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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


As promised, way too many days ago, my Road Trip report about my hometown, Long Beach, California. But first, a little history....

Wedged between Los Angeles and Orange County, the city of Long Beach tended to be overlooked by many as a way-station to getting somewhere else. At least that's how it used to be. In a very good example of bootstrapping, the former Navy town, abandoned by the military in the mid-nineties, set about remaking itself into a shipping, tourist and travel hub set in an ideal location along the Pacific Coast. It hasn't been easy and there have been missteps along the way, but most people now recognize Long Beach as a destination in and of itself.

The story begins in the mid-Eighties. Long Beach, heavily dependent upon the presence of the Navy, had little to shout about. In the early half of the 20th Century it had been a tourist hub, a place for Angelenos to escape and enjoy the southmost facing beach in the LA metro area. The unique positioning of the city allowed for long hours of daylight, and is one of the few in the entire state well situated for viewing both sunrise and sunset. Then, during the sixties the city began a long decline into seediness. A massive, enclosed shopping mall was built downtown and allots immediately became a white elephant. The Queen Mary was purchased and among much fanfare was brought to the harbor, rechristened Queensway Bay. It too struggled for decades. The airport was caught in a mosaic of lawsuits designed to restrict the number of flights in and out, handcuffing any attempt to bring major airlines to the city. The 1975 start of the Long Beach Grand Prix, one of the premiere automotive sporting events in the US today, was  a rocky start and took a few years to find its footing.

It became so bad that when, in the mid-eighties then mayor Ernie Kell declared a long term master plan to renovate the town as a self-declared -- worthy of its self-imposed nickname -- to put it on a par with such destinations as San Diego and Palm Springs he was met with open derision. Few saw the potential in a city often dismissed as "Iowa by the Sea".

But with that original spark, changes began. The election of Beverly O'Neill allowed one of the city's most potent advocates to take the helm of Kell's original vision and run with it. Then , when base closures deprived the city of three major employers, and a fourth, Boeing, announced the closure of its commercial operations at Long Beach Airport, the situation looked grim. The mayor, the city council and many other of the city's institutions assembled a plan to renovate downtown, investing millions of city and investor dollars in a waterfront rebuild, based on the same concepts as were successfully employed in Baltimore. In 1998 the Aquarium of the Pacific joined the Queen Mary and also newly opened The Museum of Latin American Art as world class attractions. The Port of Long Beach redeveloped the massive acreage it inherited when the Navy left, creating what is now the second busiest container port in the US, and, along with the adjacent Port of Los Angeles, comprises one of the ten largest port complexes in the world.

Okay, so that's the PR stuff the Convention and Visitors Bureau would want you to know. And it's all true.

I have called Long Beach home for nearly thirty years and seen a lot of the transitions described above up close and personally. I choose, out of all cities in the world, to live here because of a handful of important things. First, it's ideally situated between Los Angeles and Orange County. But it very clearly has a personality of its own. The downtown district is often used to film depicting Miami and other tropical resorts. The Arts District has an ban bohemian vide not too dissimilar to the East Village in New York (though far smaller). 

Belmont Short, and handful of miles east of downtown, is the quintessential beach town. My neighborhood would not be out of place as the setting for Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best -- very much the suburban ideal of 1950's television.

Long Beach Airport has grown up. The lawsuits are all done, and it's moving forward with a new terminal design that promises to retain the spirit of the old, while being a model for future air travel -- and JetBlue Airways has brought many new destinations and competition. For many travelers LGB has become the favored point of departure and arrival to the LA metro area. Carnival Cruise Lines opened a new terminal next to the Queen Mary and features two weekly departures year round.

There is still a small remnant of the old "Iowa by the Sea" -- I often liken it to a big city thinking like a small town -- but rather than the disdain it once represented, it indicates a bit of charm and history. In fact, the city has also been named the most cosmopolitan on the West Coast. Its neighborhoods are the most diverse in America, and it's clearly a city with its eye on the future.

So why bother to mention Long Beach? Why sound a bit like a press release from the city's PR department? Because, frankly I;m proud of the city and its achievements. Bootstrapping is never easy, and we have a ways to go -- but if you're coming to the LA metropolitan area and find yourself with a day not ensconced in Disneyland or Universal Studios, take a look at our little town and give us a visit. 

I'm certain you'll enjoy yourself.


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