Once a staid community where men couldn't...

Once a staid community where men couldn't bare their chests even to go swimming, Manhattan Beach today is a prosperous enclave of the South Bay with a prestigious address, a town that has become home to aging baby boomers building wood and mortar castles by the sand.

Founded as a summer playground named Potencia (meaning "power") and later called Shore Acres, the city's name was changed by a homesick New Yorker who came west for the real estate boom.

Boom his town did, and despite a rattlesnake-infested boardwalk and--decades later--the infamous McMartin Pre-School scandal, it has survived to become a suburban retreat for its residents and a favorite beach for tourists. It was 1902 when land developer Stewart Merrill renamed the town after his beloved hometown island of Manhattan. People from Los Angeles and Pasadena boarded the Red Car to get to the summer resort, where only 12 families lived year-round.

The town's first pier, conceived to attract new home buyers, was built above a newfangled machine to convert the power of the waves into electricity to light the pier.

In 1912, as the town grew, the Neptunian Women's Club, devoted to building libraries and planting ice plant on the enormous sand dunes where where would sand-toboggan, pushed the townsfolk to incorporate.

In 1918, residents--tired of having the pier knocked down by waves--began building a state-of-the-art structure with concrete pilings and decking--the first steel-reinforced concrete pier on the West Coast. Its distinctive Roundhouse, where hot dogs and soft drinks were sold, was completed three years later.

But it wasn't the city's only pier. Farther north, at 34th Street, was Peck's Pier and pavilion, the only pier in Manhattan Beach that allowed blacks.

Built at the turn of the century, it was near Bruce's Beach, a popular black-owned resort. Eventually, a combination of storms and social injustice brought an end to both the pier and the resort.

After they disappeared, so did a nearby black neighborhood.

City officials condemned the property for a public park in the 1930s as an excuse for moving out several black families.

But Culiacan Park would not be built for three decades.

Manhattan Beach remained residential until World War II, when aircraft plants started to spring up along Aviation Boulevard, and the population began to explode.

Three decades later, Manhattan Beach was well along in its transition from quaint beach town to affluent community.

In the late 1970s, a 186-acre Chevron USA oil tank farm gave way to Manhattan Village, a neighborhood of 515 homes and an upscale shopping center and hotel.

The remaining 22 tank farm acres will be the site of a $77-million sound stage complex to be built by the investment company of Disney scion Roy E. Disney.


By the Numbers


Incorporated: Dec. 2, 1912

Square miles: 4

Number of city parks: 11

City employees: 235 fulltime, 135 part time

1996-97 operating budget: 32 million (capital and restricted funds excluded)


White: 90%

Latino: 5%

Asian: 4%

Black / Other: 1%


Married couple families with children: 20%

Married couple families with no children: 28%

Other types of families: 9%

Nonfamily households: 43%


Population: 29,105

Households: 7,869

Average hopusehold size: 4

Median age: 31


Median household income: $68,589

Median household income/LA County: $34,965

Median home value: $506,700

Employed (16 and older): 20,935

Percentage of women employed: 70%

Percentage of men employed: 83%

Self-employed: 2,101

Carpoolers: 1,072


Number of stores: 400

Number of employees: 4,518

Annual sales: $444 million

Source: Claritas Inc. retail figures are for 1995. All other figures are for 1990. Percentages rounded to the nearest whole number.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World