This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Music on the Beach

25 July 2015

Why do people go to the seaside for their vacation? Is it to bask in the sun? Frolic in the surf? Listen to the music? For the people pictured on this vintage postcard, the highlight of their holiday at the ocean might have been the concert at the Band Stand and Beach of Long Beach, California.

On a small stage a wind band of about 25 musicians plays to an audience dressed in the fashion of the 1900s. People sit on deck chairs arranged casually on the sand. Ladies hold umbrellas for shade protection from the summer sun. Some people have walked out to the ocean to watch the waves, though no one is swimming. Music is the reason they have sand in their shoes.

Long Beach, is the Pacific port city of Los Angeles, CA.
Yet somehow this card was posted from an Atlantic port in New Jersey.

The postcard was sent on Oct. 28, 1916 from Elizabeth, NJ to W.H. Lewis of Manchester, NH.

Thanks for fine cards
will try to get your
cards of Lambertville
Yes I would like
3 each of the ones you
have sent from  my
list and 6 of the
other all except
the old man of the
Mountain of I have several
doz (?) of it am geting some
more Cards in        H. M. Vaughan (?)

It's a curious message for a holiday postcard. The writer's tone makes the purpose of the card more for business than friendship, so I think H. M. Vaughan (?) was a postcard collector or maybe even a postcard seller in Elizabeth, NJ, which is across the Newark Bay from Staten Island, NY. Lambertville is a small town in New Jersey, a short distance up the Delaware River from Trenton. The Old Man of the Mountain is a famous rock formation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Unfortunately I was unable to find a good match for either Vaughan or Lewis in the online archives. 

Perhaps it is not unusual for someone in New Jersey to have a spare postcard of a popular resort in California. What percentage of holiday postcards actually make it to the post office anyway?

The publisher of this Long Beach postcard was a San Francisco businessman named Edward H. Mitchell, (1867-1932), who began selling sepia tone postcards in 1898 when they were originally called Private Mailing Cards and usually printed in Germany. Mitchell's souvenir enterprise survived the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and expanded for production in the US. Though he later shifted to a career in the oil business, over the next two decades Mitchell's company printed thousands of colorful postcards that depicted the scenic sites of America's west coast. By 1923 when he closed his presses, his postcards numbered in the millions and are arguably responsible for framing how many Americans came to view not only California, but the other western states, Mexico, and the Hawaiian islands too.

The print number 181 on this postcard of the Long Beach Band Stand is from his early series, so the original photo dates several years, even a decade, before 1916.  

This next postcard was mailed in August 1907 and shows the identical Long Beach scene but from slightly farther away. Like the first one, it was also colorized, but there are very subtle differences in the way the publisher's artist altered the original black and white photo. See if you can spot them. Apparently the Pacific Ocean had a variable horizon even before climate change became a global crisis.

The card was marked No. 6005 printed in Germany and published by Newman Post Card Co., Los Angeles, Cal. and Leipzig. 

In the 1900s, amusement parks and seaside resorts offered regular employment for thousands of band and orchestra musicians. As electronic amplification and recorded music were still several decades away, music had to be live to be heard. Parks built concert stages with a shell shape that used a parabolic effect of acoustics to make the band sound louder. If you look closely above the ladies in the center, a clarinetist is standing for a solo.

The band shell was located at the end of The Pike which was the name of the Long Beach boardwalk which opened in 1902. Just beyond the concert shell was a roller coaster built on pilings over the ocean shoreline. This amusement promenade was a mile long with numerous restaurants and a roller skating rink which undoubtedly also employed musicians to furnish entertainment.

The large building in the background of this 1910 postcard was the Virginia Hotel. Originally called the Bixby Hotel, it was the site of a tragic accident during its construction in November 1906. Eleven workers were killed when wooden forms were removed too soon from some concrete spans which led to the sudden collapse of the structure.

In the center of the Pike was the bath house called The Plunge. Inside was a large swimming pool where bathers could enjoy the salt water without the bother of sun and surf. The water was also heated to alleviate the Pacific's cold temperature.

On the other end of the Pike was a long pier and auditorium. The pier had two decks, the upper one for fishing and pleasure strolls, and the other for commerce, as this was Long Beach's Municipal Pier where freight and passenger ships linked to Los Angeles. The train station was just beyond the left side of the photo.

The auditorium was Long Beach's civic center. It was built in 1905 and had a capacity supposedly for 6000. It was used for concerts, lectures, religious services, and other similar events. Like the pier and the roller coaster, it was built on hundreds of pilings sunk into the sand.

This view of the East End of the Auditorium, Long Beach, CA
was mailed in October 1907 to B. Crouch of Fowler, CA.

Buford look behind the door in Sam's room and
then behind the blue cupboard – Mrs Yost
lots of girls
down here

It is eather in the
Kitchen or in our
room – Leave for
the Island today
but will be back in two days
Phil (?)

What was Buford looking for? Did he ever find it?

Inside the auditorium was another concert stage not unlike the band shell on the beach. To my eye this does not look like a 6000 seat theater. Unless there are risers hidden below the camera, I think this hall had only 900 to 1000 seats at best. The folding chairs suggest the floor was sometimes arranged for banquets and dancing.  

During the first years of the amusement strip, professional bands were usually engaged for a few weeks at a time, though some might play for the entire season, June through December. During the 1906 - 1908 seasons, Long Beach made an arrangement with an Italian Band led by Marco Vessella to present regular concerts in the city. Vessella was typical of many Italian conductors of this era who were notorious for their charismatic and flamboyant baton style.

(This 1906 photo from the Los Angeles Herald has Vessella's name captioned with an incorrect spelling.)
Los Angeles Herald
February 04, 1906

I have found no evidence to prove it, but I have a hunch that the band performing in the band shell on the beach was this same Italian Band. Though his musicians played to success with the public, Vessella failed to persuade the Long Beach city council to pay them what he thought they were worth. The contract was terminated in 1908 when the new mayor advocated for an all-American band.

The following year in 1909, the Long Beach city council, encouraged by the growth in tourism, decided to raise taxes to support a full time band. The first band director was Eugene H. Willey who created a first rate musical ensemble that became the ambassadors for the rapidly expanding city of Long Beach. In addition to playing two regular concerts a day on the waterside, Willey arranged concert tours that promoted not only  the ocean front recreation but also the many new business opportunities in southern California.

* * *

At some time around 1910-1912, the Long Beach Municipal Band posed for their own souvenir postcard. There were 41 bandsmen, with a large woodwind section. The brass even included three French horns, which was the hallmark of a sophisticated band. Like many ensembles of this era, they proudly display a rank of tubular chimes at the back, as church bells were a favorite device in the music programs.

The Long Beach Municipal Band traveled to many fairs and expositions, often to places that were a good distance away from the ocean, like Salt Lake City, UT and Reno, NV.  In May 1913, they appeared in Bakersfield, CA, 140 miles north of Long Beach. The Bakersfield newspaper announced their grand concert and added a photo of the band which was also taken in front of the Long Beach library. This was a musical action shot with director Willey standing in the center and his musicians ready to play.

Bakersfield, CA Morning Echo
May 08, 1913

Amusement parks thrive on novelty, so the Pike was constantly changing with new diversions. This view of the Auditorium and Pleasure Pier at Long Beach, Cal. shows an alarming spiral ride that was not present in the other postcard image. Like many seaside resorts, the Pike was famous for thousands of electric lights that illuminated the pier and boardwalk for the nighttime crowds. 

The postcard was sent by J. D. French on Sept 10, 1913 to Mr.  Chas (?) L. Boli (?) initially at the Ottawa Beach Hotel in Ottawa, Michigan and then 5423 Lincoln St., Chicago, IL. It is interesting that c/o Orchestra is added for the Ottawa address. Could Mr. Boli be a former member of the Italian Band? The message directs attention to a mark on the front of the card.

Long Beach Cal
The arrow on the
other side points
to were 40 were killed
about a year ago.
J D French

New York Evening World
May 24, 1913

On Saturday May 24, 1913, thousands of people had gathered in Long Beach for Empire Day, an event celebrating the many nations of the British Empire. The center piece was an event at the Long Beach auditorium and pier. As more and more people moved onto the pier the weight became too great for the upper deck which suddenly collapsed. That extra stress then caused the stage floor to collapse to the sandy shore below the building. Over 35 people perished and hundreds were injured in the calamity. Most of the fatalities were women, and because of the nature of the observance almost everyone was from England, Scotland, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.

The tragedy made headlines all across the nation. Unfortunately, it competed for the public's attention with other events of that Saturday: the wedding of German Crown Princess Luise, Kaiser Wilhelm's only daughter; the sinking of the Turkish-American steamship Nevada which struck an underwater mine in Turkish waters and led to 40 lives lost; and the sudden death of heavy weight prize fighter, Luther McCarty, who took a bad hit in the solar plexus in the first round of a championship boxing match.

* * *

The Long Beach catastrophe made the newspaper in Anaconda, Montana
where the editor used a postcard view to illustrate the accident.

Anaconda, MT Standard
May 25, 1913

The Chicago Sunday Tribune ran a photo taken from out on the pier looking back at the auditorium.
They added an X to mark the position of the pier collapse.

Chicago, IL Daily Tribune
May 25, 1913

The Oakland Tribune also used some Long Beach postcard images of the auditorium
to better describe the tragic event.

Oakland, CA Tribune
May 25, 1913

Oakland CA Tribune
May 25, 1913

On that weekend in May 1913, the musicians of the Long Beach Municipal Band were still on tour and had just played concerts in Oakland. They were next traveling to San Francisco for performances at the Exposition before returning to Long Beach.

O. C. Foster, assistant director of the band, said this afternoon upon hearing of the disaster, that he could not figure out how the accident could take place.

"It may have been that the piling was rotten in places and that the extra weight caused by the large crowd was more than it could stand. During high tide there is several feet of water underneath the entire building and at low tide it even extends out on the water."

* * *

As ever in show business, "The show must go on". By June 1913 the city of Long Beach announced that the auditorium was to be razed. In the 1920s a new civic auditorium was constructed of brick and stone on solid landfill east of the old pier. In order to protect it from storm damage a grand semicircular breakwater causeway called the Rainbow Pier was built around it. Eventually the water inside was filled in too.

Later that summer, the Long Beach Band got new uniforms with white duck trousers that had fancy lace-up splits on the legs. In June 1914, the papers reported on the band's concerts for the grand opening of the Long Beach summer season. In 1923, the virtuoso cornet soloist and former assistant conductor for the John Philip Sousa band, Herbert L. Clarke, retired to Long Beach to take up the position of music director of the Long Beach Municipal Band. He led the band for the next 20 years, including during the horrific 1933 Long Beach earthquake.

The Pike amusement area of Long Beach went into a long decline over the next several decades. In the 1950s it had over 200 amusements but faced stiff competition from nearby Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. It's reputation was no longer a family friendly place, and band concerts were no longer the highlight of summer vacations at the beach.

In 1969, the waterfront's name was changed to the Queen's Park when the city of Long Beach opened a new tourist attraction and hotel with the historic ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. Nonetheless, most locals continued calling the area The Pike. The ship lost money and closed in 1992. 

By 1979 Long Beach's ocean front property had little remaining value for tourism, so the land was turned over to redevelopment.

* * *

Today the Long Beach Municipal Band continues as a professional musical ensemble and recently celebrated its 114th anniversary. Despite struggles for funding, the band performs numerous concerts throughout Long Beach during the summer months. Sadly they don't have a band shell on the beach anymore and must resort to amplification. 

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone loves the sights and sounds of the beach.

This is my contribution to Ssepia Saturday


Lorraine Phelan said...

A stunning essay. You've gathered so much info about one small area!
PS I'd love to know what Burford was looking for:)

Jo Featherston said...

We don't see many bandstands actually on the beaches here, although you can sometimes find them in nearby parks. A great collection of cards and photos to illustrate your very interesting story. Overcrowding certainly has its dangers!

Tattered and Lost said...

I never knew any of this about Long Beach, other than the Queen Mary. My maternal grandmother sailed aboard the Queen Mary in the mid-1950s for a visit back to Scotland. And my dad stayed on it when there was a hotel. I went aboard once to wander around wishing I could see more below deck than was allowed.

It is sad that so many of these old parks at the beaches are gone. I just missed seeing Playland at the Beach in San Francisco by a few years.

Santa Cruz still has a boardwalk, but I imagine it's nothing like I remember it.

These days if you want to hear live music you have to hope for an expensive concert. I can't remember the last time I heard a band for free. Well, yeah, 1976 in Disneyland. My friend and I followed them all over the park just to hear them play.

As usual, an entertaining post.

La Nightingail said...

Some great old postcards of the beach and band, etc. at Long Beach. My grandmother lived in Long Beach in a quaint old trailer park. Don't know if she ever went to the beach there, though?

anyjazz said...

What a collection of related cards! again, fine research and documentation. I particularly liked the comparison of the two versions of the first card. And some of those messages are really fun!

I've never been to Long Beach, California but I have been to Long Beach, British Columbia. Definitely not similar.


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