October 1st in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1961, the following ad for the Ivory Tower Bookstore ran in the Long Beach Independent. The Ivory Tower has appeared here in posts for May 5th and June 11  because the crackerjack editorial team here at “This Date in Seal Beach History” are fascinated by bookstores.

The Ivory Tower was opened at 113 Main Street in September 1961 by Jim Scully and Norma Brisson, but Jim Scully was the personality and face of the business.

Scully grew up in Butte, Montana where he excelled at gymnastics in school. In 1946, while he was studying Japanese in the Army, he took a spill in the gym and broke his neck and became a paraplegic.

In spite of having only limited use of his hands and arms, he continued to study and write, graduated from UCLA in 1952, and took classes towards his masters at Long Beach State while running The Ivory Tower. He even found time to write a column for California Paralyzed Veteran News Bulletin, called “The Ivory Tower.”

Late in the sixties, Scully married another paraplegic and even adopted a little girl.

In a March 3, 1962 profile of Scully and the bookstore in the Long Beach Independent, he noted that Seal Beach had “grown from a sleepy little village into an artistic town. It could become the Carmel of Southern California.” Scully felt that the west side of Main Street (the side where the Ivory Tower operated) was more arty with a coffeehouse (probably the Rouge et Noir) and artistic shops while the east side had more traditional businesses. Scully saw his bookstore as “at the center of a blossoming cultural revolution.”

The bookstore as described in March 1962, was not only filled with books, but modern art — some of it risque — adorned the walls and offered coffee, conversation and foreign magazines filled with propaganda. Scully also mentioned their bestselling book in 1962 was Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer at 50 copies sold in three days. “I wish we could get more.” 

(At the time, many felt Tropic of Cancer was smutty and was the subject of many obscenity court cases until the Supreme Court declared it non-obscene in 1964. This explains why Scully had trouble getting more books and why it was such popular reading in 1962)

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the Ivory Tower closed its doors for good, but I have faint memories of the store still operating around 1971 or 1972. It did not last much longer than that. It definitely was part of its era, along with the Arts Center, the Rouge et Noir, the Bay Theatre running foreign art films and the plays at the Peppermint Playhouse. (Although both of those businesses were on the east side of Main Street in 1961.)

– Michael Dobkins

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3 Responses to October 1st in Seal Beach History

  1. Karla Ober says:

    Great article! Thanks for the back story on Scully and the Ivory Tower! Also a bibliophile, I remember that store!


  2. They moved up to a storefront on the Hill in ’66, their old place on Main Street becoming Strawberry Fields, Seal Beach’s own head shop. I worked there and hung out there pretty much through its whole existence on Main Street. We would sometimes, in the summer, stay open till 2 o’clock in the morning, sometimes later, playing music on the radio, usually folk. We’d get tourists sometimes up from beach parties to come in and dance in the aisles. We took our meals from Frieda’s cafe or the legendary Don Juan’s, drank imported beer and changed the window displays almost daily. Some of the people who worked there were old-time Seal Beachers–Doug Campbell, Norman Buchanan, Douglas Story, Ron Tremaine and Linda Sue Williams, but it seemed like everyone in town hung out there.


  3. Karla Ober says:

    Wait – Peppermint Playhouse was once on the east side of Main Street?!?
    I remember the Tower and the eventual Strawberry Fields!


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