Thursday, May 15, 2008

Manhattan Beach -- 30 years of change

I sometimes look at all the cars heading west on Manhattan Beach Boulevard and wonder where they are all going. Surely our small suburban town can’t contain all of them. It’s just as crowded on our other major East-West thoroughfares – Rosecrans and Marine. How much wider can Rosecrans stretch to accommodate the traffic going in and out of our little city? Once a quiet, sleepy town, in the last 30 years Manhattan Beach has turned into an international and sophisticated happening place, touted by the New York Times travel section for dining and shopping and the best sunsets in the world. Our downtown is as crowded as Rodeo Drive. Our cafes and coffee shops rival those on the Champs Elyse. Walkers, dogs and baby strollers clog the sidewalks. Outdoor tables are packed. And not all conversations heard on the streets are in English.

Whatever happened to the eucalyptus trees lining Rosecrans Boulevard when it was only two-lanes? Whatever happened to the days when Poncho’s was a Chinese restaurant and all the night action was on the north end of Highland? The only restaurants in downtown were the Kettle, Uncle Bill’s, the Bay 90s, and a lunch counter that served the best tuna fish sandwiches and French fries called Stuffy’s. We had a few good stores like Le Chat, Frances’, The Third Gallery, and Bentley’s. Then, Metlox still sold pottery. I bought two dozen plates at $2.00 each for a family Thanksgiving one year with a platter and bowl thrown in. I still have them.

As the character of downtown began to change so did the residential areas. We used to enjoy the mix of old and new, small and large, dumpy and elegant side by side. But with the influx of money the homes got larger and more homogeneous. Lots were split to accommodate two houses – leaving fewer trees and green space. We bought one of those new houses in 1979 and still live in it. Now it’s dwarfed by huge mansions that fill up almost every inch of lot space.

More and more restaurants opened – and closed. Even one of our first “new” restaurants, the Hibachi, gave way to Rock n Fish, which serves the Hibachi style chicken teriyaki and Navy Grog, but cannot replicate its fung chui.
The railroad track morphed into a beautiful greenbelt with plenty of trees and park benches, bowls of water for thirsty dogs, and a place to meet longtime friends on the jogging path. The Chevron tank farm became Manhattan Village, the La Mar theater site became Sketcher’s headquarters, and the Metlox property turned into another shopping and eating opportunity.

The walk up the Sand Dune steps or the Rosecrans hill on the way to the Strand is still a challenge. Now, people come from all over LA to get fit on the sandy hill or steps. The Old Hometown Fair gets larger every year, and the Grand Prix still attracts world-class bikers and local kids enjoying their own competitions.
Yes, some things still remain: the barber shop on Manhattan Avenue, Uncle Bill’s, the Manhattan Shoe Hospital, the Koffee Kart, Lisa’s Framing, CafĂ© Pierre, Talia’s, Shellback Tavern, Ercole’s, Pete’s Place, Manhattan Market, Becker’s Bakery, El Terasco, the Tot Lot, the ubiquitous basketball courts and soccer fields, Concerts in the Park, co-ed beach volleyball, the surfers waiting for the next big wave – though now we have more female surfers than we used to – and the best sunsets in the world.

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