The Rise and Fall of the Long Beach Pike
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 classic 70s shows that filmed at the Pike were Emergency, Police Woman, The Rockford Files, Starsky & Hutch, and lastly The Six Million Dollar Man, which uncovered a real life mummy hiding inside the walls of Laff in the Dark.
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.
Shirt: Atomic Swag
Shorts & Bangles: ???
Masters, Nathan. “When Long Beach Built a Rainbow-Shaped Pier.” KCET, 15 Nov 2013. Web. Accessed 10 May 2019.
Phoenix, Chalres. Southern California in the ’50s. Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 2001. Print.
Vintage History. Outer Limits Tattoo. Web. Accessed 15 May 2019.
Waldie, D.J., “A Walk Along Long Beach’s Gaudy, Tawdry, Bawdy Pike.” KCET, 8 Feb 2017. Web. Accessed 10 May 2019.
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
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23 comments on “The Rise and Fall of the Long Beach Pike”
I remember the Pike from the mid 60s….much as you have pictured it here. The Pike had become a seedy location…at night, a feeling of danger mixed with exotic adventure made it alluring. My last memory of it was an evening with my buddy and I riding the Cyclone Racer knowing that it was soon to be demolished later that month. A rough ride but exciting…and all for the cost of 25 cents. I recall the operator looking like he had worked there since its opening. The Racer ended its days with a whimper…there was little fanfare and that night hardly anybody but us riding it that round.
You are amazing! Your adventures and explorations are awesome! Have you thought about writing a book on the history of the quirky places you visit? I bet it would be popular. Again thanks for sharing.
You always have such well-researched blog posts. Thank you so much for sharing.
How cool! This kind of reminds me of my childhood days at the Jersey shore and at Ocean City, MD.
Just saw the Pike in the Mannix Episode “Once upon a Saturday”, much of the episode takes place there and Joe Mannix even gets thrown in the Rotor.
Thanks for the history of the Pike.
I swear they had a freak show. I seem to of seen “the fat lady”. I remember feeling sorry for her. Is this just my imagination?
You remember the mechanical lady on top of “Laff in the dark”
I have a whole
Childhood of memories, as my Grandfather, Murray Cohen and my dad, Charles Cohen owned and operated several restaurants on the Pike and I was there most evenings as my Mom didn’t want to stay home nights as my Dad worked there 6 nights a week. I’m happy to speak directly to anyone about my knowledge of the Pike.
I would love to learn more about the walk of 1,000 lights, the strand, Pike. I’m obsessed with the history of the shoreline of Long Beach and I think it’s really bland and generic now. My Grandma grew up here in Long Beach until she married my Grampa and moved to Boyle Heights. I moved here in 2016 not knowing anything about Long Beach history. I’ve learned so much over the past few years but I don’t feel like I know enough. I wish the shore was still up by Ocean Avenue and I wish the beach, shore, and bluffs were were untouched…left alone. I don’t like that it all got filled in and that there is a breakwater. I think that the “beach” that’s there now is a pathetic little thing. It used to be a real beach with waves and no cheesy fake islands. I really wish I could have seen old Long Beach. I think it used to be so beautiful. I feel like they ruined it trying to make improvements. What was Long Beach in is gone. Bulldozed and replaced with landfill and a generic touristy shoreline village that is difficult to get to and too expensive. That whole area that used to be the heart of Long Beach is now cut off from the rest of Long Beach and very inaccessible. The layout of the city doesn’t make any sense unless you learn about Long Beach’s glory days. It’s so sad, there’s no heart anymore. I would love to see more photos of the natural untouched beaches and bluffs of Long Beach, back when it was called Wilmore and The Breaker’s actually had waves breaking there. Where did the walk of 1,000 light start and end? That beautiful old building with the arch? Did it go under the arch through to the other side of the building? I grew up in Los Angeles and I can’t believe I didn’t know about the Pike.
I wish I had more sense of to old pike. My parents use to talk about how they met at checkers bar. Mom worked at the shuffle boared and Dad worked on the Faris wheel. Before it was torn down.
Did your uncle Murray have a brother names Hyman?
My Grandfather’s name was Hyman Coleman Norris . He once owned the Pike .
Hi Robert. Do you remember anything about the Jungle, which was right next to the Pike until about 1972?
I moved to Long Beach at age 2 in 1940 and we lived on Redondo Ave (and others) from 1940 to 1945 during the air raids and blackouts of WWII. My mom worked in the leather shop in the underground arcade adjacent to the Pike and my dad would take me to the Pike to ride the Carousel and the bumper cars and get cotton candy. It was a fun time for a little girl with all the bright lights and people, including lots and lots of Sailors. I remember seeing amusements like House of MIrrors, and the Fun House with a big fat laughing lady (doll) in front. Lots of games too where you could win stuffed animals and plastic Cupie Dolls. Fond memories.
My parents met on the Long Beach pike back in the 60’s. Dad went by Pappy (Glen Barger) and Mom was Patsi(Patricia Powers). Pappy was a ride operator and Mom work at the shuffle boared. Both parents are gone now. I so wish I had more info to pass along to my children.
You might know or otherwise know my Mom and Dad . They owned the Pike during the 60’s . ( GFather owned ). Hyman Norris .
Doug and Pat Sullivan are my Parents names. I heard stories about the Pike.
I remember The Pike as a kid in the late 1960s, when I first moved to Long Beach. I found it seedy, dated, dirty, and disgusting, especially when I compared it to Disneyland or Knott’s. I even remember some living-fossil pedophile who tried to prey on me when I was a preteen. Make no mistake, The Pike wasn’t a place where you left your kids unattended.
Yet the Pike grew on me as I got older. There was a charm in its seedy, decrepit amusements, and that Merry-Go-Round was an absolute classic with its hand-carved horses and organ. It was also a refuge when I ditched high school (LB Wilson) with my girlfriend, which was quite often during my delinquent junior year.
What saddened me was when it closed. I attended CSULB (aka Long Beach State; that school has more names than a steak house has for a dead slice of cow). It was more than just a loss of my childhood, but rather a goodbye to an era that spanned decades before I was born.
There was a reason why it closed: Long Beach is a seedy city that longs to escape its past. The City Council bought the RMS Queen Mary, which had no logical connection with the city. In other words, the city purchased that boondoggle in a laughable effort at civic self-denial. Real Long Beach was a glorified retirement community for Iowa farmers. Real Long Beach was comprised of insane people who screamed while wandering through the downtown streets. Real Long Beach was defined by the multitude of dive bars that once catered to sailors until the fleet fled in disgust for San Diego. But the heart and soul of Real Long Beach was The Pike.
Thanks for the memories, Atomic Redhead. You’re insane like me, don’t ever change!
Thanks for your pics and info about The Pike. Our family used to go there in the early 1960’s, it was so much fun back then. It was sad when the Pike was demolished in 1979. A grand old place it was!
90s/2000s kid, I remember the 2003 renovation being full of activity, GameWorks Arcade, 1000 Degrees Pizza, the Segway store, the man pushing around the dipping dots cart, Borders. I remeber being a kid and finding the Pile ALWAYS busy with life, but overtime a lot of what brought me to the Pike like the Arcade and other store are all gone now😟. So my childhood memories are wiped out. I still go hunting down for merchandising from GameWorks long beach, but I can’t find any and that drivers me crazy not being able to find any memorabilia. Greetings from 2022, I feel so old now!
Two things stand out in my memory of The Pike. One was the laughing “fat” lady whose laugh one heard upon entering the place and who made me laugh as soon as I heard it. Two was the place that made salt water taffy that I often made the trip there just to get and watch it being made through a window where workers stretched the mixture into the end result I took home.
Just saw another episode of “Emergency” that used the Pike.
I have so many fond memories of the Pike as a kid. SkeeBall, all the tickets collected, and the different size panthers mom and I collected. Some of the great rock music of the day blasting along the walkways. The taffy, the iconic laughing fat lady. Road the cyclone many times
As a teenager ditched school one day (16) and got my first tattoo at that same shop. Lied about my age of course..
It’s a shame they didn’t revamp it. Much as they did the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk…
A piece of history torn down…
Instead of spending all that money on a broken down tub, (that turned into nothing but a money pit) they should of spent it on saving the Pike..
The Pike is also featured in the TV series Cannon Snapshot shot in 1976.
At one very good 64 y/o.. doesn’t these pics bring on a few years? Gorgeous/beautiful. Now I have my green card/passport to work. Be We’re very well felt. A little high on bumper cars…free track….