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Son of a Bridge, If It Isn't Gerald Desmond

June 20, 1985|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Ellen Huebner was driving over the bridge connecting Long Beach and Terminal Island one day several years ago when she noticed that it was called the Gerald Desmond Bridge. As it happened, she was acquainted with a young attorney named Gerald Desmond.

"That was before I knew Jerry very well," recalled Ellen, who hails from Wisconsin and at the time was living at June Lake in the Eastern Sierra. "I didn't think there was any connection."

Later, when she married Jerry Desmond, she found out differently. "I guess I was impressed," she said.

Ellen denies any relationship between the bridge incident and her subsequent marriage to the man who shares its name. But now that she, too, is a Desmond, she said, the bridge has a special place in her affections.

"It's definitely something that most people don't have in their families," she said of the 150-foot high structure.

And what about the son of the man for whom the bridge was named?

Ellen's husband Jerry, 37, said: "My friends call me son of a bridge."

The senior Gerald Desmond was a Long Beach city councilman from 1954 to 1960 and city attorney from 1960 to 1964. When he died in office at age 48 of kidney cancer, city officials wanted to honor him in some way. As city attorney, after all, he had played a significant role in obtaining tideland oil funds for Long Beach which later paid for much of the city's redevelopment including construction of the steel truss bridge to Terminal Island. What more appropriate gesture, officials thought, than to name the bridge after him?

He Had a Role in the Dedication

The younger Desmond, who was 16 at the time of his father's death, remembers the day a few years later when he journeyed home from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was a student, to participate in the bridge dedication.

"I got to put in the last gold bolt," Desmond said.

Later he followed in his father's footsteps by going to law school and eventually becoming a deputy city attorney in the very office the elder Desmond once headed.

"I'd say the name certainly helped get my foot in the door," Desmond said. "It's very helpful being Gerald Desmond when you meet people in Long Beach. They're willing to talk to you on the basis of the name alone."

After a few years in the city attorney's office, the young Desmond, facing a personal crisis and desirous of change, quit his job and put his skiing experience to use in the winters as a ski instructor in the High Sierra. That is where he met his wife-to-be. Last December, after four years in the mountains, he returned with her to set up housekeeping in Belmont Heights in Long Beach and go to work for the law firm of Riedman, Dalessi & Dybens, of which Gov. George Deukmejian once was a partner.

His office is in the Sumitomo Bank building downtown, within easy walking distance of the bridge that bears his name. Desmond said he seldom goes there.

When he does, he said, he often experiences a pang of regret at his father's early death. "I just sort of wonder what he was like and wish we could have been closer," Desmond said. "I was just beginning to relate to him, and he was just beginning to appreciate me and treat me as an adult. I felt very cheated when he died."

He Hands Out Free Passes

But being identified with a bridge has its lighter moments as well.

When new acquaintances ask if he is related to the Gerald Desmond Bridge, Desmond has a stock reply. "I say, 'yeah, and I have some free passes in my pocket which I'll give you later.' "

It is a matter of family pride, he said, that while a toll of 50 cents is charged to cross the nearby Vincent Thomas Bridge to San Pedro, crossing the Gerald Desmond Bridge is free.

Desmond has one gripe. "There ought to be a nameplate up there," he said. There used to be a nameplate, but somewhere along the line it disappeared and has never been replaced.

"I suppose some of my friends think of me every time they cross that bridge," said Desmond, who considers himself a much more private person than was his father. "I'm sure many more would think of me if there was a sign."

Once he took his wife to the bridge to show her the ceremonial gold-plated bolt he installed at the dedication. "I remembered seeing Jerry in a picture pounding in that last golden bolt," Ellen recalled.

Several times since, she said, she has gone there alone. "I look for that bolt every time I go over the bridge," she said. "I never can find it."

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