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Villa Riviera Apartments

800 East Ocean Boulevard
Long Beach CA United States

Status:built
Construction Dates
  Began1927
  Finished1929
Floor Count20
Building Uses
 - residential
Structural Types
 - highrise
Architectural Style
 - neo-gothic
Materials
 - steel
 - concrete

 Heights ValueSource / Comments 
Roof283 ftLBHS
Height confirmed at 283 feet by the Long Beach Historical Society.

Description
Located on a beachfront bluff at 800 East Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach, California, groundbreaking for the Villa Riviera building began in December of 1927 with opening day planned for December 1928.

The project was conceived and developed by Lionel V. Mayell, successful developer of other classic Long Beach high rises such as the Cooper Arms and the Artaban. Mayell’s concept utilized local architect Richard D. King’s design of a 20 floor Gothic revival high-rise that won 1st place in an international contest.

At the time of completion, the Villa was only 3 feet shorter than the tallest building in southern California - Los Angeles City Hall at 464 feet.

As with most of Mayell’s many projects both here and on the east coast, “The Villa” was originally conceived and operated as luxury “stock co-operative” (or “own-your-own”) residential apartments, not as a hotel or rental units as is widely believed. It wasn’t until after the Stock Market crash and infamous Long Beach earthquake that the Mortgage Guarantee Company was forced to foreclose on Mayell’s cooperative in 1933.

This began a period of hotel operation for the Villa, which went through a succession of owners for the next 22 years.

The building astonishingly survived the devastating 1933 Long Beach Earthquake with mostly superficial cosmetic damage, due in no small part to Richard King’s extensive studies of the effects of earthquakes in Japan just prior to designing the Villa.

Shortly after foreclosure, Mortgage Guarantee installed a neon Art Deco “Apartment-Hotel” sign over the entrance in 1934 and continued to run the building until 1937, when Joseph M. Schenck of Twentieth Century-Fox bought it for his ex wife/silent film star Norma Talmadge.

As the “Villa Riviera Company” they had aspirations of huge additions and remodeling, but fortunately they defaulted on their loan and Mortgage Guarantee leased the building to Consolidated Hotels for its operations beginning in 1940. After that lease expired, the building was auctioned off to the Burger Hotel Company in 1943, and was again sold to hotelier George Allen in 1946.

During this time, the Villa was commonly referred to as the “Home of Admirals” as many officers in the U.S. Navy occupied it. To this day, a brass US Geological Survey (USGS) plaque is still embedded on the balcony of the Villa's tower demonstrating its historical importance to ocean going-vessels along the coast.

It was also during this time that many significant “improvements” and modifications were done or attempted by Allen, including the circle driveway, a 2nd neon sign on the tower, nightclub in the garage, fountain on the front lawn, and further lobby remodeling. In 1954 Allen sold the hotel to the Morris Hotel Chain of Beverly Hills, who also operated other hotels such as the Hotel Clark in Los Angeles and the Hotel San Diego.

The hotel operation would last only 1 more year and in 1955 the building was again sold-off to what was called the Villa Holding Company.

This company reverted many of the past hotel modifications so the building could again become residential, and the units were sold off as individual “own-your-own” apartments.

During the 1970s the building was threatened with condemnation due to strict enforcement of new fire codes, but the struggling association managed to raise enough money to enclose the spectacular open staircases and install fire rated doors and sprinklers throughout.

In 1979 the Villa was designated a historical landmark by Long Beach Cultural Heritage, but by the late 1980s the Villa was ironically imperiled (along with countless other Long Beach structures) by the demands of new earthquake codes.

Once again the homeowner’s association met this new challenge by installing the required retrofits. In 1991 the association was converted to condominium titles, and the Villa finally earned its rightful place on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

As always, the Villa continues to thrive as downtown’s pre-eminent landmark, and is the subject of many writings, art projects, movie locations, photos, special events, and promotional literature and public murals.

-From "Villa Riviera: A General History"

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Drawing by Christopher Bollinger
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