Towering above shops like H&M, Forever 21, and The Gap is what appears to be a rollercoaster, yet no cars race by, and no screams of riders can be heard. Upon closer inspection, it is no rollercoaster, just bridge built to look like one. But, why?
Let’s take a trip back in time, all the way back to 1902. Los Angeles had grown at the turn of the century, and the seaside town of Long Beach had just connected with the bustle of LA with the famous Red Car from Pacific Electric, and those in the city could now easily find their way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. It is here at the end of the Red Car that Charles Drake built the Long Beach Bath House, a regal looking Greek Revival style building that housed a 60 by 120 foot concrete pool that became known as The Plunge. There was also a cafe and bowling alley.
Just a few years later, Drake’s company had purchased much of the land near the beach, and soon the scents of candy and popcorn wafted through the salty sea air, the perfect snack for a visit to the recently added roller rink, shooting gallery and fortune teller. By 1908 a ballroom arrived, along with a movie theatre, and a municipal auditorium. It was a full fledged pleasure pier, and the walkway lit up at night with Edison lightbulbs, giving the oceanside stretch the name “The Walk of a Thousand Lights” or simply “The Walk.” But soon it would gain a name, “The Pike.”
In 1910, Charles Looff added a hippodrome, home to a carousel with living quarters above for him and his family. And if the name sounds familiar it is because he was also the man behind the carousel in Santa Monica, which I wrote about last summer. By 1915 thrill rides were added, including the rollercoaster, The Jackrabbit, along with the “Wall of Death” a silodrome where daredevils like “Reckless” Ross Millman performed outrageous motorcycle antics.
Soon more activity arrived in the form of vaudeville acts, games, curio shops, and more. However the pier remained a “dry” spot of entertainment, by not selling a drop of liquor, in an effort to keep things clean cut. But their efforts may have been wasted, because lurking in the shadows were peep shows, gambling, and prostitution.
Over the next several decades the Pike had a variety of owners, and even a few different names, but everyone still called it simply “the Pike.”
By 1930, The Jackrabbit was replaced by perhaps the most iconic resident of the Pike, The Cyclone Racer. It gained the name by the fact the coaster featured two side by side tracks, giving the illusion that the cars “raced” each other.
The Cyclone Racer wasn’t the only new thing on the Pike, in 1932 a new municipal auditorium was built in the center of a unique design. The auditorium sat atop a piece of land the stretched from the beach into the ocean, and was enveloped by a half-circle pier that made its way further into the ocean, and then rounded to come back. Because of its unique shape, it was given the name the Rainbow Pier, and the 40 acre body of water within it was known as the Rainbow Lagoon. While most piers were designed as a pedestrian thoroughfare, the Rainbow Pier was one of the first to be designed for the automobile.
After the end of Prohibition, bars and liquor stores made their way to the Pike, along with tattoo parlors. In the 1930s over 50,000 sailors and Marines were stationed in the Long Beach area, giving it the title of “Navy Capital of the United States” and these men loved to get tattoos, making the Pike a prime location for tattoo parlors. At its height the Pike offered twelve tattoo parlors, and it is here that the oldest continually operating tattoo parlor in America stands, as well as the last remaining business from the days of the Pike. The shop opened in 1927, and changed hands in 1954 when it became Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo Studio. Grimm hired a young man by the name of Bob Shaw, who later purchased the studio in 1969. In 1993 Shaw passed away, leaving his wife, Wanda, in charge. Wanda looked after the studio until her death nine years later in 2002, leaving it to her sons, who had plans to close it. Rick Walters was the manager at the time, and fully aware of the parlor’s unique history, contacted Kari Barba, who stepped in, purchasing the studio and saving a piece of Long Beach history.
Today, Outer Limits is not just a tattoo studio, but also a small museum, featuring tattoo artifacts from the mid-20th century, items from the Pike, and most impressively of all, a hand-painted window from the late 1950s that was found hidden in a wall.
During the war years, a game combining pinball and bingo known as Lite-A-Line, was created by the Looff amusement company, who was behind the Pike’s carousel. When a fire destroyed the Looff carousel in 1943, another Lite-A-Line arcade took its place.
Looff’s Lite-A-Line still continues to this day, just a short distance from its original location, up Long Beach Boulevard. But the biggest draw for me is the fact it is home to remnants of the Pike, including tools used by Looff and more.
Photo studios dotted the Pike, and gave people a souvenir of their visit. And I’m lucky enough to have at least one photograph of my grandparents, and their friends, inside one of these studios!
That’s my dad’s parents on the left.
In the postwar years the sprawling 15 acre amusement area tried to rebrand itself as The Nu-Pike, and make it more family friendly. A zoo was added, along with many kiddie rides, and other carnival games and fun houses. By 1954 the Pike was ranked the fifth largest amusement zone in the nation, but soon its charm would begin to fade. Just 20 miles away was Knott’s Berry Farm, which was now a full-fledged amusement park, and in 1955 Disneyland would usher in a new form of amusement park entertainment, one without drunks and notoriously shady games of chance.
A last ditch effort was made to refine the area in 1967 when the Queen Mary arrived, and the area received a new name, Queen’s Park. The Pike became the permanent home for the iconic steamer, where it still resides today, and serves as a unique hotel and historical location offering tours, and, before you ask, I still have yet to visit it!
The swingin’ 60s marked the end of Cyclone Racer, with its closure in September of 1968, and the Rainbow Pier area was demolished to make way for a new convention center. A park outside of the convention center features a small body of water, and the park bears the name Rainbow Lagoon Park in honor of the pier and lagoon that once stood there.
So close to Hollywood, The Pike also became a popular filming location, being used in over two dozen films and series.
The 1945 film Abbott & Costello in Hollywood features a scene at the Pike, including an outrageous moment aboard the Cyclone Racer.
The Pike, and especially the Cyclone Racer, was featured prominently in the 1964 B-horror movie The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.
Hilariously awful from beginning to end, you can watch the entire film on YouTube.
One of my favorite TV shows, Charlie’s Angels also filmed at the Pike for the episode “To Kill An Angel,” although they called it the Brady Pier Amusement Park.
Other 70s classic shows that filmed at the Pike were Emergency, Police Woman, The Rockford Files, Starsky & Hutch, and lastly The Six Million Dollar Man, which ties into another future blog post.
In 1979, the Long Beach city council refused to renew the land leases of the Pike attractions, and soon the entire place was demolished. The area sat vacant for twenty years before plans were approved to revitalize the area, turning it into a shopping and dining location. The Pike at Rainbow Harbor welcomed shoppers in 2003, and in doing so they chose to highlight their past a bit. Which brings us back to where this all started, the roller coaster bridge. The Cyclone Racer was so iconic, developers chose to build a bridge resembling it slightly, and even dubbed it the Cyclone Racer Bridge. The bridge connects the Pike shopping center to the Aquarium of the Pacific and other beachside attractions and restaurants.
While the real Cyclone Racer and other icons are long gone, a carousel dating to 1920, and a contemporary ferris wheel were added to the shopping center, harking back to the old days of the Pike.
Near the carousel and ferris wheel is a fountain that features icons of the old Pike, including a sign reflective of the original Cyclone Racer sign.
In 2014 the mall received a remodel, and became known as The Pike Outlets.
Walk across the Cyclone Racer Bridge and visit the old location of Long Beach’s infamous pike at 95 S. Pine Avenue in Long Beach.
Vintage Image & Film Image Sources
Vintage postcards are from my personal collection
Long Beach Jail photo from my family photos The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Leaving and Became Mixed-Up Zombies images are screencapped from YouTube Charlie’s Angels “To Kill an Angel” images are screencapped from the DVD