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'Meat-Ax' Urban Renewal in L. B.

July 14, 1988

The article titled "Bits of Building Sold Amid Protests in L.B." (Southeast/Long Beach sections, July 3) was a particularly flagrant example of what is wrong with Long Beach. That article ended with a quote from Doug Otto, chairman of the Long Beach Heritage Foundation, which read: "I certainly hope that the artifacts from our historic buildings will be kept in Long Beach as a reminder of our heritage--and not funneled out elsewhere."

That quote illustrates just how wrong-headed the thinking in Long Beach is. We should not be satisfied with scattering pieces from historic buildings around the city; we should be preserving the historic buildings themselves!

To use an example mentioned several times in the article, permission should never have been given for the Pacific Coast Club to be demolished. It is the responsibility of any city government to see that historic buildings are preserved. A building the size of the Pacific Coast Club could have served many purposes, but even if that were not the case, it was the responsibility of the city government to see that it was preserved.

The fact that the quote came from one of those protesting the loss of our heritage illustrates the degree to which that wrong-headed thinking has permeated Long Beach. The advocates of meat-ax urban renewal have succeeded not only in having their ideas implemented, but in defining the controversy surrounding their actions.

Perhaps Mr. Otto was one of those who fought the destruction of historic buildings in Long Beach, but if that was the case his argument should have been: "The buildings should never have been razed in the first place. Since they have been, of course the artifacts from them should be kept in Long Beach."

By only expressing hope that those artifacts would be kept here and by not mentioning the buildings they came from, he is accepting the validity of the idea that the buildings should have been destroyed.

All of this stems from a particular phenomenon in Long Beach. Up until a few years ago, powerful people in Long Beach were repeatedly stung by the term often used to describe the city, "Iowa by the sea." That term meant that Long Beach was old-fashioned.

The powers in Long Beach then embarked on redevelopment and proved beyond a doubt that the criticism was valid. The wholesale destruction of the old and thoughtless construction of new buildings to replace them is typical of the urban renewal ideas of the 1940s and 1950s and represents what usually emerges from chamber of commerce-type boosterism emanating from backward communities. Contemporary urban renewal is represented by selective razing of only a very few buildings and preservation of the flavor of the community. Such ideas have obviously not yet entered Long Beach.


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