History of the Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse
Built in 1932 as a destination for Los Angeles residents riding the Pacific Red Car, the Bathhouse offered a place to spend the day, rent a bathing suit and towel for ten cents, change, swim, bathe and then return home.
The Cabrillo Beach Bathhouse is the last standing example of the bathhouses that used to line Southern California’s shoreline. The Bathhouse and Boathouse, which was located on the inner beach, were both used during the 1932 Olympic Games for the boating events.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s the Bathhouse became the home of the Cabrillo Beach Museum. Shells and other sea life gathered by lifeguards and beachgoers were displayed on card tables.
In 1950, Director John Olguin introduced educational grunion hatching programs and Grunion Run Hunts on the beach. At the same time, the Cetacean (whales) Society began a Whale Watch program. The museum continued to expand and a worldwide collection of shells and artifacts, ship models, maritime memorabilia, fishing, deep-sea diving gear, dioramas of sea life and large plaster mounts, models of giant octopus, black sea bass and a leatherback turtle were all part of the impressive displays. For more than 40 years, the Bathhouse was an integral part of marine activities at Cabrillo Beach. In 1981 the Cabrillo Beach Museum outgrew the Bathhouse and moved to its two present locations, The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium on the inner beach and the Maritime Museum on Harbor and 6th Street in San Pedro.
During this period, the Bathhouse languished, falling into disrepair, its tile roof leaking and walls beginning to crumble. Pigeons took over the tower and much of the second floor ballroom with its beautiful beamed ceiling and hardwood floors. Due to the Bathhouses deteriorated condition, it was left vacant except for storage for the Museums and use by the Cabrillo Beach chapter of the Polar Bears. The restroom and showers remained open for the public and were maintained by Los Angeles County.
The most significant efforts to arrest its decay came through occasional film shoots, such as one for the movie ‘Face Off’, which helped the Ballroom look a bit like its former self. After the Northridge earthquake, seismic funds were used to remove much of the broken tile and add paper to the roof in an effort to secure it from further decay.
Fortunately, during this period groups like the Cabrillo Beach Boosters, the San Pedro Bay Historical Society and the Polar Bears effectively lobbied for historical status for the Bathhouse. They also rallied members of the community and responsible agencies such as the local City Council office, Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and the Los Angeles Harbor Department to keep the project moving. The efforts of local residents were invaluable.
The building was declared a historic landmark in 1989 but sat in disrepair for many years while the City searched for funding to refurbish it. Eventually, funding was provided through the City and the Los Angeles Harbor Department, which gave the largest portion, $2.1 million, with an additional $1.5 million from Proposition G. In the summer of 2001, the public was able to witness the groundbreaking ceremony when the building was emptied, fenced and partly demolished, marking the start of returning the Bathhouse to its original historic state. An historical consultant conducted extensive research, which included the original plans. An architect and contractor were hired and with the full support of the City of Los Angeles, restoration of the Bathhouse began.
The renovation included the new tile roof, refinished original maple floors, original 1930s art deco paint and polished brass hardware. All structural and mechanical requirements were met, including earthquake retrofitting, plumbing – which includes hot water in the showers B electrical upgrades, elevator installation (to satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act), landscaping, heating and air conditioning.
On October 12, 2002, its 70th Anniversary, the Bathhouse was re-dedicated. Mayor James Hahn, Congresswoman Jane Harmon and 15th District Councilwoman Janice Hahn spoke at the ceremony, which included representatives from the Department of Recreation and Parks and Harbor Department. The Pledge of Allegiance and singing of God Bless America were led by the 2002 Polar Bear King and Queen.
Now part of the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Bathhouse offers a variety of activities and classes.
The upstairs Ballroom, Outdoor Patio Arcade Area and the lst Floor Gallery are available for rent and to display art.
And of course, very large changing rooms for men and women to change into swim trunks, or clothes and shower-off after swimming or surfing in the ocean or harbor.