Saturday, October 20, 2007

Jergins Subway

A secret tunnel, built in the 1920s (nothing to do with Prohibition, though), closed off for forty years. . . . gotta be a history buff's private dream.

The Jergins pedestrian subway in Long Beach was built in 1927, after a survey determined that over 2000 people an hour were crossing Ocean Blvd at Pine Avenue--4000 on weekends, since tourists and merrymakers were crossing Ocean to visit the beach and the Pike.

Since Ocean was already being dug up to realign the Pacific Electric tracks (the Red Cars), putting in the subway was cheap: $100,000. It could have been cheaper, but the Jergins Trust Company added $20,000 to add a skylight and fancy tile. The skylight is gone, but the tile's in pretty good shape--floor, walls, and ceiling. The subway tunnel was 181 feet long and between 30 and 35 feet wide.

Who was Jergins and why were they so generous? The A. T. Jergins Trust Company had something to do with drilling for oil and gas on 140 acres owned by the city of Long Beach, and selling the resource at a handsome profit. Their building--originally the Markwell Bldg, erected in 1919 and enlarged upward (to 10 stories) in 1929, controled one of the entrances to the tunnel. The picture of it was taken a year or two after completion.

Besides the Jergins Trust, the Jergins building was home to a radio station in the 1920s, and the State Theatre (originally for Vaudeville shows), and until 1960, it housed the Superior and Municipal Courts. In the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a car chase is filmed going right by it.

In the 1930s when the Depression was in full swing, vendors put up booths along the walls. The pedestrian subway closed in 1967. It was reopened on Oct. 11, 2007 for a few dignitaries and historical society-types.

On October 28, a big to-do will be held to reintroduce the tunnel to the public. Go to Long Beach's University-by-the-sea website to learn more and get tickets. Some websites imply that the tunnel will be open for future use, others that it will be reburied. Pictures showing the tilework--floor, walls, and ceiling--are here.

1 comment:

gc said...

I live and work in downtown and we're so excited about the opening of the tunnel this weekend. I enjoyed reading more of the history here. Thanks so much!