Long Beach Kicks Off an 8-Month Party Celebrating Its Centennial

Times Staff Writer

The festivities began with a long blast from the Queen Mary’s foghorn.

Later there was an 800-pound birthday cake. And free “I’m a Long Beach Native” T-shirts given to the 972 people who produced birth certificates proving they were born there. And complimentary 100-second grocery store shopping sprees to the seven residents present who were at least 100 years old.

“Of course, they can appoint stand-in shoppers,” promised Ralph Liebman, Executive Vice President of Ralphs Grocery Co., speaking from a platform loaded with dignitaries including Gov. George Deukmejian.


The centennerians and dignitaries were among an estimated 3,000 people on hand at the Queen Mary parking lot Saturday for the official kickoff of the Long Beach Centennial. Organizers of this city’s 100th birthday bash said that foghorn marked the beginning of an eight-month, $1.8-million promotional extravaganza the likes of which has never been seen in this city of 400,000 that used to be called Iowa by the Sea but is now in the midst of its greatest boom in decades.

‘A Magnificent Role’

“I have a love affair with this great city,” said Deukmejian, who lived in Long Beach for many years before going to Sacramento and still maintains a home there. “We’re just delighted that it is playing such a magnificent role.”

The centennial celebration is largely the brainchild of Dick Sargent, a Long Beach resident who was vice president of operations under Peter Ueberroth for the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Now president of International City Celebration Inc., a private, nonprofit corporation sanctioned by the city, Sargent, 53, decided a year ago that the event was a perfect opportunity to “tell regionally, nationally and internationally what Long Beach really is.”

What it is, he said he believes, is a city poised on the verge of greatness as a center of commerce, entertainment and tourism. Already its downtown skyline--punctuated by the effects of major redevelopment--is host to the steel skeleton of what soon will be a 35-story World Trade Center. In the last 10 years, Sargent said, the amount of office space citywide has nearly tripled, while hotel rooms by 1992 are expected to have doubled in number from 1984.

Apparently enough businesses shared his optimism to contribute the bulk--either in cash or in services--of the centennial’s budget. Those resources are being used, Sargent said, to mount a major publicity campaign worldwide, to put on Saturday’s kickoff as well as a Centennial Festival continuing today at Shoreline Village, and to help plan and promote more than 35 events scheduled through October.

Scheduled Events

These include the Long Beach Ballet’s world premiere of “Concerto for Elvis” in two weeks; the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in April; the Long Beach Marathon, Queen Mary Jazz Festival and a one-day Latin festival called Carnaval in May, and a 10-day centennial celebration downtown ending with a huge picnic at the city’s El Dorado Park in July.

By focusing on already-existing events, Sargent said, he is making the point that Long Beach already has a lot to offer.

And indeed, that seemed to be the consensus among those at the Queen Mary. “The city has a nice climate,” said Pearl Taylor, who turned 100 on Jan. 8. “It’s pretty along the ocean, and the people are nice.”

Of course, there were other motives for being there.

“We wanted to get our T-shirt,” explained Jan Jones, an elementary school counselor who said she was born in Long Beach 36 years ago.