Not forgotten… but gone?

Residents, preservationists hope recently closed Petroleum Club building can be saved.

Residents+sign+in+at+a+table+outside+the+Long+Beach+Petroleum+Club+during+a+meet-up+on+May+23+to+discuss+the+possibility+of+saving+the+building+as+a+historic+landmark.
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Not forgotten… but gone?

Residents sign in at a table outside the Long Beach Petroleum Club during a meet-up on May 23 to discuss the possibility of saving the building as a historic landmark.

Residents sign in at a table outside the Long Beach Petroleum Club during a meet-up on May 23 to discuss the possibility of saving the building as a historic landmark.

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune

Residents sign in at a table outside the Long Beach Petroleum Club during a meet-up on May 23 to discuss the possibility of saving the building as a historic landmark.

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune

Residents sign in at a table outside the Long Beach Petroleum Club during a meet-up on May 23 to discuss the possibility of saving the building as a historic landmark.

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After declining membership forced the Long Beach Petroleum Club to close its doors in March, the city lost a landmark with a 64-year history. Now that the property is in escrow, however, some residents and preservationists are also concerned that a historically significant building itself will be lost, if its new owners decide to demolish it.

On May 23, in a meet-up organized by the nonprofit Long Beach Heritage, about 50 people gathered at the site, located at 3636 Linden Ave., to show their support for nominating the 14,000-square-foot structure for historic-landmark designation. The designer of the Petroleum Club, which was constructed in 1955, was Long Beach architect John Richard Shelley.

Sarah Locke, executive director of Long Beach Heritage, said her organization does not yet have much information about the potential buyer but the building does indeed qualify to be recognized as a historic landmark.

“It is absolutely eligible,” Locke said. “Some criteria to look at for eligibility are [that the structure is] over 50 years of age, it has significance because it is by a local architect who had a significant body of work, and it retains all of its features from that period.”

Locke added that there are financial incentives available to the new owner if the building is preserved.

“There are federal tax credits. There’s also potentially the Mills Act,” she said, referring to the state law that allows cities to enter into contracts with owners of historic structures, requiring a reduction of property taxes in exchange for ongoing preservation of the site.

Cory Bilicko | Signal Tribune
Local residents gather at the recently closed Long Beach Petroleum Club in Bixby Knolls on May 23 to express interest in and receive information about saving the structure as a historic building.

Julie Bartolotto, executive director of the Historical Society of Long Beach, was also in attendance at the event, and she told the Signal Tribune that the building is worth saving because of its local relevance.

“It has great historical, cultural and architectural significance locally, “ Bartolotto said. “This has been a gathering place– first, for people in the petroleum industry, and then their family and then the community– for over 50 years. And without efforts to preserve places like this, our communities look and feel very differently.”

She explained that for the building to be preserved, the new owner must be interested in saving it.

“Once they own the building, then whatever they’re going to do to the building will require a whole review and planning process with the City of Long Beach,” Bartolotto said. “So, that’s where preservationists can really get involved and, hopefully, potentially, Long Beach Heritage– because this is part of what they do– can broker a deal that would, on some level, preserve some part of this structure.”

Like Locke, Bartolotto said it is not yet known what the new owner’s plans are.

“We don’t really know what that owner wants to do,” she said. “We just know that this is a big piece of property in a desirable neighborhood at a time when people want more housing. There’s a mandate– state and locally– to provide more housing.”

Bartolotto added that, even if the new owners develop the site as housing, some aspects of the structure’s architecture can be preserved.

“There is a way to do both,” she said. “That’s what historic preservation does.”

Lee Fukui, who serves on the Advocacy Committee for Long Beach Heritage, said the “interesting historical character” of the building is worth preserving.

“There are a lot of interior things, as well,” Fukui said. “The round bar, the red room. There’s a mural inside– I hope that can be saved. There’s a lot of elements in there that are really, really great, and it means a lot to the community. It’s got a long history here. That’s why you have so many people here that have fond memories of it.”

Fukui said that what he and others hope for is that at least the most signature parts of the building can be preserved.

“I think what people want to see is that some aspects of the building be saved– maybe not all of it, but certainly a lot of the character-defining elements would be nice to save,” he said. “And it could be reused. I heard that it may be used as housing or a hotel or something. It could be mixed-use, and it certainly could serve as that– creatively, adaptively reusing this building. It would be a shame just to tear it down.”

More information about the building is available at lbheritage.org/latest-news.