Get to Know: Willmore City Heritage Association

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WCHA Board Emily Tanaka , WCHA Vice President Michelle Muniz, WCHA President Kathleen Irvine, Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association representative Ernie Villa, WCHA Board Member Jim Danno

The Willmore City Heritage Association (WCHA) works to improve, preserve and promote the physical environment and the quality of life in the Willmore City Drake Parke neighborhood, Long Beach’s first designated historic district.

Over the last few years, WCHA has been working to beautify and transform the area located next to the 7th and Maine intersection into the Willmore Heritage Garden. The 7th and Maine Beautification Project started with a grant from the DLBA and a donation from the City of Long Beach. WCHA began by cleaning up the area and then they re-purposed a few planters to replace the orange and white barricades at the intersection, making for a more ascetically pleasing street closure.

From there, WCHA was able to bring together additional grants, donations and support from a number of organizations including the DLBA; Farmers and Merchants; Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association; First District Councilmember Robert Garcia; and the City of Long Beach’s Neighborhood Services, Parks, Recreation and Marine, and Public Works departments.

Recently WCHA installed the re-purposed and re-stored historic Jergin’s Trust Pillars. These Pillars sat atop the Jergin’s Trust Building, which was designed by Harvey Lochridge and built in 1919. The Jergin’s Trust Building stood at the corner of Pine Avenue and Ocean Boulevard until it was demolished in 1988. The Pillars will frame the formal Willmore Heritage Garden entrance which leads into the future Drake/Chavez Park Expansion.

Currently, WCHA is installing the final touches on the 7th and Maine Beautification Project. These final touches include work funded by a grant from the DLBA’s Capital Improvement and Beautification Project. The grant provides funding to erect a wrought iron entryway between the Pillars, as well as money to create informational signage for the garden.

WCHA will be holding a formal ribbon cutting on August 11, 2012, to celebrate the official opening of the Willmore Heritage Garden. The ribbon cutting will be coupled with a free community celebration featuring live music, snacks and drinks.

WCHA may be gearing up to celebrate the Willmore Heritage Garden’s grand opening, but the organization still has future plans for the Garden – a mural to be painted on the wall running alongside the Garden and a sign to be affixed to the overpass thanking people for visiting Long Beach.

Kathleen Irvine, Jim Danno and Emily Kiwa Tanaka are three members of the Willmore City Heritage Association (WCHA). Irvine serves as the President, Danno is head of Community Outreach, and Tanaka is in charge of Web Communications.

DLBA: Why are you committed to improving Downtown & your neighborhood?

Danno: I work to improve Downtown and my neighborhood because I want to lead by example. I can’t tell somebody else to do it because then I’m part of the “complaining” crowd. Whereas if I get out there and do it myself, then I’m leading by example and it becomes contagious. Everybody wants to be on a winning team. If I’m doing a good job, somebody else may say “well I can do that too.”

DLBA: What is your favorite thing about Downtown Long Beach?

Irvine: I love the diversity of Downtown – it’s very artsy, there’s a lot of great food, and many different events. Downtown is very walkable and concentrated.

I like that Downtown is like a big city and has this certain level of sophistication, but is still very neighborly and friendly compared to other cities I’ve lived in.

DLBA: What changes have you seen in the Downtown since you moved/became involved with Willmore?

Tanaka: I see more people walking, and not just during the day but also at night. And the East Village is more populated.

Irvine: I notice there are a lot more people Downtown now. On weekends you really notice that there are more people. When we first moved here, you never had to make a reservation for anything.

Also, that whole stretch where Mabel’s Gourmet Pralines is located, has really improved. There’s also a big difference in the East Village. We like the boutiques that have sprung up, and don’t really want to see Macy’s – there are plenty of those.

DLBA: What advice or recommendation would you give to a Downtown visitor?

Tanaka: For a young visitor that’s in their 20s to 30s to 40s, I would send them to the East Village. Maybe over to Linden and Third where Shortin’ Bread is located.

Also, BikeStation is great – visitors can rent a bike for $15 a day.

DLBA: How did you get involved in Willmore?

Irvine: Jim and I got involved because we got lost. We were driving around all the different areas of Long Beach looking for the perfect historic place. I got lost and ended up by the Benbridge House, and decided that’s the area I wanted to live in. There was a big sign on the houses the City had moved that said “these houses are available” and it had contact information for Willmore City Heritage Association, so we called and we spoke with Cheryl Perry and she said “come to the meetings, we’d love to see you.”

I’m a landscape designer, so I offered to volunteer my services if needed. That’s how I started working with WCHA.

Tanaka: I was born and raised in Long Beach. When I came back after school, I was living in Wrigley for a while with roommates. I wanted somewhere where I could be on my own. There is tons of studio space in Willmore, so I got one of those. Then once a month I’d see this meeting going on and I thought “what is that”. Once I got laid off, I wanted to get more involved in the community. So I started going to the meetings, just to find out what was going on. Then there were opportunities to join committees and one was Clean, Beautiful Street Committee. My background is in architecture, so I started helping them with diagrams and such.

For more information on WCHA and how to become involved, visit their Facebook Page or website.

About DLBA
Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA) is a non-profit organization operating on behalf of the property owners and tenants of the Business Improvement District. It is dedicated to the management, marketing, security, maintenance, advocacy, and economic and community development of the assessment districts in cooperation with the City of Long Beach and the private sector. For additional information, please see

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