Orange County seeks to buy Beach Boulevard, its legendary “Road to Summer”

Jodie Mosley remembers when Beach Boulevard lived up to its reputation as Orange County’s Road to Summer.

Beginning in the 1950s and for decades after, it was a strolling corridor for locals and tourists seeking good-hearted pleasure. Families knew this was the gateway to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, where they could gobble up the famous fried chicken and marvel at the thrilling final drop of the Timber Mountain Log Ride. And beachgoers knew it as the most direct route to the sandy shores and famous swell of Huntington Beach.

“We had relatives visit from New York and we were going to Knott’s Berry Farm, California Alligator Farm and the beach together,” said Mosley, 61, a lifelong Anaheim resident. “Walking down Beach, you would see people with surfboards on their cars.”

In the boom years, the pulling power of Beach Boulevard supported dozens of motels that were clean and affordable for families looking to stay a few nights. Mosley’s grandmother owned a popular one, the Oasis Motel in Anaheim. And his parents ran a family restaurant on the boulevard in nearby Stanton.

But as Orange County grew, Beach Boulevard fell behind. Small towns grew, adding their own shopping and entertainment districts. New towns sprung up in southern Orange County, along with new highways that provided faster routes for inland residents heading to the beach.

By the 1980s, Beach Boulevard had entered what would be a decades-long descent, its aging neon-lit motels becoming synonymous with prostitution, drug trafficking and cheap long-term rentals for people on the edge of the beach. ‘roaming.

Traffic whizzes along Beach Boulevard in Anaheim. Over the years, the hallway has transformed from a family-friendly destination to a ramshackle magnet for illicit sex and drugs.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

But in recent years, a core of towns along the 21-mile route — Buena Park, Anaheim and Stanton — have begun to inject funds and resources into reinventing Beach Boulevard as a modern destination for thriving suburban County. ‘Orange. The towns take markedly different approaches, but the central element of the equation for all three is what to do with the dozens of run-down motels along the road.

For cities like Anaheim, run-down motels are a visible — and costly — obstacle in the road to Beach Boulevard redemption.

Anaheim City Councilman Jose Diaz lives near the site of the former Covered Wagon, a red-tag motel the city tore down in January after buying it for $6.6 million. Diaz visited his abandoned rooms last year and found the conditions to be decrepit.

“I saw diaper bags next to drugs,” Diaz said, “and foil with drugs inside next to baby bottles.”

And police efforts to crack down on the open solicitation of sex and drugs have not proven to be a lasting solution, Anaheim Police Sgt. Brian Paqua.

“We’ve always tried to clean up Beach Boulevard by just shutting down anything that moves here,” Paqua said in the parking lot of the old Anaheim Lodge. “And it didn’t work.”

Anaheim City Councilman Jose Diaz stands on a painted walkway off Beach Boulevard.

Anaheim City Councilman Jose Diaz is among the local leaders committed to the revitalization of Beach Boulevard. “Beach Boulevard is going to be a destination,” Diaz says, “but that ambition can’t be accomplished alone.”

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Anaheim leaders have taken a multi-pronged approach to revitalizing the boulevard, spending millions of dollars in recent years to purchase motels and attract new forms of development. With taxpayer dollars, the city has purchased three motels in the past four years and is negotiating with another motel operator. Anaheim is eyeing land for townhouses, apartments and an affordable housing project.

The Covered Wagon is set to become affordable housing next year, which Diaz sees as a boon to rebuilding efforts in Anaheim, which includes 39 Commons, a mall built on a former dump.

Meanwhile, newly installed cameras with flashing blue lights prove a deterrent to prostitution and drug trafficking. And the brightly colored sidewalk art gives local residents a reason to visit the corridor.

“We’re starting to see families walking up and down Beach Boulevard again,” Paqua said. “It’s nicer and safer than I’ve seen in the 21 years I’ve been here with the police department.”

The redesign did not come without a fight.

City officials red-flagged the Anaheim Lodge for health and safety violations as well as inhumane living conditions. The motel’s former owner sued Anaheim for $20 million last year and claimed the city targeted his business for renting to homeless people. He dropped the lawsuit after Anaheim completed the purchase of the property for $7.6 million. A motel operator across the street is continuing their legal fight on the same grounds.

Despite the progress, another 15 mostly dilapidated motels remain along the 1.5-mile strip of Anaheim Boulevard. It doesn’t hurt Diaz’s confidence.

“Beach Boulevard is going to be a destination,” Diaz said, “but that ambition can’t be accomplished alone.”

People dine and converse at Rodeo 39 Public Market in Stanton.

Rodeo 39 Public Market, a modern take on a food court, is at the heart of Beach Boulevard’s redevelopment efforts in Stanton.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Nearby, Stanton takes a different route.

A small working-class town, Stanton ignores its Crossroads to Vacationland past that made it a shopping ghost town along the highway.

In 2017, Frontier Real Estate Investments acquired a 22-acre commercial plaza that had been dug up to just 10% occupancy. The developers have revamped the site into a market-priced condominium project with a new flagship client: Rodeo 39 Public Market, an eclectic and decidedly modern take on a food court.

The food hall opened in October 2020 and attracts a young crowd from nearby towns, while tapping into Stanton’s growing Asian American population. A mix of Asian food stalls, including the county’s only Lao barbecue restaurant and a K-pop merchandise store, cater to people’s needs.

“What’s special about Rodeo 39 is that we give people a reason to stop at Stanton on Beach,” said Tom Carpenter, vice president of acquisitions and leasing for Frontier Real Estate Investments. . “We’re changing some of those traffic patterns and making Stanton a destination, not a gateway.”

City officials credit Rodeo 39 as a “catalyst” for the ongoing transformation of its portion of Beach Boulevard. Two luxury apartments are under construction, including one that promises one of the largest rooftop terraces in the county.

Interior view of Rodeo 39 Public Market in Stanton

Rodeo 39 Public Market attracts young people from Orange County.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Unlike Anaheim and Buena Park, Stanton turned to Project Homekey, a multibillion-dollar state effort that provides cities and counties with funding to convert underutilized hotels and motels into permanent housing with services. support for the homeless.

“It’s a big process, but we’re fully invested,” said city council member Hong Alyce Van. “We have some very exciting luxury apartments for people who may not be our typical demographic, but at the same time we don’t want to lose sight of the most vulnerable.”

Three of Orange County’s six Project Homekey sites are in Stanton.

Deborah Kraft stayed at the Stanton Inn and Suites for eight months as part of Project Roomkey, an earlier state-led effort to place vulnerable homeless people in motels during the pandemic, before the motel was slated for a permanent conversion. She said she preferred the amenities of her room — two queen beds, a microwave, and a TV — to a homeless shelter.

“There were all kinds of weird things going on inside that motel,” she said. “But at least I had my own room and I could lock the door.”

Neon signs advertise the former Riviera Motel and Tahiti Motel in Stanton.

As part of its redevelopment efforts, Stanton is using state funding to convert run-down motels on Beach Boulevard into dedicated housing for the homeless.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

A few miles north, Buena Park has centered its redevelopment hopes on Knott’s Berry Farm, the historic theme park that now spans 57 acres. Although still a toss-up, with 4.1 million visitors a year, Knott’s national market share had fallen from the top 10 in 1996, a year before Cedar Fair bought the theme park for $300 million. dollars.

Cedar Fair has added several thrill rides and continues to invest in the property. Future plans include revamping a pioneering roller coaster and revamping the on-site hotel.

With the theme park as its anchor, Buena Park has aggressively purchased half a dozen nearby motels and used the space to build an adjacent Vegas-style entertainment area that includes restaurants and a dine-in. campy theatre. The city used redevelopment funds to acquire the motels, before the state dissolved these agencies in 2012.

Struggling with empty lots afterward, the city sold the land at discounted prices to attract new attractions. In 2015, Rock & Brews, a national restaurant chain co-founded by members of the rock band KISS, opened on the site of a city-torn down motel. Two years later, Porto’s Bakery and Café, a popular Cuban-American chain, has seen lines of customers where two other motels once stood.

Despite the ambitious overhaul, a few lots along the Buena Park strip remain fenced and undeveloped.

This is also true in Anaheim. Among them is the site of the Oasis Motel operated by Mosley’s grandmother, which has been vacant since a private owner demolished it in 2002. For Mosley, the weedy lot, still dotted with graceful palm trees , is the overwhelming symbol of faded and lost glory. opportunities.

“We want Beach Boulevard back, even if it can’t be exactly the same as before,” she said.

“It breaks everyone’s heart that they didn’t take care of it with pride.”

Los Angeles Times

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