“This is a loving community,” he said “The love outweighs the hate.”

Two supporters wave Pride flags as the wind picks up after a unity rally in support of the LGBTQ+ community at the site of the Pride Tower in Long Beach Wednesday, March 24, 2021. The rainbow-colored lifeguard tower, painted by lifeguards in honor of Pride month last year, burned down in the early morning hours on Tuesday. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Carlos Torres, the new director of The LGBTQ Center Long Beach, said the tower’s destruction only serves to reinforce the center’s mandate.

“Since our inception, our job has been to make sure that our community has the resources it needs to thrive,” Torres said. “It just validates that what we do is not only important, but necessary.”

Marine Safety Chief Medina promised that the tower would be rebuilt by June.

“This tower will be brought back,” Medina said. “And it will be here in time for Pride.”

Just over a hundred people gather for a unity rally in support of the LGBTQ+ community at the site of the Pride Tower in Long Beach Wednesday, March 24, 2021. The rainbow-colored lifeguard tower, painted by lifeguards in honor of Pride month last year, burned down in the early morning hours on Tuesday. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The burned remains, left, of a rainbow-colored lifeguard tower, right. Photos courtesy the Long Beach Fire Department.

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Alena Maschke writes about all things business and beyond for the Long Beach Business Journal/Long Beach Post. Born and raised in Germany, she first fell in love with California during an exchange year at UCLA. After receiving her master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 2017, she returned to the Golden State with an appetite for great stories, pupusas and the occasional Michelada.
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