‘Pete’ Archer; Water Sports Coach


Alva Milton “Pete” Archer, Long Beach’s internationally known Grand Old Man of Rowing, has died at his Belmont Heights home. He was 97.

Archer, who taught legions of champion rowing crews and Olympic medalists in rowing, swimming, diving and water polo, died July 26, said his daughter, Robyn Archer.

“Rowing and swimming are the two greatest sports,” Archer told The Times in 1987. “I’ve always maintained that people in or on the water never have any problems like dope or roughness. Water is relaxing.”


Archer coached teams in several sports--including football--to 146 championships and provided a basic foundation for such Olympians as Pat McCormick, who won gold medals in diving in 1952 and 1956; and John Van Blom, who crewed in four Olympics and coached the Cal State Long Beach crew.

The coach epitomized water sports in the Long Beach area, where he excelled at all of them and taught at Wilson High School for 41 years. He helped found the city recreation department, taught swimming lessons at the beach for 25 years, created a swim team at Long Beach City College and rowing teams for local high schools and colleges, and established the highly respected Long Beach Rowing Assn.

Archer’s wider reputation developed after he cleaned docks, schlepped building materials and generally served as a self-described “peon” during and after construction of Marine Stadium for rowing events at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. After the games, an enchanted Archer learned to row from English boat builder Fred Wood, who had made shells for the events.

Adapting the stadium to permanent use--and launching his own and its entwined reputations--Archer convinced Long Beach to buy the 25 shells used by Japan’s Olympic rowing crew, which needed money for tickets home. Archer then established a rowing program for local high schools and colleges, including Cal State Long Beach, training students on two 16-person rowing barges.

Although Archer retired from teaching and coaching in 1968, his association only became stronger with Marine Stadium and its boathouse, which was named for him in 1981. Archer was asked to maintain Los Angeles’ 28 racing shells as the city became competitive in the international sport of rowing.

“The secret is constant maintenance, to never let them get worn down to where it becomes a major job to repair them,” Archer said then. He had delightedly spent his Sundays for two decades secluded in the boathouse varnishing the brown wood shells, likening himself to “an artist working on a picture.”


He continued that meticulous “retirement job” for 21 years, leaving his boathouse, boats and the Long Beach parks and recreation department in 1989, when he turned 85.

Short, stocky and bald, Archer was considered slightly cantankerous, with, in Van Blom’s words, “no qualms about chewing somebody out.”

Although arthritis and an artificial hip forced Archer to abandon rowing as an octogenarian, he continued to swim three times a day.

Born in Salida, Colo., Archer learned swimming and diving at the old beach-side Pike Amusement Park during family summers in Long Beach, long before the Archers moved there permanently in 1923.

Young Archer dived off the balcony for dimes and nickels given him by tourists. When he volunteered to replace an injured sailor for a dive off the park’s 70-foot roller coaster on Navy Day, 14-year-old Archer broke his nose and sprained both wrists and his back.

Undaunted, he became a lifeguard and excelled at water polo, swimming and diving at Poly High School, competing with legendary athletes and later actors Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku.


In 1925, Archer helped found the Long Beach Playground Department, forerunner to the city’s recreation department, which he served for six decades. He earned a degree and teaching credentials from Long Beach City College and USC, and began coaching at Wilson High in 1928.

Archer met his wife, Astrid, one summer when she signed up for his swimming lessons at the beach, and married her in 1937. She died in 1998.

He is survived by one son, Steve; three daughters, Suzie Scott and Wendy and Robyn Archer; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 5 p.m. today at Marine Stadium in Long Beach.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made either to the Astrid and Pete Archer Scholarship Fund, Long Beach Junior Crew, 5318 E. 2nd St. PMB 366, Long Beach, CA 90803; or to the Rowing Center Construction Fund, 240 Euclid Ave., Long Beach, CA 90803.