Virginia Haley –

Virginia Haley

Interviewed and transcribed by Libby AppelgateDecember 3, 1993

Virginia has lived in Seal Beach since 1922.  She has four children, twelve grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  PTA president, Girl Scout leader and treasurer of the Community Methodist Church.  She discusses gambling, brothels, the Jewel Café with the marathon dancers, Mr. Stanton, the 1933 earthquake and the first theatre

L.A.:  What is your full name?

V.H.:  Virginia Belle Haley.

L.A.:  What is your address?

V.H.:  1507 Seal Way, Apt. #1, Seal Beach, California.

L.A.:  What was your address in the earlier years?

V.H.:  My father built a little house, which is still there, on 15th Street, between 15th and 14th on the alley.  We owned property on Electric Ave. but somewhere along the line we lost the house.  We were going to build out in front.  My father became ill and then there was the Depression.

L.A.:  Did you move here with your parents?

V.H.:  Yes, my mother and father, one brother, and one sister.

L.A.:  Please tell me about your parents.  What were their names?

V.H.:  My mother was born in Illinois and my father was born in Iowa.  We came to Seal Beach from Kansas.  My father was a plaster contractor.  He had a brother who lived in Long Beach and had several homes.  I was only five years old in 1922 when we arrived.  We lived with them for awhile in Seal Beach.  At the time, there were no houses on Electric Ave. from 12th Street to 17th Street.  12th Street had some little houses.  13th Street had one or two and then a couple on 17th Street and Landing Street.  Our house was all by itself.  My father built the house on the alley.  While my father was building the house, we moved to a little house nearby that had bed bugs.  Nobody else was bitten but me but I remember my mother burning all of the blankets and sheets.  In those days there were no insecticides so they had to use kerosene or burn them.

L.A.:  When and where did your parents meet?

V.H.:  I don’t know.  They lived in Kansas when they met.

L.A.:  When did you become a member in the Methodist Church in Seal Beach?

V.H.:  I started going to church when I moved to town in 1922.  I was five years old.  The Community Methodist Church started up in 1915.  It was on 6th Street at first and it was like a little house.  I really didn’t start thinking back on this until the city’s 75th anniversary.  Our church was established the same time as the city was incorporated.  There weren’t many houses on the street.  I don’t remember when they moved to 10th Street.  I’m not the oldest but I have been with the church the longest.

L.A.:  Norma Pranter was telling me that everyone went to church while they were growing up in Seal Beach.  All kinds of activities for the families were always planned.

V.H.:  It was Sunday school, church, Eperth League, then church again.  The church had family dinners, bazaars.  We just lived in the church.  We didn’t have Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.  The first theatre was in the building at 149 Main Street.  In the front was Patterson’s grocery store and in the back was a theatre.  They showed silent movies, mostly westerns, also had amateur nights.  Andy Johnson was the Chief of Police at that time and he formed a Junior Police.  There was not much else to do.  There were ten or more of us girls and boys who w4ent to each other’s house and made fudge and taffy, we played cards or kick the can.  But having the Junior Police was really something.  Their job was to keep order at the movies.  There was a store on Ocean Avenue that manufactured candy and you could watch them from outside.

L.A.:  Describe the social life you had as a teenager in Seal Beach.

V.H.:  I went to Huntington Beach High but then, we always had the church.  There were dances at the dance hall at the pier.  We had all the big bands.

L.A.:  What was the name of the dance hall?

V.H.:  I think it was called the Dance Pavilion and the roller coaster was on the other side.  Long Beach had several dance halls and so did Balboa.  Seal Beach was the only one that had dancing on Sunday.  A lot of times we would go to church and then to the dance hall.  I would dance with my brother and we all learned to dance.  Sometimes they had shows with a quartet of girls dancing, like the Rockettes.  I remember being very impressed with that.  Now, underneath, one nightclub, on the ground floor was the Jewel Café.  They had picnics inside during the day.  I remember every summer; the orphanage from Los Angeles would bring the children down on the Red Car and cook up hot dogs for them.  I was always afraid to do this, but every kid in Seal Beach would get in line and get a free hot dog and drinks.  I probably did it too.  There were little parades and beauty contests.  I remember Phillip Stanton and his wife being very important people in town.  I particularly remember Mr. Stanton’s two French poodles with little ribbons in the fur.  They lived in the first house built in Seal Beach on First Street and Ocean.  I thought I was sad when they tore that house down.  He owned all of Seal Beach’s Joy Zone.  This is when I first came here.

L.A.:  I’ve heard that the roller coaster, the Jewel Café and all the San Francisco Exposition buildings were there only a few years.  The Bayside Land Company went bankrupt.

V.H.:  Yes, that’s what happened.  They just let it deteriorate.  I have pictures of them tearing down the roller coaster.  That was in 1935 or 1936.  At that time, the Catalina Corp. wanted to buy the “Little Pike”, that’s what I called it, and for some reason Stanton didn’t want to save it.  Stanton developed all the land from 12th to 17th Streets on the North side of Electric Avenue.  The lots were very small and the streets are too narrow.  We still have to contend with that!

L.A.:  I Stanton developed the East Side, who developed the West Side?

V.H.:  That, I don’t know, but whoever did, made nice big streets and larger lots.

L.A.:  Lloyd Murray said that Stanton would sell the property and if someone missed a payment, he would foreclose and sell it again three or four times.

V.H.:  I don’t doubt that.  He wasn’t a real nice person but very likely he was in trouble and needed to make the money.

L.A.:  What kind of a car did your family own when you were growing up?

V.H.:  We drove from Kansas and I want you to know I was glad I was only five years old.  When I think about coming over those mountains in those days, I realized it was quite a hard trip.  We had a big, brand new car.  It was a touring car and I think it was a Ford.  My father had special roll down shades that we rolled down at night while my mother and sister and I would sleep inside the car.  My father and brother would sleep outside in a tent.  (There were no motels.) The first things I remember were those eucalyptus trees on Seal Beach Boulevard.  They grew way up into Los Alamitos as we came touring into town.

L.A.:  What is the full name of your husband?

V.H.:  Francis Louis Haley.  They called him Jack because of Jack Haley, the movie star.  My husband always said he was some kind of relation.

L.A.:  When and where did you meet?

V.H.:  At the Majestic, the dance hall at the Pike in Long Beach.  I think half the world met their future husbands down there.  We met in 1933, the year of the earthquake.

L.A.:  When and where were you married?

V.H.:  In Yuma, Arizona in 1934.  My brother and I would go to the dances at the Pike.  Jack and my brother were friends and I don’t know how long before he finally knew that Wayne was my brother.  My sister went to the dances, too.  We could go to Long Beach on the streetcar for a nickel and go to the dance for a dime.  I always tell my grandkids that we had more to do in Seal Beach than we have now.  We had a bowling alley at Anaheim Landing and we liked swimming in the bay better than the ocean.  The Catholics had a bazaar every year that we went to and they would come to our church turkey dinners.  Lots of things to do in Seal Beach!  That reminds me that one could ride the streetcar to Long Beach, go to a show and get a candy bar, all for a quarter.  I remember the kids from out of town had these big beach balls during the summer at the bay. We would swim over to the other side and retrieve it then bring it back and get five or ten cents for bringing it back.

L.A.:  Seal Beach kids could swim. 

V.H.:  Yes, we could swim because we practically lived in the water.  We wore wool bathing suits and they would never get dry because we wanted to go swimming the next day.  Everyone would bring something for picnics on the on the beach.  When our friends would come over, our mom would fry chicken and make potato salad, etc.  I didn’t know what potato salad tasted like without sand!

L.A.:  How many children do you have?

V.H.:  I have four; two boys and two girls.

L.A.:  How many grandchildren?

V.H.:  I have twelve grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

L.A.:  What were your special activities and hobbies in your adult years?

V.H.:  I was involved in the church and was a Girl Scout leader for eight years.  Also, president of the PTA and PTA Council.  My children were all raised in the church but none of them go now.  I found out later on, the boys would hide their surfboards and sneak out of church to go surfing.  I started the Junior Woman’s Club in 1941 because I couldn’t get my age group to go to Senior Club.  Many senior ladies weren’t very happy with me.

L.A.:  When did they tear down the Jewel Café?

V.H.:   I don’t know, but I do know the hotel that was on the corner of Central and Main used to be a nightclub and the “ladies of the evening” were upstairs.  My father used to always say that big-time gamblers in Seal Beach didn’t like Seal Beach residents in there gambling.  That hotel was for big-time gambling.  The people in the black suit and fedora hats came in.  That building burned down in 1938. 

L.A.:  Some people are interested in Bill Robertson and his enormous influence in town.  Do you remember him?

V.H.:  When I met Mr. Robertson and found out he wanted to run some gambling, I was surprised.  He didn’t wear fedora hats and black suits.  He was in blue denim.  He wasn’t exactly my favorite person.

L.A.:  Before we get to the gambling and Bill Robertson, will you tell me what you know about the Hellman Ranch?

V.H.:  The kids used to always go up there.  Florence Tyler and her sister, Mary were always good to them.  It was a ranch and they worked hard.

L.A.:  Well, let’s get back to gambling.  I’m afraid we will run out of time to hear all about it.

V.H.:  On Ocean and Main, Phyllis Jay’s dad owned these little cabins with card games and bait.  My mother told me that there were prostitutes on Main Street.  Three prostitutes came to Seal Beach from Mexico and all became Madams.  There was a house on Ocean and there was rum running at Anaheim Landing.  There was a candy factory on Ocean Avenue where Eisenhower Park is now.  Another building was a small dance hall and I especially remember the marathon dances held there.  Couples dance day and night and struggled to be the winner.  Seems like the prize was $50.00.  In the late 1920’s that was a lot of money.  We kids used to sit and watch them.  I imagine we had to pay a nickel or a dime.  We thought that was great fun to watch them dance for days.

L.A.:  Do you remember when Pacific Coast Highway was paved?

V.H.:  In 1922 it was not paved.  PCH was a small road.

L.A.:  Do you remember the 1933 earthquake?

V.H.:  We had a second hand store on Electric Avenue and we lived in the building.  We ran out the back door to 10th Street, past the Catholic Church (it was on the alley at that time) and I remember the priest yelling at us to get out from underneath the electrical wires.  Everything that was made of brick, fell.  On Main Street we had a pool hall and of course, upstairs there were more brothels.  Those ladies all got out safely but that building crumbled.

L.A.:  What did the church think about gambling and the brothels?

V.H.:  Long before Robertson, there was gambling and rum-running.  The church always fought it.  The police were raiding but somehow they always knew ahead of time that they were going to be raided.  Mrs. Haven was one of the madams and was in business for many years.  We tried to get gambling out of Seal Beach about four or five times with new councilmen.  We would get some nice person on the council to get control, but nine times out of ten the good people were crucified. [bad rumors started] I was always against gambling but when Robertson came to town there was already gambling.  There was roulette and bingo on Main Street.  The Bank of America building was built for a bingo parlor but never got off the ground.  It divided friends, it divided families.  It was always heartache.

L.A.:  When Jesse Reed was elected in 1940’s, Mr. Robertson was said to have told some nasty stories about her so she wouldn’t be elected.  She was elected in spite of the tales.

V.H.:  Yes, and she was the first woman mayor in all of Orange County.  Mr. Robertson gave the church a check for $1000.00.  Some felt, “Well, money is money.”  But they weren’t very happy when he printed the names of all the checks that he gave to organizations in his newspaper.  I was treasurer of PTA when he came to the school carnival and insisted I take a check for $1000.00 so all of his employees could be members of the PTA.  Mr. McGaugh (the school superintendent) also said we couldn’t accept it and would give membership envelopes to all of his employees so they could join themselves.  He wouldn’t, so finally I made an appointment with him at club to return the check.  Another lady went with me.  He didn’t want to take the check but finally did.  While we were talking, he was telling us all the good things he’d done for the people in town, which I disagreed with. [This was gambling money.]

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