California Museums

Manhattan Beach, CA

Manhattan Beach Historical Society and Museum
Polliwog Park
1601 Manhattan Beach Boulevard
Manhattan Beach, CA
(310) 374-7575

California's Famous "Manhattan"

By C. MacDonald

New York may have its "Manhattan," but so does California.

World famous "Manhattan Beach," located south of El Segundo and north or Hermosa Beach in Los Angeles County is home to a well-known shoe company, (Sketchers), a film company (Manhattan Beach Studios), an internationally-acclaimed volleyball tournament (Manhattan Open), what's reportedly the oldest concrete pier on the West Coast (1920; which even has an aquarium at the end), and the site of what some say is the first California Surf Shop (once located at 117 Manhattan Beach Blvd. where people ordered custom boards from iconic surfboard shaper Dale Velzy in 1949).

Ironically, it's also home to Manhattan, N.Y.-born Steve Meisenholder, President Emeritus of the Manhattan Beach Historical Society, located in a real 1902 local beach cottage, full of fascinating memorabilia and open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-3.

Back in the first decade of the 20th Century, there were 300 cottages like this, located in the sand dunes, Meisenholder explained. "People in Los Angeles and Pasadena built them for weekend getaways or for vacation."

"From 1903-1940, they could get to them on Henry E. Huntington's Pacific Electric Railway cars that went along the Pacific Ocean (and elsewhere) connecting Santa Monica, Ocean Park, Venice, Playa Del Rey, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach," said the former aerospace engineer, who worked on the Apollo Program. There's even an interactive model of the Big Red Car, which actually rolls along a track to the Pier in the museum.

Oddly enough, on Dec. 2, 1912, it was a coin toss between area developers John E. Merrill of the Manhattan Beach Company, and George Peck of Shore Acres which determined the new town's name. Merrill won and it officially became "Manhattan Beach."

One of the best tourist attractions in the beautiful community is the historical society's museum in the quaint cottage. You'll be in awe at a wide variety of historical artifacts, including a photo of "Old George," the local post office mascot dog from 1940-54. The city is dog-friendly and has two Dog Parks (in Polliwog Park and Live Oak Park).

You'll laugh at the heavy wool (non-see through) Unisex Bathing Suit on display that was actually rented to men or women for a day at the beach. Meisenholder said it wasn't until 1933 that men were allowed to go shirtless on the sand.

There's a room dedicated to "Beach Culture," with a real over 9-foot-long Velzy surfboard, 1939 photo of Surfing Legend Tom Blake; a display on the "International Paddleboard Race" from Catalina to Manhattan Beach, which continues to this day as the "Catalina Classic;" early day pictures of people standing on "hydroplanes" (hardwood boards pulled by boats) and so much more.

One of the most amazing things in the museum is a Ray Anderson-designed Diorama, which shows what Manhattan Beach would look like if it was underwater. It gives an incredible perspective and even lights up. Nearby is an exhibit of Metlox products--figurines and dinnerware known around the globe for its beauty. The local based company made much of their famous wares between 1930-1981. You'll see their exquisite Disney Snow White and the Seven Dwarf figures plus so much more.

In their gift store you can purchase fabulous local history books and postcards showing the Big Red Car, Manhattan Beach Pier in 1927, early day swimmers and the beach cottages. You also can buy historical photos, suitable for framing.

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