Legend King Returns To Hometown

Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce announced Wednesday, July 3, she would ask her colleagues to name the new Main Library after famous tennis player Billie Jean King.

Pearce began soliciting name proposals three weeks ago. She said in her agenda letter that more than 1,200 people sent in suggestions, and King, who was raised in Long Beach, was the overwhelming favorite.

King wrote a letter to the mayor and City Council herself, saying she would be honored to have the library named after her.

"It is deeply humbling to have my name in consideration for the naming of the Main Library," the letter says. "This honor would represent my life coming full circle, and my complete belief of having a commonplace for the community, where all are equally welcome and have access to visit, learn, and grow."

Pearce cited the breadth of support for King as the reason for her selection. King long has been an LGBTQ activist and supporter as well as the most successful female tennis player in history.

Pearce said the support included a letter from 27 LGBTQ community leaders, the Century Club representing nearly 500 members, as well as a letter from the Main Library Naming Committee. Pearce created the committee herself from Second District residents.

King captured 39 major titles, including 20 championships at Britain’s fabled Wimbledon tournament.

In perhaps the most high-profile moment in tennis history — on Sept. 20, 1973 — King snared the winner-take-all $100,000 victory over Bobby Riggs in the wildly hyped “Battle of the Sexes” match at the Houston Astrodome. The event was documented in a feature film in 2017, with Oscar winner Emma Stone portraying King.

King secured a partial ownership stake in the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018, in an historic case of one Southern California sports icon investing in another.

The new Main Library, part of the Civic Center project, is set to open Sept. 21. During the naming discussion, the Friends of the Long Beach Library and others urged that no individual name be connected to the library; a campaign to name it after former Mayor Beverly O'Neill included support from City Auditor Laura Doud and Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price.

Pearce will ask the council at its Tuesday, July 9, meeting to forward the recommendation to the council's Housing and Neighborhoods Committee. That panel would conduct a meeting and make its own recommendation back to the City Council, presumably before the end of July.

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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