Learning Manners (copy)

The Petroleum Club dining room was used last year to help students learn manners when attending a formal occasion. 

The closure of a mid-20th century symbol of oil wealth in and around Long Beach has Long Beach Heritage interested in launching a campaign to save the Bixby Knolls building.

The Petroleum Club was built and opened in 1958 to accommodate the organization that formed three years before. In its heyday, the club at 3636 Linden Ave. attracted many of the city's most influential — and richest — men and their families.

It became known for its restaurant with plush leather booths and a circular bar. The large banquet room and Olympic-sized pool attracted meetings and activities.

But both the importance of oil in the area economy and the acceptance of private clubs waned over the years. Finally, operators closed the Petroleum Club this year when a potential buyer surfaced.

While the property appears to be moving into developers' hands, Long Beach Heritage wants to point out the importance of the building, executive director Sarah Locke said. Add the fact that May is Historical Preservation Month, and a #ThisPlaceMatters action seems inevitable.

The #ThisPlaceMatters hashtag is part of a national campaign encouraging people to celebrate places that are meaningful to them, and to their community. Heritage will highlight the Petroleum Club with a "meetup" at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23, outside the building.

In addition to explanations of the Petroleum Club's architecture and history, people will be encouraged to hold banners and share pictures to draw attention to the building. While Locke said in a release it isn't certain how far Long Beach Heritage can go to save the building, the #ThisPlaceMatters meetup should draw attention to the neighborhood and citywide benefits of retaining the building's character — and the preservation incentives available should a developer opt for rehabilitation instead of demolition.

The Petroleum Club is touted as a notable example of Modern design by Long Beach architect J. Richard Shelley. Specific architectural elements include a barrel vault roofline, stained-glass clerestory windows and a rough-cut stone veneer. While the property is believed to be in the process of a sale, there has been no indication as to its fate.

“Institutions that hold an important place in a community’s history and character like the Long Beach Petroleum Club are often overlooked until it’s too late,” Locke said. “Long Beach Heritage is committed to both advocacy and education, helping those directly impacted to get involved in shaping the future of their communities. Our #ThisPlaceMatters meetup is one way we hope to shine a light on the issues surrounding the Petroleum Club while providing a simple way for locals to get involved in advocacy.”

The meetup is free to attend. For more information and to find printable versions of the banners, go to lbheritage.org.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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