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Old Salt Lake | Virtual Museum

Exhibit 37

Reminiscences of the Redondo Beach Waterfront

By Rudy Whitcomb

[ Written by Rudy Whitcomb - June 2016 ]:

The configuration of the Redondo waterfront was much different than it is today and other than the pier itself, which has been repeatedly rebuilt over the years, there are no landmarks left to hint at what it once was.

The only way to get a picture of the area as it existed from the very early days until the mid 1960's is from old photographs. From the Monstad Pier all the way to Hermosa Beach is changed.

There was once a bustling town of Redondo Beach, consisting of perhaps 10 square blocks or more, centered just above the pier at the foot of Torrance Boulevard.

In addition to the big Redondo Beach Hotel there were many small hotels and apartments, bars and cafés and shops of all sorts.

Redondo Beach was also served by a excursion railroad that ran through south-west Los Angeles and the fields where Westchester and El Segundo are now.

Redondo was both a true destination resort area and a place where people from Los Angeles and all the South Bay cities could spend the day or the weekend.

In addition, as late as the early 1960's it was a successful port serving both commercial and recreational fishermen.

In the early 1960's, the rest of the South Bay was building up, filling in with small towns and cities. Redondo Beach found itself as a recreation area competing with other attractions around Southern California including Disneyland, Pacific Ocean Park and other attractions.

The pier area and the adjacent town had become dated, run down and shabby.

The city fathers were torn between the fact that maintaining the pier and shoreline amusements was at a cost not being offset by the income derived from the area. Residents elsewhere in Redondo resented that a disproportionate amount of attention was given to the waterfront and at their expense.

The temptation was to abandon the pier and coastal area, however that might have jeopardized the income from the Tidelands Revenue Act, an act that required said income be devoted strictly to coastal maintenance and development.

Those are the factors I know of that drove the city leaders to envision a revitalized pier area and to build a marina, but I'm sure there were other reasons that made them think in terms of so ambitious a project.

My recollection was that they set in motion a bond issue in the amount of $9,000,000, an astronomical amount in those days for a city of that size.

At about that time my buddies and I, mostly former schoolmates from Torrance, Redondo and Hermosa hung around on the beach at First Street in Hermosa Beach. I was working in Los Angeles and had bought a Corvette and on the weekends parked it in the brand new parking lot for the just opened marina, a one-block walk to where we always gathered.

Almost immediately upon the marina opening for business it filled with tenants and as I left my car in the lot one day I noticed a considerable amount of trash floating in the water. For the most part it gathered in the corners and I thought at first about the challenge and logistics of trying to keep the marina clean.

The following Monday when I returned to work I called the city and tried to explain my interest to anybody that answered. I was transferred I don't remember how many times but finally ended up with the nicest person you could ever hope to meet.

His name was Harrison Daigh and he was the city's Director of Property Management.

"You're just the person I was hoping would call" he said as soon after I finished explaining my idea.

Harrison Daigh set me up in the marina maintenance business, showed me how to price the work and took care of me in the political machinations involved in working with the City Manager, "Hoppy" Hopkins and the City Council.

I hired a half dozen high school kids, equipped them with those long poles and nets used to clean swimming pools and set them to work roaming the marinas. They fished seaweed, dead fish and trash left by the boaters.

It didn't take long to discover what techniques and other equipment was necessary to do this job and we were so successful that as the city moved onward into leveling the old town and reconfiguring the rest of the waterfront. Mr. Daigh contacted me and asked if I would take on the cleanup and maintenance of the whole waterfront area, excluding only the beach.

In those days the pier was much much busier than it is now. On a typical day we would haul away nine 3 cubic yard containers of trash and restaurant refuse. We had barrels placed throughout the area and using an old World War Two surplus jeep we'd pull a three cubic yard trash container around constantly emptying these barrels. One day one of my employees ran the jeep into his own car, a new Oldsmobile. The Jeep had survived the second world war and it survived this mishap without a scratch.

The employees Oldsmobile didn't. He expected me to pay the damage he caused running into his own car.

The crews stared as early as 4:30 or 5: am, using water from the fire hydrants to blast the pier deck as clean as possible. One problem was that fishermen would "gut" their catch right there in front of the restaurants and leave quite a mess. Chewing gum, dropped food such as ice cream, cotton candy, hot dogs.

Throughout that time the pier area was in chaos, with construction and demolition going on at the same time the shops and restaurants on the pier were trying to say open.

I was given space in a parking lot where the parking structure is now. There we kept the old Jeep along with a commercial parking lot sweeper and other equipment. I bought bicycles for my crew to travel around the pier and through the marinas. I'd stop early in the mornings on my way to work in Los Angeles to get the crews started and again on my way home and usually came back every night to eat at the pier. I spent all day Saturday and Sunday in the area to oversee the crew.

One Saturday I was driving the sweeper right at the pier entrance and a section of the deck gave way. I almost plunged 20 feet down to the rocks and sand underneath the pier, but fortunately the sweepers fenders caught on what was left of the deck. The deck was so old that it had worn down to only an inch or less thick right there at the main entrance to the pier, the very area where on a busy day thousands of people passed over.

All this was prior to and during the redevelopment of the pier and especially the area immediately above, where the apartments and condos are now.

Originally the city fathers had planned on three large hotels, hopefully Hilton and Marriotts and so forth for that area. But the big hotel chains showed no interest. At that time the "season" for California beach hotels was only three or four months, and this being prior to the days of the "business traveler" the big operators did not find it economically feasible. I don't know if it's any different now, for that matter.

So, since the city had already condemned the land and demolished the old city of Redondo they reluctantly settled for the condos you see there now.

The space between where the Monstad Pier is and where the old Fox Theater had been used to have an immense building that housed a roller skating rink upstairs and shops and arcade downstairs. I remember that the pilings under the side of the building nearest the ocean had settled and that caused the skating rink floor to drop perhaps 3 or 4 inches. When skaters came around that side of the rink they'd hit that dip and take flight.

Next to that building was a small amusement area with a little boat ride and a merry go round and some other rides. I'd worked as an attendant in that little area when I was in high school and one day for the fun of it I dropped a bag of dry ice into the water for the boat ride. As it started bubbling and steaming I told the customers (kids 3 to 7 years old) that a volcano was erupting, right there under the boat ride tank.

One cold breezy day there were no customers except one woman, all bundled up and pushing a wheel chair with a tiny child huddled in it. I took her ticket and let the kid go for a ride and when the ride was over I lifted the kid out of the boat and set him or her back in the wheel chair. The woman started crying and told me that because the child was so deformed by a birth defect no one else had ever touched him, never tried to extend a hand or help her with him in any way.

I used to use the merry-go-round to do gymnastics and would hold onto the supports for the roof and swing myself out over the lot. (Usually when there wasn't any customers).

The manager, a very nice old man, was not amused.

Another teenager, a fellow student form Torrance High worked the ticket booth. She was a gorgeous blond and very friendly.

Next to the little amusement park was an old two story building that had a Chinese restaurant downstairs and apartments or offices upstairs. Years after my amusement park career, when I got the pier maintenance deal the city gave me the building to use as an office. The building was old and scheduled to be torn down but the Chinese Restaurant downstairs was holding on till the last.

The water for upstairs had been turned of but I tried hooking it up and flooded the whole building.

That finished the Chinese restaurant.

That building, by the way, was called the L&M Building and was owned by Norton Simon’s attorney. His name was Weisman or something like that. I found that out because the insurance agency in Los Angeles I worked for at the time handled both Simon’s and his attorneys insurance.

All this was approximately where the International Walkway is now.

The International Walkway was, so far as I know, designed and built by Bechtel. Unfortunately due to a design error the lower level is too close to the high tide line and floods the businesses during storms. The roofline is only 8 feet and above the solid concrete of the upper deck. There is no rear access for those businesses. This leaves no room for utilities or air conditioning and because of the dampness and difficulty in cleaning, this a hospitable place for vermin.

Rats living in the rocks in the marina and lining causeway in front of the parking structure were a constant problem. They are especially so late at night and would get into fights with the feral cats that roam the area. Periodically the rats become so prolific that they became bold enough to come out in the daytime. I remember one afternoon seeing a mother with her child sitting on the rocks looking out at the pier and right behind them a big straggly rat was helping himself to their French fries.

The parking structure itself is another problem. Structurally the rebar used is not deep enough within the concrete to avoid rusting and as it deteriorates it swells and busts the concrete itself.

The city's vision was that the pier and its businesses would do so well that the entire structure would be used for visitor parking. When that didn't come to pass the city built the buildings on the top floor to be used as offices, a restaurant and a courthouse. Unfortunately they built them inexpensively out of wood and due to the proximity of the ocean, the constant breeze and all, the buildings began to deteriorate immediately. Despite the gorgeous location only the most hardy tenants will tolerate the discomforts and vacancies have been a constant problem.

And too, because it has to answer to so many masters, the city is not an ideal landlord. In fact they are currently in process (again) of trying to distance and position themselves so that someone more entrepreneurial can run the pier.

The city’s terms, as translated through the master lease holders are so onerous that businesses both on the pier and the International Walkway make little money and are more or less in the position of "working for the city". In addition to a flat rental rate the leases, so far as I know include the city earning a percentage of the tenants profit. Tony's Restaurant has been there so long that Tony Trutanic's arrangement was more advantages than the others but he died several years ago and I understand his son is going through rather contentious lease renewal negotiations.

Tony had been a fisherman until about 1957 when he opened a hot dog stand there on the pier. He got ambitious and borrowed a bunch of money and built Old Tony’s, which was an immediate and huge success.

In order to be a "destination" the pier and its adjacent areas must have more attractions including even more restaurants. The businesses there had been struggling before the fire of 1989 and after that, several, including Cattlemen's and Breakers and others chose not to rebuild.

Most small businesses and large chains are reluctant to make a substantial investment to open on the pier unless the rewards are substantially more than what is available after lease costs and the percentage taken by the city. In addition, the term of the lease has to amortize that expense. These circumstances have set the stage for a constant battle between the city/master lease holder and the tenants.

The maintenance of the entire area is an on-going challenge. Due to wave action and the unstable geology of the area, the rock rip-rack along the marinas and in front of the parking structure, the breakwater for the marina and the pier pilings are in constant need of repair and replacement.

These are costs other cities not located on the coast do not have to contend with.

Other inland cities such as Torrance or Gardena or Los Angeles have neighbors on all sides, so police and fire protection, maintaining roads and infrastructure can be shared.

A town such as Redondo Beach, bounded on one side by ocean, cannot avail itself of a sharing arrangement on all sides.

In addition, and probably most important, resort areas, areas that rely on tourism typically do not cover all of the expenses, fire protection, police, road maintenance that the sudden weekend and vacation time swell of a temporary population brings.

While the constant population of Redondo Beach is around 50,000, on weekends it can increase to 500,000 bringing an additional burden for police protection, fire department and other emergency services, services for a population ten times the size of the towns resident population.

This reality applies to any popular coastal city, whether it be Huntington Beach, Santa Monica or Waikiki.