October 6th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1963, the Long Beach Independent Press Telegram’s Women’s section ran a profile of the posh Larsen Hall off-campus women’s dormitory at 1310 Electric Avenue in Seal Beach under the breezy headline, “Larsen Hall — Books ‘n Bathing Caps.”

Coeds Judy Delulio and Jeannine Merril studying in the library at Larsen Hall

Larsen Hall was last seen in this February 21 in Seal Beach History post for 1964 – a scandalous post filled with shame, dishonor, ignominy, and disgrace. (I may be overstating a bit.)

Ah, but what a difference four months makes! On October 6, 1963, the situation still appears sunny at Larsen Hall, inspiring the unnamed reporter to observe, “Dorm living today is like camping in mink.” The reporter felt that the two-story dormitory, “just a bikini-brief walk from the beach,” had “nearly all the the attributes of a resort hotel.” These attributes included a dining and lounge area, a central pool patio, a sundeck, a separate snack room off the kitchen, a secluded library, an intercom system, and an automated laundry. The entire facility could accommodate 37 students.

Some of the current students did homework and dangled their feet in the pool the day the reporter visited.  Judy Delulio from Lake Tahoe shared that “You’re never lonely here. We stick together — there’s always something fun going on: a popcorn party, a starfish hunt at the beach, a special excursion. Best of all, we have neat management.”

Ah, yes. The management. At this stage, there’s nothing but praise for Frank and Joan Silone. Frank drove the “girls back and forth to school in the hall’s private bug of a bus” and did the cooking, “turning out menus that would please a gourmet.” Joan helped with sewing and the evening song fests. 

Just another poolside day in coed paradise – Sherry Delulio plays catch while Jan Petersen strums a guitar and Terry Suffet tries to read

But there was trouble (and poorly reproduced from microfilm photos) in the sad future of Larsen Hall.

– Michael Dobkins

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October 5th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1975, the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram ran this advertisement announcing the grand opening of the Old Ranch Townhomes and promising “A return to a life of style and grace.”

– Michael Dobkins



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October 4th in Seal Beach history

On this day in 1929, the Seal Beach city council accepted the new city hall in a business session. At a cost of $37,355, the new building would house all the city departments and had an auditorium on the second floor. Furniture would be installed over the next ten days, allowing the city workers a couple weeks to settle in before the public reception on October 28th.

The “new’ city hall — nearly 33 years later.

– Michael Dobkins

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October 3rd in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1938, the Santa Ana Register breathlessly announced that “Wayne Penn, the blonde bombshell from Seal Beach” had graduated to the second half of the main event at that night’s boxing event at the Orange County Athletic Club. Penn, whom the Register reporter also called “The Seal Beach kid,” had earned his spot on the main event by winning his previous two fights by knockouts. Penn was warned that this match wouldn’t be as easy as the earlier matches because he was going up against Frankie Garcia who “had more ring experience and is rated an excellent ring general.”

Wayne Penn’s career as a boxing representative from Seal Beach only last until November 1938 when he disappears from the paper. He seemed to be a bit of rambling rover because in August 1938, the Santa Ana Register had dubbed him “the blonde bombshell from Long Beach,” but Penn apparently moved to Seal Beach by September and his epithet was revised to match his new location. After Seal Beach, he seems to have settled long-term in Texas after Seal Beach, where he competed in Golden Gloves tournaments on a Fort Worth team as late as 1944. 

Publicity still of Wayne Penn in 1944 (University of Texas digital archives)

Oh, and that October 3rd bout with Frankie Garcia? No knockout this time, but Wayne Penn did win by decision.

– Michael Dobkins

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October 2nd in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1916, The Santa Ana Register ran an advertisement for Clune’s Theatre’s Tuesday night bill which included a live fashion show featuring gowns worn by Santa Ana young ladies and dancing by beautiful ladies. The main attraction was “Diana of the Follies,” a fashion-themed film starring Lillian Gish as a gold digger. 

If you’re wondering to yourself what all this has to do with Seal Beach, take a look at the ad copy for “Vampire Ambrose,” a “Keystone Comedy taken at Seal Beach and Anaheim Landing.

The sad news is that “Vampire Ambrose” is a lost film, so we’re left only to wonder what 1916 Seal Beach and Anaheim Landing locations served as a background for all the inevitable Keystone Comedy cavorting and pratfalls. Was Main Street featured in the action? Did Pacific Electric red cars pass through a shot? Was Anaheim Landing used primarily as a beach location or did the film use the bungalows, boardwalk, and other buildings. Keystone Comedy’s production crews and actors loved beachside amusement park settings in their films, so it seems unlikely that “Vampire Ambrose” avoided the roller coaster, the Joy Zone attractions, and the pier while filming.  Unless some reels of “Vampire Ambrose” show up in an obscure film archive somewhere (highly unlikely since the Library of Congress estimates that 75% of all silent films are lost forever), we’ll never know for certain.

What we do know is a few details about the film and more about the film’s star, Mack Swain (1876-1935). Swain was a successful vaudeville actor before becoming a featured player at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Films. Tall and heavyset, Swain made the perfect antagonist or foil when cast against a young, plucky, and diminutive stage comedian who also started his film career at Keystone. The two would continue to work together after they moved on from Keystone, and if Swain is remembered at all today it is for his appearance in one of the most famous sequences in silent film comedy made by that same young, plucky, and diminutive comedian.

Yes, Mack Swain played The Tramp’s mining partner, Big Jim McKay, in “The Gold Rush,” where they shared a memorable Thanksgiving dinner of boiled shoe leather.

Swain’s career and range as a film actor went beyond his work with Charlie Chaplin. He appeared in the original silent version of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a Rudolph Valentino thriller, “The Eagle,” and John Barrymore’s swashbuckler, “The Beloved Rogue,” among many other films well into the mid-thirties talkies era. Not too shabby a career for someone who started out in film as a Keystone Cop.

At Keystone, Swain headlined his own series of films, sometimes, but not always, teamed with another Keystone comic, Chester Conklin, nicknamed “The Walrus.” Swain’s screen character Ambrose was usually an oafish henpecked husband type with a wandering eye and an appreciation for young beauties. The Ambrose character proved so popular that Swain took it with him when he left Keystone.

Chester Conklin, Gloria Swanson, and Mack Swan

“Vampire Ambrose” was not a comedy about a supernatural bloodsucker like Dracula, but instead was a lampoon of what was known in the teens as “vampire pictures.” These films starred actresses like Theda Bara and Louise Glaum as seductresses with such overwhelming powerful sexual appeal that they drove men crazy with self-destructive desire.  Today we called actresses who can play these roles “screen vamps,” but when “Vampire Ambrose,” they were just known as “vampires.”

“Vampire Ambrose,” inverted the formula by making a man the “vampire” being pursued by women yearning for his embraces and abandoning dignity for desire when caught in his intense gaze. The comedy of this is made all the more ridiculous by 300-pound Mack Swain playing the male “vampire.”

“Vampire Ambrose” stayed in release for a whopping five years,  usually filling out the bill with more serious and arty feature length films. The ad descriptions of “Vampire Ambrose’ are stilted hyperbolic delights to read. “It’s a comedy, a corking one too with 300 laughs to 30 minutes of film this picture is sure to delight you. Not for a moment are you allowed to be serious. Sometimes the merriment is so fast you can hardly keep up with it. But if you really want to enjoy yourself don’t miss this picture.” “A burlesque on the many so called vampire pictures, a regular scream from beginning to end. A comedy with a punch in every foot of film.” “The rollicking Keystone farce, “Vampire Ambrose”  — he lures you into the realms of laughter — and holds you in a merry mood for full 30 minutes.”

Damn. Now I really want to see “Vampire Ambrose.” Check those unmarked film cans, movie archivists!

While we’re waiting for the “Vampire Ambrose” to be rediscovered, you can still visited Clune’s Theatre in Santa Ana. It’s now known as the Yost Theater and you can find out more about it here.

As an added bonus, here’s a chance to see Mack Swain not getting laughs by bullying Charlie Chaplin, but by showing off his comedic charms as a vain, attention seeking movie star in, um, “A Movie Star.”  Enjoy!

– Michael Dobkins

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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 continue 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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September 30th in Seal Beach History

On this date in 1971, the following ad ran in the Long Beach Independent for the Ranch House Restaurant.

The ad offered fine dining and entertainment by Bill Clark, a pianist and organist who sang and played pop hits and Broadway showtunes at various local Long Beach restaurants like The Embers, Alexander’s, Lucy’s, and Hoefly’s.

The Ranch House Restaurant was once known as the Dovalis 101 Ranch House Cafe, and you can learn more about its earlier history here and here.

– Michael Dobkins

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