On February 19, 2005, after a heavy rainstorm, a massive tree fell on the historic, art deco-era bandshell in Long Beach's Bixby Park, the pride of the city's Alamitos Beach neighborhood since 1927, and more recently, a home to the homeless and weekly pottery classes. The tree crushed the building, and crushed it has remained ever since. The city promptly chopped the tree up for firewood and placed a lovely chain link fence around the demolished building.
Taking a cue from the folks at the Pike Laugh Factory—see “Send in the Clowns, Eventually,” officials also placed a sign in front of the fence assuring neighborhood residents that a new bandshell was– you guessed it–“Coming Soon,” which is bureaucratic-speak for a non-specific length of time ranging from many, many months to practically never. The benefit of hindsight dictates that as of this writing, “coming soon,” seems to refer to a length of time no less than “three years from now.”
Earlier this year, a disgruntled citizen draped a banner over the fence, reading “Suja, Fix The Park,” calling for Suja Lowenthal, the area’s city councilmember, to do something. City officials swiftly removed he banner. Only on June 4 did city officials finally seek funding for repairs to the building. The request was approved by the city council, who awarded a contract to Tech Construction, the low bidder at $179,000.
Ramon Arevalo, superintendent of facility maintenance for the city's Parks, Recreation and Marine Department, says the major reason for delay was simply lack of money. “The biggest problem was where the funding was going to come from,” he explained. “Many people are very upset with our department [for not fixing the bandshell], and we’re not going to keep waiting for FEMA,” he added. “That’s not going to happen.”
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FEMA? The Federal Emergency Management Agency? The folks who let New Orleans disappear under a flood of water and waited a few days while they drowned before sending help? It turns out that if Long Beach can declare the bandshell a historic landmark, it can apply for financial support from FEMA. But first the city has to hire an independent consultant to determine if the building qualifies as historic.
Reports as to where the bandshell stands on the road to historical designation are muddled at best, and even contradictory. Catherine Morely, vice president of the Bluff Heights Neighborhood Association, told the Weekly that “a consultant has been hired by the city” to determine if the building is worthy of historic landmark status. But Jan Ostashay, Historic Preservation Division officer for the city said the bandshell was in fact “not under consideration for historic landmark [status] though it was assessed for historic significance.”
Arevalo doesn’t seem to care either way—for the somewhat obvious reason that waiting for the notoriously inept FEMA to do anything is like waiting for the bandshell to fix itself. “I’d expect about five or six years to get any money from FEMA,” Arevalo said. “We’re not going to wait any longer.”
Included in plans for construction is restoration of the roof and north wing, support columns, and fresh paint. Lowenthal’s office failed to respond to several interview requests seeking news on when the bandshell would actually be fixed. But Arevalo claimed that, just like the sign says, it will be fixed soon. “I’m 95 percent confident that construction will begin in the next two weeks,” he said.