Belmont Heights, Downtown, and Los Altos: Richness, Charm and Diversity

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By Rebecca Behar-Johnson

Although I was born at the Kaiser hospital in Harbor city, 47 years ago in 1962, two days later I was taken home to Long Beach, which has been my home ever since.  I lived briefly in Irvine and Santa Barbara during college — absences from this city that only served to deepen my appreciation of its richness, charm, and diversity. Growing up in Belmont Heights, a short walk from Second Street, our family occasionally splurged on a meal out at Hofstetter’s restaurant, (now Panama Joe’s Cantina). I saw movies at the Belmont theater (reincarnated as the Belmont Racket Club), and bought Halloween costumes at Quigley’s five and dime. 

I did the summer reading programs at Bayshore library, and took my first swimming lessons in Alamitos bay… jumping off the dock into the shockingly crisp water in front of “Woodies Goodies” snack shack.  Nothing in the world tasted so good after a swim…a freshly made Woodies hamburger on a sun soaked beach overlooking the bay, boat docks of Naples and the second street Bridge. Later on I learned to sail my sabot at Leeway Sailing Center and honed my swimming skills at the Belmont Plaza Olympic pool where my youngest sister would meet her first love while volunteering there. They’ve been married 18 years now, and she has taken their three daughters there for swimming lessons.

My family’s Long Beach roots go back three generations, in three great neighborhoods: My grandparents – immigrants from the Greek Islands made their home in the Mission District of San Francisco. Though they prospered there, these southern latitude lovers found the foggy chill a considerable drawback. After a summer vacation in Long Beach, grandpa declared it a “Million Dollar City!” and moved to the Kirkwood Arms, on 4th and Atlantic – just south of Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue.  With me in tow, we ate at the Kress’s lunch counter (now the Kress lofts); bought books at Bertrand Smith’s Acres of Books and treated me to rides at the Pike.  We relaxed on Belmont pier, fishing among the multicultural brotherhood hoping for a “bite”. We watched seals at Pier Point Landing and walked the Queen Mary’s decks pretending to be vacationing “hoi polloi” when she nested in our harbor.

I live in Los Altos, flanked by Cal State Long Beach, where I earned my MSW degree, and Los Altos Shopping Center where one of the few free standing department stores left, Sears, allows me to avoid the malls if I choose. I attend League of Women Voters meetings at Los Altos Library,  sent my kids to the Music and Arts summer camp at Whaley Park, and I swim at our local YMCA each week. On our 10th anniversary my husband and I renewed our vows at the Earl Burns Miller Japanese garden, where I’ve volunteered for over a decade.  Best of all, we frequent The Carpenter Center, which offers world class entertainment in walking distance of home.

Belmont Heights, Downtown, and Los Altos – all neighborhoods rife with happy memories of my life in Long Beach.


4 Responses to “Belmont Heights, Downtown, and Los Altos: Richness, Charm and Diversity”
  1. Caron Lowe says:

    I loved this essay. Rebecca and I have lived in the same neighborhoods and have been friends since Jr. High School. I too was born in Long Beach and have lived here all my life. All the places that she wrote about are places that I went to as well with my grandmother who was a long time Belmont Shore resident. This essay brought back very fond memories of the Long Beach that I knew as a child. This essay brought a smile to my lips and heart! Thank you. 🙂

  2. This was a lovely essay that gives all there is to love about Long Beach. I also am a Long Beach Native and loved all the points of what was and what it is now. As I drive about town I try to remember what each landmark used to be. I enjoyed this very much.

  3. Johnna Anderson Bryant says:

    Beautifully written Becky -nice to be reminded of all of the fabulous Long Beach hot-spots from our past. You left out Wilson though! Happy to hear you are doing well & are still active in the community!

  4. Rose Behar says:

    what a very touching insight into some wonderful areas in Long Beach well done!