It was New Year's Eve, 1928, when Poly High School senior Eloise Pattiz entertained in the opulent Grand Salon of the then-world-famous Virginia Hotel.
Pattiz was paid $15 to dance for the wealthy revelers at the Virginia that night, a sum at which she marveled. But to the young dancer, the hotel itself was even more wonderful than the pay. While exploring the nooks and crannies of the waterfront resort, gazing awestruck at its marble columns, massive curved stairway, Oriental rugs and imported European furnishings, Pattiz stumbled on a portrait of a distinguished man with a red carnation in his lapel.
"I thought, 'Gee, what a nice-looking man,' " Pattiz recalled. "I wondered, 'Is he the owner?' But, you see, I wasn't an anthropologist then; I was a 17-year-old dancer, and I didn't even look up who he was."
The carnation-sporting gentleman in the portrait was Col. Charles Rivers Drake, founder of the hotel. Although she displayed only a passing interest in the man on that New Year's Eve, in the nearly 60 years that have passed Pattiz has become obsessed with Drake, a man whom some local historians call "Long Beach's forgotten benefactor."
Drake was noted for founding the Virginia Hotel (which was razed in 1933), the Pike and the Virginia Country Club and for donating a park to the city and bringing the then-controversial Red Cars to Long Beach. At his death, the local newspaper, the Long Beach Sun, called him "one of this city's most beloved and wealthiest citizens . . . one of the first men to have envisioned the growth of Long Beach."
Omitted From History
But when local columnist Walter Case published the definitive history of Long Beach only seven years later, Drake was not even mentioned in the book, "History of Long Beach." Since then, Pattiz contends, Drake has been largely forgotten and his gifts to the city have been ignored by everyone from city government to the Long Beach Historical Society.
But Pattiz, 75, hopes to change all that. With her unflagging interest in Col. Charles Rivers Drake and the belief that "it's wrong, it's unjust that he should be ignored like that when he did so much for Long Beach," Pattiz has joined a small but adamant group of women who have historically championed the late Long Beach pioneer.
The first was Dorothy Bembridge, a charter member of the Long Beach Historical Society who has lived in this city since 1918. Her grandmother moved here in 1906 and ran the Ocean Boulevard rooming house where Drake lived when he moved to town in 1902 after leaving a long, varied and successful career in politics and development in Arizona.
Bembridge lives in the city's last Victorian mansion, across from Drake Park, which was named for the colonel.
"In 1969 these two ladies came up from the library and the Recreation Department because they heard there was going to be an expansion here," Bembridge recounts. "They said, 'Is this Drake Park?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'We want to see the bedroom where Sir Francis Drake slept.' I said, 'Do you mean Col. Charles Rivers Drake?' They left and I never saw them again."
Bembridge contends that such displays of public ignorance are the rule when it comes to Drake. This belief prompted Bembridge and Virginia Spiegel--another Drake aficionado--to present the mayor and City Council with framed pictures of the benefactor on the 50th anniversary of his death in 1978.
Although Bembridge said she and Spiegel now come to Drake's defense only when they feel his reputation is publicly slighted, Pattiz is stepping into the role of unofficial, self-styled public defender of the Drake reputation.
But as she herself acknowledges, Pattiz is a late bloomer when it comes to history--Drake's or any other. Born in Riverbank, Calif., in a town she describes as "a wide space in the road south of Sacramento," Pattiz moved a lot as a child, going from Northern California, to Jerome, Ariz., to Ventura County and finally to Long Beach.
She spent most of her school years here, attending high school with entertainer Spike Jones and becoming a dance instructor and entertainer upon graduation.
Dance Studio Opened
Pattiz opened the first dance studio on Santa Catalina Island and danced her way in tiny clubs in tiny towns from Avalon to New York City. She married three times and had two children but eventually spent much of her adult life living alone. Pattiz retired from show business and teaching in the 1960s and moved to Hawaii, where she lived on and off for 15 years.
But in 1979, she said, her children wanted her back in California, and she eventually ended up in Long Beach, where she lives in the New Hope Home for senior citizens.
Term Paper Assignment
At age 71, Pattiz entered Long Beach City College, where she began studying her newly acquired love--anthropology. In an English class, the diminutive grandmother of 11 was assigned a term paper on the history of the Long Beach Pike, where she swam as a child with her younger brother in the bathhouse built by Drake.
In researching the paper, she stumbled on Col. Drake again and was intrigued by his contributions and then angered by the lack of information on the man. And he has become her new project.
"I did my own poll," Pattiz said. "I asked 37 people about Col. Drake, and all of them said, 'Who? Who's that?' except one lady in the bank line said there's a park named after him."
So she wrote a treatise on the man, which she is offering to anyone who will publish it. She also wants to volunteer to lecture on Drake and his many accomplishments to any audience who will listen. And she champions his cause to acquaintances old and new--on the bus, in the bank line, in the New Hope Home.
"I just think it's so unjust that people don't know about the colonel after all he's done for Long Beach," Pattiz said. "It's about time they found out."