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Postcards from Old Redondo
By Mark McDermott   - 02/02/2006

Easy Reader

Project writer Mary Ann Keating and editor Pat Dreizler with copies of their book, Redondo Beach. Photo by Mark Mcdermott
New book looks City’s high times

Project writer Mary Ann Keating and editor Pat Dreizler with copies of their book, Redondo Beach. Photo by Mark Mcdermott

The postcards are not only from a time past but from an altogether-bygone place.

Many of the scenes pictured are of a bustling seaside resort town that featured an auditorium and ballroom where big bands and world-famous opera stars frequently performed, an ornate, multi-domed building called “the Plunge” that glowed with thousands of tiny lights at night and was claimed to be the world’s largest indoor saltwater swimming pool, and a casino where high-rollers from Hollywood came to see and be seen.

Other postcards show the famed Hotel Redondo, the 225-room hotel that was once perched regally on the hill where Veteran’s Park now exists, or the nearby “Tent City,” where the more bargain-inclined paid a dollar a night for a bed, a wooden floor, and a single light bulb inside canvas shelters nestled in a hillside thicket of woods a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean (a dollar, in fact, could also get one from Kansas City to Redondo Beach on the Santa Fe train line back in 1908).

Old Redondo is so utterly gone that that it almost seems like the figment of fantastical geographic imagination now, but its heyday coincided with another heyday – that of the picture postcard, which Americans sent by the millions in the early days of the 20th century. (According to U.S. Postal Service records, 677,777,798 postcards were sent in fiscal year 1908 alone.) Few places were more popular tourist destinations than turn-of-the-century Redondo Beach and, as a result, this rich period in the city’s history was also richly documented on postcards.

The Historical Commission of Redondo Beach last year sifted through its collection of postcards and selected 192, ranging from the city’s founding in 1892 up until 1930, for inclusion in a book about Old Redondo that was to be part of Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History Series. The result, Redondo Beach, is now available. The commissioners who headed the project, project editor Patricia Dreizler and writer Mary Ann Keating, will be signing copies March 4 and 5 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Redondo Beach Historical Museum at 302 Flagler Lane.

Proceeds from the book, which sells for $20, will be used for improvements to the museum. Keating, a former reporter for the Daily Breeze and the Los Angeles Times, said the Historical Commission hopes not only to generate a little revenue but also spark more interest in this period of the city’s history.

“We did this primarily to capture that golden era,” she said. “Making a little money for the museum is great, but the underlying motive was to kind of present and show that era. … We wanted to tweak people’s curiosity so they would want to learn more.”

The museum, itself housed in an historical Queen Anne home that was relocated to Dominguez Park, includes thousands of photographs and historical artifacts as well as a research library for those who want to learn more. For those so inclined, the book also includes a bibliography.

Keating said her greatest source, however, was Dreizler, the city’s former director of Community Resources and one of its greatest historians.

“One thing we had going for us, that was just incredible, was Pat Dreizler’s memory,” Keating said. “Pat has lived in Redondo 50 years and worked for the city 40 years, so she has personal memories of so much of the town’s history. If she didn’t know something, she knew where to find it.”

The idea for the book was Dreizler’s. Only two books dealing solely with the history of Redondo Beach have ever been published before — Ken Johnson’s Fun, Frustration and Fulfillment in 1965 and Dennis Shanahan’s Old Redondo: A Pictorial History of Redondo Beach in 1982 — neither of which is currently in print. Dreizler, who collected some of the postcards used in the book on trips to flea markets and antique stores throughout the country, thought the time was right for this kind of history book.

“We had so many really good postcards and so many people have been asking for another history of Redondo Beach,” Dreizler said. “This looked like a good opportunity and just a nice sampling of what Redondo Beach used to be. Hopefully, it will inspire people to explore it further.”

Dreizler and Keating talked about the idea for nearly six months, even after Arcadia Publishing — the leading publishers of local history in the U.S. with more than 3,000 titles — contacted them, and the City Council agreed to terms with the company. The pair even traveled together to Scotland, talking about the project the entire trip but never writing a word down.

“We went to Loch Ness and talked about the book,” Keating said. “So we did a lot of planning ahead of time, not in production, but in talking.”

The book was written in two weeks in September. Each day would begin at the Historical Museum, where the two would go over the postcards chosen by fellow commissioners Bradley Reynolds, Barbara Roamer, Anne Hughes, and John Reilly. Then Keating would go home and write, and Dreizler would go home and wait by her phone to help answer any questions that might come up. There were no drafts; they’d go over the progress at the museum the next day and then move forward.

The book is not organized in a chronological manner and includes some photographs that are not postcards. Its chapters are organized around such topics as “Places to Stay, Places to Play,” “Trains, Planes, and Big Red Cars,” and “Stormy Weather.” So evocative are many of the photographs that the book serves as much as a time machine as it does a collection of historical documents.

One photograph, for example, shows a family walking down the boardwalk in their “Sunday’s finest” clothes with the Mandarin Ballroom in the background and a restaurant advertising “A Good Fish Dinner” for 30 cents right beside them (the man seems to be eyeing the offer). Another, from 1910, shows a group of formally clad former Iowans — apparently — picnicking in the grass. It is captioned, “We were snapped at the Iowa picnic and wish you could have been in the group. Weather is fine. Fishing Tomorrow.”

There are postcards of starlets in bathing suits never intended for the water, of fishermen lining one of the many iterations of the city’s pier, of a jittery looking early model airplane at a 1910 aviation meet that attracted 30,000 spectators, of beached boats and one very large beached Arctic whale. There are fancily dressed people picking moonstones from the beach, a man relaxing in front of his vacation home at Tent City, and a whole chapter of wave-crashed homes, piers, establishments, and even one wrecked roller coaster.

Old Redondo disappeared due to a combination of factors that included economics, politics, and natural disaster. According to Dreizler, its most famous landmark — Hotel Redondo — was sold for $300 and torn down for scrap materials in the early 1930s. Apparently, she said, the prohibition of alcohol had damaged tourism so much that business was no longer viable. “If you can’t drink, then why come and play?” she said.

Dreizler, whose parents honeymooned in California from their native Kansas and arrived in Redondo Beach on the Red Car, says she still finds herself looking at and wondering about these old photographs.

“I never tire of looking at those photographs, and heavens knows I’ve looked at them hundreds and hundreds of times,” Dreizler said. “How many times I’ve fantasized sitting on the front porch of Hotel Redondo … ”

Redondo Beach is available at area bookstores as well as from most online booksellers, but a higher percentage of the proceeds go to Historical Commission when book are purchased at the museum or through one of the authors. Pat Dreizler can be reached at 540-8585 and Mary Ann Keating at 372-3843. ER

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