Sea, Sun and Skin Prevail at 'Open-Air Singles Bar'

Times Staff Writer

Nobody is sure just how or when the place got its name.

Perhaps, they say, in the 1950s, when Belmont Shore was a sleepy beach resort nestled comfortably in the skirts of Los Angeles. Or a decade later when local teen-agers spent months on end there standing in the slow steamy swoon of summer.

Not much has changed since then. Oh, maybe the crowd has diversified. Grown slightly older and more prosperous. But people still crowd this brief stretch of sand and water for relief from the heat and fun in the sun. To see and be seen. Perchance to meet.

It's the quintessential Southern California life style spread out on a sea of beach blankets. A local hot spot for which one sandwich and innumerable T-shirts have been named. It's Horny Corner. And this summer, as every summer, it is teeming with inactivity in celebration of at least two things: lazy life in this suburb by the sea and the perennial parade of sexes in the summer.

'The Beautiful People'

"It's where the beautiful people hang out," said Sgt. Dave Drake, a Long Beach police officer whose detail patrols city beaches including Horny Corner, where 1st Street meets Bay Shore Avenue at Alamitos Bay. "It's kind of like an open-air singles bar."

Indeed, they come from everywhere and all walks of life.

Like Bob Beech, a longshoreman from San Pedro who, according to his friends, has the most phenomenal success of any man at the bay in meeting attractive women.

"If you put your effort into it, you can get about one out of two" to go out with you, said Beech, 27, relaxing in a beach chair looking suave in his dark glasses and gold chain. Horny Corner is a good place to meet women, he said, because "it's such a (compact) beach that you can just go from woman to woman until one of them says yes."

Or Barbara Ayulo, 23, of Rancho Palos Verdes, who came expecting to see what her companion, Stella Mance, 21, described as a "guy here that she thinks is really cute."

The fact that the gentleman in question had not appeared on the beach this day, however, was not considered a major setback by either woman.

Enjoys the 'Scenery'

"Once in a while the scenery gets real good," said Ayulo who, like her friend and almost every other woman on the beach, wore a skimpy French-cut bikini.

But if the scenery gets good, it also at times gets bizarre. Because Bay Shore, the street adjacent to the bay, is closed during summer months to all but pedestrian traffic, a sort of carnival atmosphere prevails. Teen-age boys on skateboards and bicycles, gangs of Frisbee players in the middle of the street, an ice cream vendor yelling "rhubarbs and ice cream"--all are indelibly part of the scene.

A local restaurant recently named its ham and cheese sandwich The Horny Corner. "A lot of people buy it," said Craig Way, manager of the California Pizza Company on nearby 2nd Street. "Some of them are hesitant to say the whole name--they just point to it and order the ham and cheese, or try not to say it too loud."

Others are quite content to make spectacles of themselves at the famous corner.

Exotic Wildlife

"The other day a guy walked by with a tarantula on his shoulder," said Ayulo. "And there's another guy who sits across the street in his front yard with a 15-foot boa constrictor."

Residents of the condominiums and apartments directly across from the beach seem to enjoy all the ruckus. Scott Kocour, 39, is an industrial consultant who has been renting a house on Bay Shore for two years. "It's nice to have the bay as a front yard," he said of his dwelling, which sports a wooden sign in front dubbing it "Horny Korner Headquarters."

He spends much of his time, he said, sitting in front of the large window in his living room with a pair of binoculars watching "girls and boats or girls on boats."

"The young ones call me Dad and the old ones just say hi," said Kocour.

Down the street, John Beard, 67, has been living in the same house for 30 years. "They don't bother me," he said of the young people who prance almost naked up and down the sidewalk fronting his home.

Although a few years ago the area was taken over by a bunch of "raunchy" rowdies prone to open drinking and cavorting, he said, increased police surveillance has lessened that problem.

Skimpy Suits

Today, according to Horny Corner lifeguard Jim Solum, the main casualties on the beach are "men who have eyestrain . . . from twisting their necks too far and women who get badly sunburned from wearing bathing suits skimpier than they're used to wearing."

On an average summer day, he said, about 200 to 500 sunbathers ages 16 to 35 gather at Horny Corner. "The place to be in Long Beach, if you're a lifeguard, is right where I'm standing," said Solum, 34, who won the spot on the basis of seniority. "The younger guards eat their hearts out to be here."

Drake, of the Police Department, said there is still an occasional problem with visitors "from out of town who come and drink a little too much to try and impress the girls" at the corner. But for the most part, he said, the situation is under control. And so continues the ritual courting among the boys and girls of summer.

Susan Patchett met her first husband here. "He swept me away and took me to Lake Tahoe," recalled Patchett, 23. Now she has two children and is no longer married to the man. But she still comes to Horny Corner, she said, because "I grew up here. I used to spend months here in the summer."

Lou Bond, a professional dancer from Los Alamitos, said she comes to the corner to, among other things, meet men by handing them her business card. "I'm a social butterfly," said Bond, 29.

And Kari Tillman, 18, said she's been coming to Horny Corner since she was 11. "People know that if they want to meet someone they should come down here," said Tillman, a Cal State Long Beach student with long, blond hair and a golden tan. She said she mainly comes for the sun but doesn't object to meeting an occasional handsome stranger.

She's heard all the lines though.

"They usually say you look great in that suit or tell you they admire your hair," Tillman related. "It gets you talking to them."

Sometimes, she said, an admirer will simply say that he's been watching her on the beach, thinks she looks good and would like to get to know her.

"The worst thing," she said, "is if a guy tells you his friend wants to meet you."

Some things never change.

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