July 7th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1968, the Long Beach Independent ran the following ad for College Park homes. For only $27,950, you could have this kid and all his relatives as neighbors.

One way to tell the history of Seal Beach is through all the advertising used to sell Seal Beach real estate. The date-by-date approach of the blog has allowed me to share a variety of ads and promotional efforts to sell lots from various decades, and each ad not only indicates what the salespeople and marketers from the era thought was important about the city, but it also shows the values of the wider culture at the time. The success of these real estate pitches vary in quality and creativity. That’s part of the fun of sharing them.

I’ve run some very odd vintage real estate ads, but this one is just weird. Here’s the copy from this ad. Read it for yourself and see if you agree:

Who hasn’t purchased an S & S home yet?

I haven’t

But my grandparents have, my mother and father have, my aunts and uncles have, my older brother has, and when my savings account grows, I will too!

Guess it’s because S & S builds such great houses.

Mommy just loves imported marble entries, custom cut-crystal chandeliers, and the huge all-electric kitchen. Daddy says the construction is “tops” because S & S uses double thick lath and plaster (not drywall), marble tabletops, genuine stone or brick fireplaces.

I love the plush wall to wall carpeting and it’s in all the rooms.

Shapell Park, one of the newest parks in Seal Beach, is within the community and my school, the beach and mommy’s shopping are just minutes away.

Uncle Joe says one of the best things about College Park is the price, $27,950… and he should know, ’cause he’s the President of a big bank.

You really oughta see this place. It’s super. But you better hurry before all my other relatives arrive.

Does that make you want to buy a College Park home? Who do you think is the target market for this ad? And what does this ad say about the 1968 Southern California culture?

– Michael Dobkins


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July 6th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1955, the Long Beach Independent reported an unusual offer to the Seal Beach city council to solve a budget crisis.

The city was facing the prospect of borrowing $80,000 to cover expenses until the end of the year. A proposal was read to the council from a message written in the margins of a newspaper story about a Desert Hot Springs hospital benefit carnival that had raised $20,000 and had starred “Zerina, thrilling singer and dancer from Turkey.” The message in the margins read, “Zerina, 1619 Seal Way, wishes it known that her talents are also available anytime to her home city, Seal Beach.” Mayor George Clark ordered that the proposal be turned over to the city engineer for future study before the council moved on to examine more traditional solutions to the funding problem.

The thrilling Turkish singer and dancer’s full name was Zerina Bessinger, a well-known Seal Beach resident for decades. A short Long Beach Independent profile to publicize the 1957 Cherry Festival in Beaumont mentioned that Zerina had been born in Turkey and brought to the U.S. when a baby. Zerina had performed at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia as a child solo dancer. She lived in Seal Beach with her artist husband and was a devotee of classical song and dance.

Twelve years later, Zerina staged a night of song and dance at the Soroptimist House at Cal State Long Beach. Accompanied by pianist Lisa Endig, Zerina would explain a bit about each number before belting it out. She started with a melody from Haydn’s oratorio, The Creation,” moved on to two Schubert songs, a Puccini aria, and Alabeiff’s “The Russian Nightingale, shifted to more modern works like, “Black Is The Color,” “Ciribiribin,” What Now My Love,” and finished off with “Those Were The Days.” Somewhere in all of that she also managed to present a “classic Oriental dance to the strains of ‘Miserlou.'” (This was a few years before the Dick Dale version hit the charts.)

This colorful and artistic lady finally did get a chance to be of service to her home town in 1976 when she sang for city’s bicentennial parade, which she view as something of a comeback after not performing for years.

In another profile on Zerina for the Long Beach Independent before the parade, reporter Denise Kusel noted the pink shutters that Zerina opened to let the sunshine into her living room, Zerina’s rhinestone shoes sparkling in the light, Zerina’s brightly colored silk robe, and Zerina’s thick white greasepaint make-up, worn, Zerina explained, to enhance her coal-black hair. The story even mentioned that some in Seal Beach believe her to be a Gypsy fortune-teller, before allowing Zerina to dismiss those rumors.

Having established her bona fides as a genuine Seal Beach eccentric, Zerina told of her life, this time with some slight changes. This time she admitted to being born in Santa Monica (the 1920 census confirms this), and this time Zerina made no reference to the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, but she did claim that opera star Mary Gordon had set up an audition for Zerina with the Met (although she declines to give the year of her audition or her age). Zerina’s narrative in 1976 seemed to have shifted away from “thrilling singer and dancer from Turkey” to up and coming opera star who gave up her big chance in New York to stay home to take care of her father and brother after her mother died. Zerina had no regrets, even though she was alone now that her father, brother, and artist husband have passed away.

No, in 1976, Zerina had no time for regrets and looked forward to singing in a parade and staging a comeback. For reporter Denise Kusel, she pulled out a piece of Irving Berlin sheet music, noting that “Irving Berlin was earnest. He loved America, and so do I,” and then belted out a rousing soprano rendition of  “God Bless America.”

Zerina Bessinger passed away in 1982. Since she refused to tell how old she was in that last Long Beach Independent article, we’re going to respect her wishes and not reveal her birthdate. She certainly would have preferred to be remembered as being ageless.

– Michael Dobkins


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July 5th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1916, the Santa Ana Register reported the sad fate of  W. J. Doyle.

After several hours working as a waiter at a Seal Beach cafe on July 4th, Doyle quit due to illness. As his boss was paying him his final wages, poor Doyle, well, died. His body was given to the Waiters Union of Los Angeles for burial. According to the California Death Index, 1905-1939, W.J. (no full names were listed for his initials) Doyle was fifty-five.

What is interesting about this newspaper story is the choice of phrases and what the reporter leaves out of the story. The name of the cafe and the name of the gentleman known simply as “the employer” are not mentioned. The reporter writes very carefully about Doyle, “he went to his employer and told him he was sick and wanted to quit.”

This is pure speculation over a hundred years later, but it seems more likely that Doyle felt sick and asked to go home, but “the employer” insisted he continue working. Doyle either quit at that point or the employer fired Doyle when Doyle insisted he was too ill to work.

There’s an old saw about how any publicity is good publicity, but I’m sure “the employer” was glad that his name and his restaurant’s name were excluded from the story. The Santa Ana Register editor probably didn’t want to alienate a Seal Beach advertiser, but this story was just too juicy to resist running with some careful editing. 

And for those of you with overbearing bosses who give you grief every time you call in sick, be sure to remind them of poor, overworked W. J. Doyle.

– Michael Dobkins


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July 4th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1938, a thirteen year old boy had a very bad day in Seal Beach. Mr. and Mrs. Carl J. Nelson of Los Angeles celebrated July 4th by visiting their friends,  Mr. and Mrs. M. L. Anderson of 1507 Seal Way in Seal Beach. Dick, their teenage son came along, no doubt anticipating a full fun and active day at the beach, in the ocean, and in the sun. What could possibly go wrong? 

In a string of bad luck worthy of a bad folk song ballad, young Dick Nelson suffered one injury after another, requiring medical attention three times and two applications of basic first aid.

First, young Dick Nelson handled a sculpin caught by a fisherman on the old pier, and needed to visit the doctor to cauterize the lacerations on his hands.

Then young Dick Nelson managed to find the only piece of broken glass reported in the water that day and sliced open his foot enough to require his second doctor visit of the day.

Parental guidance insisted that young Dick Nelson cross swimming and fishing off his list of activities for  the rest of the day, so what was left for a young teen-aged boy to do? Light a Roman Candle firework, of course.

The Roman Candle lit young Dick Nelson’s hair on fire, burning his scalp, requiring first aid. Some of you may be starting to detect the faint shape of a pattern here.

The Nelson family then visited a neighbor of the Andersons. A neighbor with a dog. Who bit young Dick Nelson on the nose for a third visit to the doctor.

Feeling sorry for young Dick Nelson, his dad and Mr. Anderson took him on rowboat out on Anaheim bay, but played it safe by restricting him from rowing or fishing.

Young Dick Nelson fell overboard.

– Michael Dobkins


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July 3rd in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1917, the Topeka Daily Capital in Kansas ran the following photo.

July_3_1917_Baby_Seal_Lions_as_pets-3

The full story reads as follows:

Making pets of baby sea lions is the great fad at Seal Beach, Cal., this year. Miss Vera Teel is here shown giving “Toots” his daily ration of milk from the bottle. “Toots is about 30 days old. “Sea lion cubs are just like little puppies,” says Miss Teel. “When they are young they have all the instincts of the dog and are just as fond of humans as they are of their own sleek mothers. If the cubs are well fed and kept near people they become quite domestic when grown. They grow fat and lazy and seldom go into the water, even to fish.” ‘Toots” enjoys immensely taking his dinner from the bottle, just as any other baby might. He is now covered with many brown spots, but as he grows older these will leave, just as the fawn’s spots disappear.

We respect Miss Teel for correctly identifying “Toots” as a sea lion (a feat of amateur marine biology that Seal Beach’s founders never mastered since they constantly mislabeled sea lions in photos as seals in early Seal Beach publicity). However, we don’t have to contact our professional marine biologist friend to know that domesticating a baby seal, er, sea lion is not a good idea. Kids, friends, neighbors, Topekans, do not use Miss Vera Teel as a role model for good pet ownership choices.

A little digging at Ancestry.com unearthed some interesting tidbits about Vera Teel. Although this can’t be verified 100%, it seems likely that she was born Vera Louisa Teague in Illinois in 1896 and moved with her mother and father to Long Beach by the 1910 census. By 1916, she had married James Elford Teel, also of Long Beach and remained married to him until at least 1924, so Vera was not a “Miss” when this photo was taken. (I know! A newspaper misreporting facts. I’m as surprised as you.)

By 1925, Vera had to change all her monogrammed towels because she was now married to Frank Luke Rogers, a man eight years younger than her (Hubba-hubba, Vera!). This marriage seems to stick because she remained Vera Rogers for the rest of her life.  In the 1940 census, Vera is listed impressively as being an attorney with her own practice, so one hopes her amateur sea lion expert days were over by then.

Vera passed away on January 3rd, 1983, and Frank followed her a few months later on April 7, 1983.

– Michael Dobkins


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July 2nd in Seal Beach History

July_2_1935_Glide_Er_Inn_AdOn this date in 1935, the Santa Ana Register ran this ad for the Glide’er Inn restaurant. We ran an 1975 for the Glide’er Inn here, but this ad is for the  original location at Coast Highway and Bay Boulevard (now Pacific Coast Highway and Seal Beach Boulevard). In 1944, the Navy took over Anaheim Landing, and the Glide’er Inn relocated to 14th Street and Pacific Coast Highway, the current location of Mahé, You can see a 1943 aerial photo of the Glide’er Inn at its original location across from the Seal Beach Airport here.

– Michael Dobkins


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July 1st in Seal Beach History

Kathy Harter in Action

Kathy Harter in Action

On this date in 1967, Kathy Harter of Seal Beach beat Australian Jan O’ Neill in the fourth rounds of the Wimbledon Championships women’s singles. Harter was active as a professional world-class tennis player from 1964 to 1978.  

Harter went on to win her quarterfinal singles match against Lesley Turner and then lost her semi-final match against another Southern California woman, Billie-Jean Moffitt from Long Beach. Billie-Jean Moffitt is better known today as Billie-Jean King.

– Michael Dobkins


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June 30th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1961, the Los Angeles Times ran this ad for Ole Surfboards. Bob “Ole” Olson’s first shop was located in a quonset hut in Sunset Beach, but he soon moved to 223 Bay Boulevard (now renamed Seal Beach Boulevard).

Olson first became fascinated with surfing in 1937 when he witnessed early surfers catching the waves at Palos Verdes. He caught his first wave off the Huntington Beach Pier in 1948, spent some time inland as an industrial arts teacher at Rancho Alamitos High School, and learned to shape boards from Hobie Alter and Harold Walker before setting up his own shop in 1958.

In 1971, Olson moved to Hawaii where he still shapes boards at the age of eighty-seven in his Ole Surfboards shop in Lahaina. He was the 39th inductee into the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame, and the 23rd Ole Longboard Classic was held at Launiupoko Park in August 2016.

223 Seal Beach Boulevard is now a private residence, but Growing Tree Preschool was the last business at that address before moving to 215 Seal Beach Boulevard.

– Michael Dobkins


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June 29th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1969, S&S Homes targeted demanding and astute executives with this ad for College Park homes starting at $32,000 in the Long Beach Independent Press Telegram.

– Michael Dobkins


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June 28th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1966, Red Devil Fireworks ran this black and white ad in the Long Beach Independent.

That year the Scholarship League and Cub Scout pack 105 ran the local Seal Beach fireworks stands at Pacific Coast Highway at the Long Beach border and one at the vacant lot between Marina Drive and Central Avenue at Second Street. The Leisure World Lions  ran one at Westminster and Bay Boulevard (now Seal Beach Boulevard). The McGaugh Band ran a Black Panther stand at Bolsa Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. There were probably also Freedom and Wildcat fireworks stands set up in town, but I can’t find any location listings.

Seal Beach kids of a certain age will remember when fireworks were still legal in town and how the local charitable institutions would run firework stands in parking lots and roadside locations for a few weeks before Independence Day. 

The anticipation would begin when the empty firework stands mysteriously appeared around mid-June (just days after school let out!), the fireproof metal doors left ajar as if to say, “No fireworks here, kid. Life is filled with disappointments. Get used to it.”

Suddenly the stands would be padlocked which meant that the firework inventory had been delivered, probably after midnight by sharply uniformed men who trained all year for this one special holiday. Normally honest kids circled the stands and checked the locks, greedy for just a glimpse at the gaudily packaged fireworks displayed within.

Advertising flyers promising pure pyrotechnic joy would be inserted in the Sunday newspaper. Kids all across town would study the different illustrations of fireworks and fireworks assortment packages while parents nervously focused on the prices.

The last part of this essential patriotic ritual would involve the kids incessantly nagging their parents (What if they run out of all the good fireworks? Mooom! Daaaaad! We gotta go todaaaay!). Finally mom and dad relented, and the family drove to whichever stand they favored and bought that year’s firework supplies.

Kids were always disgusted by the dismal lack of ambition in purchasing enough fireworks (Never enough! Never enough!), but on July Fourth, up and down the sidewalks, curbs, and asphalt streets of Seal Beach, residents somehow managed to set off fireworks for hours after the sun set. It was glorious.

I don’t begrudge the safer and saner regulations that make the local fire department’s job a little easier, but, boy, do I miss that ritual.

– Michael Dobkins


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