Rising next to the Port of Long Beach is a burgeoning community of high-rise condos, town houses and rentals catering to urban dwellers. Fueled by redevelopment funds, downtown Long Beach is experiencing a renaissance, with several 1920s-era commercial properties, such as the old Kress store, being converted to residential housing.
How it grew
Long Beach, incorporated in 1888, was named simply for its long, wide beaches. The Port of Long Beach was established in 1911, bringing jobs and residents to the downtown shoreline. When oil was discovered in 1921 on Signal Hill, a building boom spurred downtown construction.
After the 1933 earthquake, downtown Long Beach recovered quickly and the port was expanded.
More oil was discovered in 1936, which in turn fueled the building of nearby housing to accommodate workers. With the Pacific Streetcar network providing local and distant transportation, the downtown area was a thriving commercial and residential center during its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s.
But after World War II, returning GIs and their families were less interested in urban living. Downtown was no longer chic, and by the 1950s port expansion had converted a quaint coastline downtown into a gritty commercial port area.
More than 1,500 new residential condominium units were in the works or completed by the end of last year. An additional 2,000 units are slated to break ground this year.
Besides modern lofts, quaint Craftsman bungalows and Victorian homes can be found in several downtown locations. One of the city's grand reminders of the past, the 1904 Queen Anne Victorian known as the Bembridge House, is home to the Historical Society of Long Beach.
Downtown Long Beach includes the area inland from the Pacific Ocean to 10th Street to the north and bordered by Alamitos Avenue on the east and the 710 Freeway on the west.
With the Metro Blue Line providing transportation from Long Beach Boulevard to downtown Los Angeles, many residents commute to L.A. by train. Others travel by way of the 710 and 405 freeways.
For cyclists, Bikestation Long Beach provides bicycle storage and links to buses, light rail and shuttle service. Long Beach has more than 65 miles of paved bike paths along the beach and throughout the city.
Scott Kato and his wife purchased a downtown loft 2 1/2 years ago after relocating from Huntington Beach. "Having come from another beach community, my first instinct appreciated the value here," said Scott Kato, a local real estate agent. "Besides, our home on the 21st floor has views of the coastline, the city and the Queen Mary, plus we can take the elevator down and we're in a pedestrian-friendly place."
Downtown redevelopment efforts encompass 120 blocks with about 364,000 full-time residents. An array of shops and restaurants includes the Pike shopping center and the East Village Arts District. There are more than 100 places to eat, according to the Downtown Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Clean and safe
The "Clean and Safe Program" was initiated by the Downtown Long Beach Assn. to keep the district shining and to project a feeling of security. A uniformed group of ambassadors and a crew of sanitation workers help keep the sidewalks, streets and storefronts clean and tidy.
Downtown Long Beach is served by the Long Beach Unified School District. On the 2004 Academic Performance Index, International Elementary scored 724 out of a potential 1,000. Franklin Middle School scored 579, and Long Beach Polytechnic High School, 697.
*Year to date
Several recent sales have topped $1 million in a condominium complex on Ocean Boulevard that features a fitness center, conference room and community pool with spa. Currently, about 80 condominiums are listed in the area, with a dozen priced at more than $1 million.
About 14 single-family homes are for sale, ranging from $203,500 for a 520-square-foot, one-bedroom home to a two-story updated Craftsman with five baths for $725,000.