LONG BEACH — In the beginning there were the bars.
A dwarf named Lucy, a former circus performer, opened the first one at Broadway and Orange Avenue in 1966.
For six months, according to present owner C. J. Cree, Lil' Lucy's drew a mixed crowd. Then some of the proprietor's gay friends began showing up, setting the tone that has remained.
Other gay bars opened along Broadway. And although the area had a gay presence since the 1940s, residents say, the drinking establishments provided a focus--a place to socialize and bring out-of-town friends.
Flavor All Its Own
After the bars came the homeowners. Then the gay-owned businesses. And, in the last two to five years, according to city officials, a once-sleepy neighborhood occupied mostly by senior citizens has blossomed into one of the city's most dynamic business and residential districts with a flavor all its own.
"It's the Castro Street of Long Beach," said Alec Phillips, speaking of San Francisco's famous gay-oriented avenue on which he once lived. The sales manager of a concrete company, Phillips, 37, said he moved to the Broadway area five years ago because it is a "gay mecca" where "the gay dollar is very prevalent."
Richard Gaylord, a local real estate broker and chairman of the city Planning Commission, went a step further in assessing the Broadway corridor and its recent transformation. "It's a renaissance," he said.
Estimates of the percentage of gay-owned businesses along the Broadway strip--a two-mile stretch bordered roughly by Redondo Avenue on the east and Alamitos Avenue on the west--vary from 25 to 50. There are at least eight gay bars on the street. And some of those familiar with the area put the percentage of homosexuals living in the immediate vicinity at about 30%--compared to 8% to 13% citywide.
While area residents differ somewhat in their attitudes toward gay life styles, they tend to agree on at least one thing:the homosexual presence has had a positive economic effect.
According to Gaylord, a real estate lecturer at Cal State Long Beach and part-owner of JTM Brokerage Corp., property values on Broadway have risen some 50% in the past five years, a higher-than-average rate.
'Hot' Sales Area
"Right now, it's a hot area," he said of the Broadway corridor, in which he has sold both residential and commercial properties.
John Manley, a real estate agent with Century 21/Sparow Realty, said the gay community had "taken what was once very difficult to sell and improved it."
And Doug Otto, president of the Long Beach Heritage Foundation, said the homosexual population had "gentrified the area" by improving its aesthetics.
All this has translated into, among other things, booming business on Broadway. "The strength of the community has permitted the street to flourish," said Bob Paternoster, Long Beach director of planning and building.
In the last two years, according to city business license inspector Sam Barber, the number of active retail businesses on the strip has increased by 20%. And with the flowering of commerce, he said, has come a diversity of offerings.
"They are more interesting businesses," Barber said. "There aren't any junk stores."
Among the new arrivals are exotic flower shops, a chocolate store, a neon art studio, a frame shop, several unusual clothing boutiques and an array of specialized restaurants.
Chelsea Books, which carries a full range of materials to satisfy a variety of tastes, has adapted to the "gaying" of Broadway by offering a wide range of gay-oriented books and publications that are among the best sellers in the store.
And at Chrys Vinnie and Flo, a specialty crystal shop open only since May, co-owner Ray Keerins says he offers both the utilitarian kinds of products favored by beginning families and the "finer luxury" items generally sought by gays. Without dependents, he said, his gay customers have more money to spend.
"It's part of the attitude we all carry," said resident Vince Blaskovich, 25. "We're gay, we're different. It's part of our statement."
Because households containing two working males, as many in the area do, benefit from two incomes and double the ordinary dose of traditional male skills, major property improvements are commonplace.
Donald Harper, for one, does not mind the overall effect. "They don't bother me any," said Harper, a 62-year-old retired security guard who has been living on Broadway for 15 years. "They're nice and clean and they help you out when you need it. They're good neighbors."
Apparently not everyone agrees.
Dan Brunner, 40, who frequently wears bracelets, earrings and sloganed buttons to affect a decidedly gay look, said he and a friend were attacked by four men yelling "kill the faggots" one night as they strolled down Broadway.
"It happens on Broadway all the time," said Brunner, a computer programmer. "It seems to be a teen-age test of manhood to drive down Broadway at 40 m.p.h. yelling, 'Faggot!' at everyone."