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Feature Stories

Of Oil, Yachts and Beachside Villas

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 26
12/27/2013


By Steve Propes

VISTA DEL MAR on 37th Place

Most every local Belmont Shore denizen or visitor who drives eastbound on Ocean Blvd. toward the Olympic Pool from Redondo Avenue would be hard-pressed to accept that nestled behind this non-descript row of modest apartment complexes is an enclave of historic homes.

One of these homes behind a gate and on a resident-maintained street that ends at the beach is a 15-room, 4,435 square feet villa now known as Vista Del Mar.

Built by a participant in and witness to a pastiche of Long Beach history, onetime Sioux Falls, South Dakota haberdasher Jonah Jones moved to Long Beach in 1901, one year before the arrival of the Pacific Electric Red Cars, which helped Long Beach evolve into the fastest growing city in the nation for the remainder of the decade.

Keeping in mind it could be cold in the winter, though something short of Sioux Falls cold, as with many other early residents of means, Jones decided not to live by the beach. Instead, he staked out a residence on Linden Avenue in the warmer climes in the Los Cerritos area. As opposed to permanent residents, Belmont Shore and the areas close to the beach in the downtown area were basically populated by cottages owned or rented by summertime visitors escaping the sweltering Inland Empire and other locales as far away as Iowa.

In about 1920, Jones began making loans to prospective Signal Hill homeowners. When the economy turned sour, he became a leading Signal Hill landowner, which coincided with the discovery of oil, prompting Jones to lease land to oil companies according to his great granddaughter Gale Lingle.

Vista Del Mar came about in 1930, though some say it was completed in the late 1920s, and represents a variety of influences, sporting thick walls and heavy chains from the San Pedro Harbor hanging from the imposing wooden living room ceiling to a bathroom alcove off a second story bedroom with strong Casbah-style touches. And, yes, it has a working elevator.

Vista Del Mar sits on land managed by the owners of the three structures in a private street of bricks with each property line extending to the middle of 37th Place.

In 1926, Jonah Jones co-founded the Long Beach Yacht Club, which was a spin-off from the Los Angeles Yacht Club. At the time, power boating was the thing and so-called predicted log races were conducted between Long Beach and Santa Catalina Islands.

Jones resided in the home until his passing in 1941 at age 83. His son, Jonah Jones Jr. never lived in the home, having his own family when he helped found the Long Beach Yacht Club and as an attorney represented the Spruce Goose, one of Howard Hughes’ many interests. Lingle stated the craft was designed to be a boat that flew, not an airplane that doubled as a boat and while was in climate-controlled storage in the harbor, was the object of various studies as how to advance the technology into a commercial venture, something that never became reality.

Jonah Jones Jr. also “established many of California’s oil laws and owned substantial oil rights on Signal Hill.” A graduate of USC, Jones also filed the articles of incorporation for the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Long Beach Jaycees and the Long Beach Yacht Club.

In 1959, the same year the now-demolished downtown courthouse also opened, the Long Beach Yacht Club was able to build its current structure on city-owned land, though it didn’t pass the city council unanimously. Among those voting in favor of the lease was Gerald Desmond, whose namesake bridge linking Long Beach to Terminal Island is currently being dismantled. Voting against the lease to the club was Robert Crow, who was the main backer in bringing the Queen Mary to the harbor. At the time, it was reported the club paid rent of $1,800 a year for the land.

Currently, the Long Beach Yacht Club has several foundations, such as the Sailing Foundation, which according to the club “promotes sailing education and training and provides support for racing and regattas. The foundation assists and cultivates young sailors of all ages, creating opportunities and challenges they would not otherwise have.

The foundation is an integral part of the Long Beach Yacht Club; members organize and manage a full schedule of yachting, educational, social and public-outreach programs for the nonprofit. LBSF activities are built around its fleet of 11 identical Catalina-37 racing yachts donated by Catalina Yachts for world-class match racing. Maintained to the highest standards for the annual Congressional Cup regatta, the yachts are used extensively for the foundation’s programs.”

steve@longbeachcomber.com