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In Long Beach, a Walk Along the Shore

I took the bus over to Belmont Shore the other day.

Belmont Shore is the far southeastern end of Long Beach where the big city, mostly suburban, thins down into another version of a Southern California beach town. This beach town is less hectic and less driven by trends than beach towns on the west side of Los Angeles, yet not so nostalgic an image of a small town as nearby Seal Beach.

Belmont Shore is not on the way to Seal Beach or Surfside or Sunset Beach in Orange County or exactly on the way to anyplace else, unless you count the three adjoining Naples islands, lightly tied to Long Beach by 2nd Street like a length of painter snubbed around a dock cleat. Belmont Shore actually has its own tiny beach town as an another attachment -- the thin peninsula of numbered streets that extends Ocean Boulevard to the mouth of Alamitos Bay.

Belmont Shore is at the beach but not exactly on the beach. That distance gives 2nd Street an in-between quality.

Belmont Shore has a beach town's necessary pier, but the pier is at some remove from the 7/10s of a mile of 2nd street from Livingston Drive to the bridge at Bay Shore Avenue that takes you over the channel to Naples (where you can ride a gondola on the canals).

Belmont Shore and Naples Island
Belmont Shore and Naples Island | Map courtesy USGS
Belmont Shore and Naples Island in 1925
Belmont Shore and Naples Island in 1925 | Map courtesy USGS

The day I walked 2nd Street was intermittently overcast and blustery, but the sidewalks were crowded, although it was early afternoon, perhaps because it was a Friday. Kids from Wilson High School had just been released and had come over the hump of Belmont Heights on Ximeno Avenue or one of the streets east over a lower elevation.

Young women were pushing children in strollers on 2nd Street. Young men walked in groups of two or three. There were shoppers and bikers and men well past their high school glory days sitting on bar stools they may have sat on when they were just 21.

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The commercial strip of 2nd street is more corporate now than it was when I walked it in the mid-1960 as a student at Cal State Long Beach. The row of one-and two-story shop fronts were all local businesses then, a few of them survivors from the late 1920s like the Egyptian Pharmacy and others, like Gem Shoe Repair, that had been on 2nd Street at least since the 1940s.

The street was half mid-west main street and half college town honky-tonk. The beer bars and the dress shops co-existed with hamburger joints and places that hinted slightly of hippiedom. College kids could jointly rent a tiny house in Belmont Shore or half of a duplex for nearly nothing during the school year, but the college kids had to be out in June for the more lucrative summer rentals.

2nd Street, Belmont Shore
2nd Street, Belmont Shore | Photo Royston Ford (2009) | Creative Commons License
 
The characteristic Belmont Shore house is a less-than-1,000-square-foot Spanish Colonial Revival box built in the late 1920s or early 1930s, setback ten or so feet from the street and barely three feet from the houses on either side, with a living room/dining room combination, a galley kitchen, two small bedrooms, and a tiled bathroom along a short hall.

It costs a great deal more to rent or own one of the little houses on one of the short streets -- Corona, Covina, LaVerne, Glendora -- that angle southwest from 2nd Street to the beach. The median price is $817,800 for house anywhere in the shore, maybe a little less for a house near the commercial strip, over $1 million for a larger house nearer the water, and considerably more for a contemporary house with a boat slip.

Second Street is easy to get around (although traffic and parking can be a problem in summer and on weekends). Long Beach buses are frequent and go downtown to hotels, tourist destinations, and the city's convention center. Long Beach has invested heavily in being a bike-oriented community, and 2nd Street has wide and well-marked "sharrow" lanes for bike riders.

Many of the restaurants open out to the sidewalk with tables and chairs. The sidewalks flow with window shoppers, dogs being walked, and relatively free-range children.

Despite everything, corporate residents don't occupy all of 2nd Street. Polly's Coffee near Roycroft Avenue, where they have been roasting their own coffee since 1976, competes with a couple of Starbucks, a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and a Peet's Coffee. Locally owned restaurants like Domenico's Pizza and La Strada have fed generations of residents. The handsome, modest brick firehouse of Engine Company 8 has been at Claremont Avenue and 2nd Street since 1929. The Liquor Locker has been at its corner of Glendora Avenue since the 1950s at least. The feral parrots of Belmont Shore have been a staple since the 1980s.

Most of the street's bars also remain, to the distress of adjacent homeowners who periodically protest to the Long Beach City Council about noise and loitering.

Curiously, 2nd Street has recently become crowded with Lebanese restaurants (sometimes blushingly called Mediterranean). Hummus and shish taook are served on nearly every block. Belmont Shore can't seem to get enough.

Business cycles come and go on 2nd Street, mostly at a walking pace, and trends seem to lag a few years behind other beach towns that are mainly for tourists. Some trends just seem parochial to the street and quirky, like all those Lebanese restaurants.

The residents of Belmont Shore, particularly the ones a bit over 30, are famously loyal to their hybrid neighborhood that skirts the beach but depends on its proximity for permission to be more than So Cal casual.

It's as if some part of summer lasts all year there.

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