Historic lifeguard photo

Two lifeguard row a dory boat against the waves in 1938 on west beach that encompassed Pine Avenue, Pacific Avenue and Linden Avenue.

The Long Beach Museum of Art is on Ocean Boulevard in the Bluff Park neighborhood of the city. The museum's permanent collection includes approximately 3,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative arts objects. If you do a Google search of the museum, it takes up almost 14 pages.

The Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) is located on Alamitos Avenue. It was founded in 1996. MoLAA is the only museum in the United States dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American and Latino art.

Also located on Alamitos Avenue is the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (PIEAM) — the only museum in the contiguous United States that serves to preserve and celebrate the diverse cultures from the Pacific. The museum opened in 2010.

And then you have the Long Beach Lifeguard Museum.

The what?

It only gets six Google mentions, but this small museum that hugs Marine Stadium on Paoli Way is the only one of its kind in the country dedicated to lifeguards. Established in 1988, the Long Beach Lifeguard Museum contains memorabilia, photos and equipment from the past and present. Long Beach was the first city in the U.S. to staff a fulltime lifeguard service more than 100 years ago.

The museum was started because individual lifeguards had lots of memorabilia but no place to showcase it.

“We all had this great stuff, but where do you put it?” said Dick Miller, whose dad, Roy (Dutch) Miller, was a lifeguard in 1918 and would go on direct the course of ocean lifeguarding in the city over the next half century. The younger Miller followed the same path as lifeguard chief, ultimately retiring as manager of the Marine Bureau.

“People will sometimes walk by, but they don’t know what’s in the building,” Miller said with a smile. “We keep this place the biggest secret because the building belongs to Parks and Recreation and we’re afraid they will take it back.”

Back in the day, the building was used for the timers of motorboat races in the stadium, but when the races stopped, the structure just sat unused.

The former lifeguards talked to officials about resuscitating the building as a museum and got the green light. After a bit of fixing up, the museum opened in 2004.

The museum is open from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursdays from the last Thursday in June until the Thursday after Labor Day to coincide with the Municipal Band’s concerts in the park. The lifeguards offer up a barbecue every week during the concert season. There is no admission fee, but donations are accepted. After September, people can still visit the museum by calling the fire department’s main number at 562-570-1360 and someone will come by and open the museum.

Originally, the lifeguard station was downtown near the Pine Avenue Pier, but both the pier and headquarters were destroyed during a dramatic 1936 storm. The headquarters was rebuilt at the foot of Linden Avenue in 1938, funded by former President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. It was relocated to East Ocean Boulevard in 1961, when the Rainbow Pier was moved to make way for an expanded shoreline.

“Lifeguards have been around in Long Beach since 1906,” said Walt Halverson, who helps keep the museum ship-shape and was a lifeguard from 1967 until he retired in 2003. “We have pictures on the walls that cover decades of service. We have old-style resuscitators and rescue boards we used.”

Long Beach lifeguards have set the standard for all other lifeguard services around the country by being the first to develop and use: motorized rescue boats (1924), torpedo rescue cans (1930), two-way radio dispatch (1932) and plywood rescue boards (1934).

Halverson said the lifeguard alumni group has 50 members, with a core of 12 who meet at the Long Beach Yacht Club.

“We try to get involved with things in the city,” he said. “We just want to support the lifeguards and their endeavors.”

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