L.A.'s Surprising Secret Staircases

On their way to the beach viewers are given the added treat of an outdoor photo exhibit on one of Long Beach's #secretstaircases.

On their way to the beach viewers are given the added treat of an outdoor photo exhibit on one of Long Beach's #secretstaircases.

A couple of weeks ago my partner Charlie and I were taking a walk to run errands and then reward ourselves with ice cream at the Pike area - which is going through another dramatic remodeling. On the way we came across a secret staircase I'd never seen before, this one complete with its own historical photography exhibit. The staircase is adjacent to the building that stands on the site that was once the grand Virginia Beach Hotel on the South side of Ocean Blvd., between Chestnut and Magnolia Avenues.

Built in 1908 by Col. Francis Rivers Drake, by one of the founding visionaries who moved Long Beach from a sleepy little town of 3,000 to a seaside resort with exotic appeal, the hotel cost a staggering 1.25 million to create (about $30 million in today's dollars.). The hotel offered every possible amenity including a special Virginia Country Club Golf Course off in the wilds of Bixby Knolls to the North, and a special private Pacific Electric Car that would take guests to the sister Magnolia Hotel in Pasadena. Read more about the hotel's creation in historical columnist Tim Grobaby's 2014 article here in the Press Telegram. Certainly Gatsby and his dream gal Daisy would have felt right at home here.

Col Drake was also behind the creation of the Pike seaside complex including a grand bath house, and a bevy of entertainments that would eventually include the Cyclone Racer (1930-1968) roller coaster. Col Drake's connections with the railroads ensured service to Long Beach. On its inaugural journey to Long Beach on July 4, 1902, which coincided with the opening of the grand bath house,  the Pacific Railroad Service brought 60,000 people to Long Beach. Thousands who had to sleep on the beach because the city didn't have enough hotel rooms. Drake must have had quite an "aha" moment. Read more about Drake's involvement in creating Long Beach here in Tim Grobaty's column here.

The above screen shot is from Nathan Master's blog on a "Historical Look at SoCal's Beachs" for KCET. This was in 1900 just two years before the Pacific Electric Railroad would begin bringing even more people to Long Beach for the miles of beaches. The pier you see is the Long Beach Municipal Pier which was eventually replaced by the horse shoe shaped Rainbow Pier.

Above is W.D. Lambert's panoramic image of the beach in Long Beach in 1908. The Virginia Hotel is the large building just West of the pier. The opulent hotel would run into hard times after the 1929 crash of the stock market and closed it's doors in 1932 just weeks before the 1933 earthquake that would damage it beyond repair.

What secret staircases and Los Angeles history are you learning when you #WalkInstead? I can't wait to hear! Follow Bike Metro and Pedal Love on Twitter and Instagram, Tweet your L.A. secret staircases images + story by Sunday August 9th at midnight and you could win a cool prize like a 7-day loaded tap card from Metro Los Angeles, tote bags, collectible Union Station t-shirts, coffee mugs and more. Find all of the details here.