Livin’ la vida Long Beach – Grand Prix, Olympic trials, movie sites, famed ships, great fishing are all here |

Livin’ la vida Long Beach – Grand Prix, Olympic trials, movie sites, famed ships, great fishing are all here

First of two parts

A longtime resident of Long Beach, Calif., once told me that when things got quiet on the mainland he would often go offshore to do a little fishing, “just for the halibut.”

Whimsy and double entendre aside, the city has long been a saltwater fisherman’s haven. Now it has also established itself as a base for freshwater sports.

The effort began 28 years ago when Long Beach hosted its first Olympic swim trials. It culminated last July when, for one week, a mundane city parking lot was transformed into a magnificent outdoor arena for another Olympic swim event. Cars were replaced by a 50-meter, above-ground championship pool, an adjacent practice pool and temporary stands for 10,000 daily spectators.

On one side, the city’s skyline served as a backdrop. On the other side, just 500 feet from the pools, was the Pacific. The setting was viewed by a national television audience that numbered in the millions.

Long Beach, California’s fifth largest city with a population approaching 460,000, is eyeing upcoming Olympic swim trials. So is Sacramento, site of the two most recent Olympic track and field trials.

The city’s ideal setting, superb climate and vibrant, yet orderly lifestyle have attracted other major sporting events. An annual fixture is the Toyota Grand Prix. The 2005 edition is scheduled for April 8-10. Past winners have included Mario Andretti, his son Michael Andretti, and Al Unser Jr.

The International City Bank Marathon is set for Oct. 16. Four-fifths of the course is along the impressive waterfront.

Long Beach was the nation’s motion picture capital before Hollywood, its neighbor 31 miles to the northeast, acquired the title. At one time the oceanfront city was inhabited by such stars as W. C. Fields, Buster Keaton and “Fatty” Arbuckle. Fields’ home at Ocean and Paloma Avenue is still visible to passersby.

Movie making was Long Beach’s biggest industry for more than 10 years. Many local residents were hired as extras for $5 a day. The Long Beach-Hollywood connection was sustained by Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, who often summered here. Elizabeth Taylor spent her first honeymoon here at what is now the Breakers Hotel.

Among the numerous films shot in and around Long Beach are “Casablanca,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Lethal Weapon,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Natural,” “Godfather II,” and ‘The Parent Trap.” Last year, the city logged an impressive 780 film production days.

The first episode of “Gilligan’s Island” was filmed here in 1964. Thanks to syndication, it was on TV for 31 years.

Entertainment personalities who either were born or have lived here include Nicolas Cage, Bo Derek, Sally Kellerman, Bob Denver and Snoop Dogg.

Long Beach has been a popular seaside resort since the late 19th century. Its harbor and the adjacent Port of Los Angeles combine to make it one of the busiest shipping centers.

The Queen Mary

The original queen Mary, launched in 1934, is moored here and attracts some 1.4 million visitors a year. Alongside is the Russian Cold War submarine Scorpion. The upscale Cruise Terminal is also here. That’s where our ship, the 382-passenger Silver Shadow, docked. It’s one of four vessels operated by Silversea Cruises, perennial winner in small ship competitions. So convinced is Silversea of the popularity of California coastal cruises, it has scheduled them through 2006.

Alongside the terminal is the world’s largest geodesic dome. Erected in 1933, it housed Howard Hughes’ famous flying boat, the “Spruce Goose.”

Another world’s largest is the mural that covers the entire exterior of the oval-shaped Long Beach Arena. The mural stands 10 stories high, covers 116,000 square feet and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

Also listed in Guinness is Long Beach’s Tom Amberry, 81, a retired podiatrist and basketball shooter extraordinaire. In 1993, he made 2,750 consecutive free throws at the Rossmoor Athletic club in nearby Seal Beach.

Pine Avenue is the heart of the city and the site of restored art deco buildings. Belmont Shores features high-end fashion shops, second-hand outlets, top restaurants and coffee houses.

Other facts you should know: California State University, Long Beach, has 27,000 students. The Aquarium of the Pacific has over 550 species from Pacific Rim regions. The Museum of Art, in a beautiful oceanfront home, displays masterpieces in ceramics, wood, glass, enamels and jewelry.

One of the city’s most distinctive buildings is the 16-story Villa Riviera. Built in 1929 to resemble a French chateau, it’s now a condominium. It is to the city’s landscape what the Queen Mary is to the harbor.

The residential areas here are impressive and vary in style. There are Victorian, Mediterranean, Renaissance Revival and California bungalow homes. Since this is a city of islands, many are on waterways, the owners’ yachts secured to private docks.

Long Beach has had close ties to the petroleum industry every since oil was discovered here in 1921. There are derricks scattered throughout the area, including four offshore islands named for the first astronauts to die in the space program.

The islands, disguised as oil wells, were built in 1967. They are lighted at night and provide a surrealistic touch to the landscape.

Next week: Catalina Island


Bob Richelson lives in Lake Wildwood and is a frequent traveler. For more information call Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (562) 436-3645 (or; Catalina Chamber of Commerce (310) 510-1520 (or; Silversea Cruises (877) 215-9986 (or

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