Following the recommendation of an appointed residents' committee, the City Council will act Tuesday, Feb. 16, to rename the Long Beach Performing Arts Center for former Mayor Beverly O'Neill.
Mayor Robert Garcia formed the committee last fall, after O'Neill's 90th birthday on Sept. 21. It was chaired by Randal Hernandez, who served as O'Neill's first chief of staff after she was elected mayor in 1994. The new name would be the Beverly O'Neill Arts Center.
In explaining why the committee chose the Performing Arts Center to honor O'Neill, the committee wrote:
"Throughout her life, music and theater has been a personal passion and a focus of civic pride. Beverly O’Neill was an avid singer and has worked tirelessly to expand arts and cultural opportunities at Long Beach City College and across the city. Mayor Beverly O’Neill often remarked how vital a vibrant arts and cultural community is to the economic health and spiritual enrichment of a city and its people."
Upon hearing about the proposal Monday night, O'Neill said she was "kind of wordless."
"I'm greatly honored, obviously," she said. "It is something, isn't it? I just love this city and all the things that are good about it."
The Performing Arts Center includes the Terrace Theater with its more than 3,000 seats (home to the Long Beach Symphony), the 826-seat Beverly O'Neill Theatre (home of the International City Theatre company) and the plaza in front of the Terrace Theater. What was the Center Theatre was renamed for O'Neill in 2015 — at her 85th birthday — at the International City Theatre board's recommendation.
“Mayor O’Neill’s legacy with the arts is unmatched,” Mayor Garcia said in a release announcing the proposal. “She’s dedicated her life to our city and this naming and dedication is a perfect way to recognize her work.”
The City Council will be recommending the name change to its own Government, Personnel and Elections Oversight Committee for a final recommendation. First District Councilwoman Cindy Allen submitted the item to the Feb. 16 agenda, with Third District Councilwoman Susie Price and Eighth District Councilman Al Austin as cosponsors.
O'Neill is the city's only three-term mayor, winning a third term in the 2002 election as a write-in candidate. She presided over an economic overhaul of Long Beach after the Navy closed the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, including reshaping the Long Beach waterfront.
A Long Beach native, O'Neill attended Long Beach schools before a career in education, rising through the ranks at Long Beach City College to serve for five years as its Superintendent/President before retiring in 1993. During her tenure there, she nurtured the International City Theatre as a professional theater on campus led by Shashin Desai. After becoming mayor, she helped ICT with the transition to become the resident downtown theater company, where it remains today under the direction of caryn desai, who followed her husband as producing artistic director.
“Beverly O’Neill has done more to uplift many forms of art than any other elected official in our city," Allen wrote in the announcement. "I look forward to honoring her generous contributions of time, talent, and personal will to our entire community through this well-deserved renaming.”