Monday, April 1, 2019

The Pacific Beach Club

Today it seems unthinkable that any society would condone Jim Crow laws, but California had them, and not so long ago.  Back in the early 20th century, shoreline areas in California that allowed African Americans access to a beach were extremely limited.  In fact, of the 75 miles of California coastline in Los Angeles County, there were only two beaches available. Santa Monica had an area called the “Ink Well,” while Manhattan beach had, for a brief time, “Bruce’s Beach,” until local merchants more interested in segregation than a steady supply of customers forced the city to reclaim Bruce’s Beach in an eminent domain seizure.

In the 1920’s a group of black businessmen came up with an idea: they would create a resort; a private club for black residents of Los Angeles, but build it along the shores of Orange County, which as yet did not have as oppressive segregation laws as Los Angeles since the area was far less populated.  After some searching, they were able to find and secure property in Huntington Beach, about a mile’s walk from the Beach Blvd Red Line drop-off.

The organization’s Board members were well-credentialed.  It included Frederick Roberts who was the first black state legislator in California.  Joseph B. Bass, was the editor of the California Eagle, and one of the founders of the Los Angeles NAACP,  E. Burton Ceruti, acted as a legal advisor to the group.

The resort they designed was impressive. The Pacific Beach Club they developed included a club house and amenities for 1500 to 2000 people, a bath house, a dance hall, amusement areas, concessions, and even tent housing for camping.  To many, the amenities were far superior to beach resorts found anywhere.

What few people know is that the Pacific Beach Club was built, and advertising in the California Eagle promoting the club touted it as "the beginning of the very foremost step of progress that the colored people have ever attempted." Membership was $50, (lifetime membership as $75) and it was set to open On February 12 (Abraham Lincoln’s birthday), 1926.

But there is no accounting for cowardly hatred. Huntington Beach was in the throes of an oil boom, and many of the wildcatters who came to work the fields had come from the south.  Huntington Beach already had factions of the Ku Klux Klan in residence… right down to two baseball teams.

As Orange County grew, it fell prey to the same racism that plagued the rest of our nation. The city fought the club, making it difficult to get power and water lines installed.  It took a legal fight to get the right of way across the railroad. 

But the worst was yet to come.  Two weeks before it opened, The Pacific Beach Club was burnt to the ground.  A security guard saw the arsonist and later identified the culprit, but no one was ever prosecuted. The Pacific Beach Club was destroyed before it even began.

For the next six months, the California Eagle tried to spearhead a nationwide movement to rebuild The Pacific Beach Club, but they were unsuccessful, and efforts were abandoned the following November.

Today Huntington Beach sports a brand-new recreation area along PCH that includes several major hotels, restaurants, and a beautiful shopping center that welcomes all.  Southern California has come a very long way in the years between.

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