Sunday, December 12, 2010

Iconic in Long Beach

I went to the Open House at the Villa Riviera on Sunday.

The event, held twice yearly, benefits the Friends of Villa Riviera, a non-profit organization devoted to maintaining the building and preserving its history. The building's website is here.

Each time I visit Long Beach, I make a point to stop for a while and gander at this stunning tower by architect Richard D. King. When it opened in 1929 as a condominium building (the tallest building in Southern California after Los Angeles City Hall), it was touted in the sales brochure that "this wonderful structure of apartment villas . . . will transcend anything of the kind on the Pacific Coast." It later served as a hotel and as naval housing during WWII; it was reconverted to condos in 1991.

Gargoyles keep watch on the battlements.

Although some of Wilshire Boulevard's modern Condo Canyon buildings may top it in space and amenities, there are few residential structures even today in Southern California that exude the commanding street presence of the Villa Riviera.

800 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach.

As can be seen in one of the original sales brochures, the building was originally painted aqua* in keeping with its beachfront location. Although the Pacific no longer laps the building's foundations, as it originally did, residents still have beach access. Fortunately, the color has been toned down to a lovely limestone hue.

Beachy but gaudy.

The interiors are another matter, alas. The hallways come across as dingy and in need of an overhaul, and the cheap furniture that lines them smacks of a Salvation Army thrift store shopping spree.

The HOA rehabbed the exterior two years ago at considerable expense. Its time to consider a major re-do of the interior.

Dingy hallways.

Respecting privacy, I didn't take photos in inhabited apartments (even the three that are currently for sale: listings here, here, and here), but I did come across a couple of horrifically brutalized units that were vacant and will soon be available for rent.

Shag carpeting? Cheap pressed-wood paneling? What were these owners thinking?

A ravaged bedroom in need of emergency TLC.

The views, especially from the higher floors, are stunning, and they must be even better at night. Unfortunately, the tower was not open on this tour, although it may be on some future occasion.

Views galore.

The building has a museum that holds some relics from the past, including a few verdigrised exterior ornaments and even a coat hanger from the building's glory days.

The museum.

On leaving, I had mixed emotions. Many of the residents try, naïvely and somewhat sadly, to make their apartments look as if Norma Talmadge were about to waltz through the front door. Frilly shawls are draped theatrically across uncomfortable-looking mahogany and velvet divans, as if time had stood still since the advent of the talkies.

Other owners have thoroughly modernized to point that their apartments look like any cookie-cutter box in WeHo, with furnishings from CB2. Both approaches, IMHO, are wrong, but, of course, not all the owners' apartments were open on the tour. (By far the best one open was #804; alas, the photos posted with the real estate listing do absolutely nothing to capture the true elegance and taste of this apartment.)

I'm sure the building holds many more secrets as yet unseen. Let's hope that more of the residents have given their apartments a style, polish, and glamor to match the Villa Riviera's stunning image on the Long Beach skyline.

*Update, Feb. 2, 2011:

A reader has corrected my assertion that the building was originally painted aqua (information which was passed on to visitors by the guide at the Open House). Evidently, the aqua color was only used for the sales posters; the original color, as determined by a specialist in historic buildings, was the limestone hue that the building is currently painted.


  1. Love this building in Long Beach. I used to work in LB, drove past this place infrequently but always loved looking at it. Nice to have the chance to see it.

  2. You're an idiot. How about posting pictures of your home so everyone can judge it.

    I bet it's a real gem.

  3. The promotional lobby luminaire depicting the aqua building color was created sometime during the building's hotel period (1934-1955), based on a black & white photograph with applied colorization. Accordingly, we have seen evidence of aqua paint on the exterior, however the current color palette is based on restoration architect Martin Eli Weil's color forensics of the original paint layers.

    I agree that we need to address the residential hallway conditions for paint, carpet, and decor, as this was last done around 1990.

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