Halloween is over but ghost stories persist

So it turns out Huntington Beach is haunted. And by a pretty renowned specter too.

That was one of the things I learned Tuesday morning as I took a walking tour of downtown with two members of the city's Historic Resources Board. On the tour, we passed 100-year-old buildings, vintage houses and the onetime sites of City Hall and the Fun Zone by the pier.

All fascinating, sure. But I'm an old movie buff, and so my favorite part of the tour was the courtyard haunted by the ghost of Rudolph Valentino.

For the unaware, Valentino was a heartthrob of the silent era, nicknamed the "Latin Lover," who died in 1926 at the age of 31. The movies in which he starred — "The Sheik," and "Blood and Sand"— may not dominate Redboxes today, but according to longtime residents' memories that the resources board diligently gathered, he does dominate the apartment courtyard at 323-327 Sixth St.

What has his ghost done there, exactly? I hoped to get a story about it springing out of the bushes or moaning over a lost love, but Gloria Alvarez and Kathy Bryant, the board members who led the tour, said they hadn't heard any anecdotes.

Once they formally launch "A Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Huntington Beach," though, they hope residents who have been spooked (or hit on) by Valentino will come forward. For that matter, they hope people who have other memories of Huntington over the last century-plus will share stories and photos, if only to preserve as much of Surf City's history as possible.

When I heard the other week that the resources board planned to organize a historic tour of downtown, I was intrigued. I've lived in England and Connecticut and toured preserved neighborhoods from Santa Fe, N.M., to Savannah, Ga., and when I've walked past the sleek, modern architecture of the Strand and Plaza Almeria, "historic" hasn't been the first word that came to mind.

As I found out Tuesday morning, though, downtown offers more vintage sites than you might expect. True, some of the two dozen stops on the tour merely indicate what once stood in a since-renovated spot (did you know Triangle Park used to be a baseball diamond?), but hidden among BJ's and the Rockin Fig Surf Shop are some remarkable surviving gems.

The small building that houses Papa Joe's Pizza and the El Don liquor store, for example, dates back to 1905. That weathered three-story building at 421 Eighth St. used to be the Evangeline Hotel, which opened in 1906 and often hosted Civil War veterans; the structure would work beautifully as a restored bed-and-breakfast. And three brick-and-mortar jail cells, dating to 1916, can still be found behind Longboard Restaurant & Pub.

By the end of the year, the resources board plans to print 10,000 copies of the tour brochure to hotels, libraries and other spots around town. The tour is self-guided and takes about an hour and a half.

Alvarez and Bryant, who oversaw the project along with fellow board member Barbara Haynes, said they may expand it (and adapt it to QR Reader) if enough new photos come in.

The fun of historic neighborhoods, for me, is to realize that the sites we marvel at now were once taken for granted. And, likewise, the modern buildings we breeze past may enthrall people in the future.

Perhaps a century from now, the resources board will hand out pamphlets explaining the origin of Jack's Surfboards, retelling legends of the U.S. Open of Surfing and pointing visitors to that scary courtyard haunted by the ghost of Adam Sandler.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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