Six years ago, the Salvation Army and the city of Long Beach announced that a $125 million Kroc Center would be built in Central Long Beach, at the site known officially as Chittick Field, historically as Hamilton Bowl, and casually (to many nearby residents) as the Hole. Four years ago, the city was nowhere near their fundraising burden of $15 million on the world-class athletics facility, and the Salvation Army announced that the project was DBA—Dead Before Arrival.
Many in the Sixth District are used to feeling like second-class citizens in Long Beach, resigned to seeing this kind of grandiose project fall flat on its face. Sixth District councilman Dee Andrews, a longtime leader in the community, said he was among those residents who were not surprised. “I laughed at the Kroc Center,” he said. “(That much money) in the Sixth District? Not gonna happen.”
It’s hard to blame him. The most famous fixture in the area, Long Beach Poly, has at various points been promised everything from a complete construction overhaul, to turf practice fields, to a brand new weight room, and to date not seen any of them come to pass. Andrews, an All-American track and football star when he was a Jackrabbit, ran on the same dirt oval that current 100m and 200m state champion Ariana Washington runs on. Longtime track coach Don Norford still occasionally has to walk the circuit to make sure there’s no broken glass under the feet of California’s most storied track program.
But now, there’s real hope for longsuffering Eastside residents. Andrews hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for planned renovations to Chittick Field last Saturday, at a public unveiling of a $4 million overhaul.
“This is going to be the jewel of Central Long Beach,” said Mayor Bob Foster, at the ceremony. “It will change the lives of young people in many ways…I believe in 20 years we’ll look at this as a turning point.”
The plans call for two youth soccer fields, an adult soccer field, and a football field and track oval to be installed—all of them turf fields, with the track an all-weather rubber. Plans are in place to expand a section of Chittick to create an additional 198 parking spaces, install new lights, and to ring the facility with a long distance running course, complete with sporadic workout apparatuses. The plans shown on Saturday make the Chittick Field renovations the boldest public-use athletics construction to take place in Long Beach since Veterans Memorial Stadium was constructed in 1948.
What makes these renovations different than the Kroc Center? Or the turf fields that multiple organizations have promised Poly they could install? Well, it’s already paid for. The money has been allocated by the Los Angeles County Supervisor office, which had the funds in hand because of a bond measure—since a certain amount of that money had to be allotted for athletics use, Chittick was a perfect site.
“Believe me, we wouldn’t have had this groundbreaking today if I didn’t know we’d be in construction on Monday,” said Andrews.
Norford was one of a number of Poly alums to attend the ceremony, and was emotional when asked what impact the facilities would have for his athletes. “It’s a dream come true,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”
Poly athletic director Rob Shock agreed. “We could definitely play here, I could see it,” he said. “There’s so many possibilities—virtually every outdoor sport could have space here.”
The current Phase 1 plans (which have been paid for) do have a few shortcomings, which would prevent Poly from immediately playing football and soccer there, or from hosting track and cross country events. Chief among them is seating—the first priority was to build a place for area kids to play, so bleachers and stands to seat a football crowd are part of a Phase 2 build-out.
Andrews, of course, was happy to know that the construction will benefit his alma mater. “Poly can finally host their own games again,” he said, after decades of playing at Vets. “Jordan, Millikan, Cabrillo can come too, but this is five minutes away from Poly.”
He went on to emphasize that, with its position in the geographic center of the city, the facility will benefit the whole community. “We have the finest athletes in this city—not just Poly, but everywhere. They should have the finest facility to compete in. Yeah, this is a hole, and it’s been here for a hundred years—but if it’s going to be a hole, let’s make it the most beautiful hole there is.”
There are some hole-related functions that Chittick will continue to carry on. In addition to an athletics facility, it will retain its function as an LA County Flood Control System, with upgrades being made to the current facilities and a new low-flow drainage system and pump station being installed. That will cause a temporary halt to construction from October 15th through April 15th, the period defined as the “rainy season” (construction cannot be made on an active stormwater management facility during the rainy season).
But Andrews wanted to make it clear to his neighbors, 73,000 of whom live within one mile of the new facility, that the halt will be temporary. “I promise you that this will work,” he said.
On Monday, two days after the groundbreaking, construction had begun on the new Chittick Field.