Manhattan Beach celebrated its centennial year, beginning and ending with spectacular fireworks. The politics in between were considerably less spectacular. Photo by Jeff Orr
Manhattan Beach rolled into its centennial year with a big bang last December, sending off extravagant fireworks over its pier. Anticipation was high for the celebratory year ahead, but maintaining those high spirits throughout 2012 proved to be challenging for City Council and the Centennial Committee, which, in the face of budget issues, miscommunications and disagreements, ended up canceling two major events.
Commemorating the centennial of Manhattan Beach was a tall order. Incorporated in 1912, the upscale beach city we know now was once owned by several land developers. It is widely believed that a coin toss determined the name of Manhattan Beach, after developer Stewart Merrill’s hometown: Manhattan in New York.
Two years ago, the Centennial Committee began meeting in preparation of events and festivities. The committee consisted of 10 members appointed by City Council as well as council members Nick Tell and Richard Montgomery, who later stepped down and was replaced by council member Amy Howorth.
With the $10,000 in seed money borrowed from the city, the planning took off and a promising calendar of festivities came to fruition.
The centennial carnival in January marked the first official celebration of the year, bringing out costume characters, face painters, stilt-walkers and hundreds of residents to the Manhattan Village mall. A sold-out “Taste of Manhattan Beach” followed in March, featuring cuisine from local restaurants, beer and wine tasting as well as live entertainment. In May, more than 2,000 locals marched down Manhattan Beach Boulevard in the centennial parade – themed “100 Years of Manhattan Beach” – ending with a picnic in Polliwog Park.
A special Manhattan Beach centennial coin designed by longtime resident and coin enthusiast James Gill. Photo by Alene Tchekmedyian
Plans for summer events began unraveling in April when a divided City Council decided there would be no alcohol at September’s centennial gala, due to an existing city ordinance that prohibits serving alcohol on the beach. Council decided against passing an uncodified ordinance that would allow an exception just for the centennial ball.
“Laws are there to guide us when decisions are kind of tough,” council member Amy Howorth said at the council meeting back in April. “For us to say … we’re going to overturn that law for our own event, our city event, is selective and sort of self-serving.”
The inability to serve alcohol, in addition to disagreements among council, the committee and even residents who deemed the gala “elitist,” prompted City Council to cancel the event altogether. This introduced another problem, as nearly 20 sponsors, including the Manhattan Beach Country Club, Chevron and Skechers, had collectively donated $164,000 for the gala.
Subsequently, a more-inclusive, family-friendly carnival was planned to replace the beach gala. But with the committee about $3,000 in debt by June, council once again decided to scrap the event, which was anticipated to cost the city up to $80,000.
“We’ve turned off all authorization for people to be spending money for the centennial,” the city’s finance director Bruce Moe told council and the public. “There shouldn’t be any more spending.”
To add insult to injury, the Centennial Committee reported almost $38,700 in city staff’s centennial-related expenses, including food at centennial meetings, street cleaning, banners, electrical upgrades and other supplies. City Council, which had already overlooked the $10,000 loan granted two years ago, decided in October to let the city incur the amount on behalf of the committee.
“For the good of the community, let’s try to wrap this up, move forward and remember the good events we’ve had,” Howorth said at the Oct. 16 council meeting.
Manhattan Beach ended the long, winding road of its centennial year with one last – and successful – event: a daylong symposium called “Reflect on the Past, Give Meaning to the Future” led by Mayor Pro Tem David Lesser early December at the Joslyn Center. It was a time for community members to truly come together and reflect on their home city.
As planned, glorious fireworks graced the night sky above the Manhattan Beach pier earlier this month, bookmarking the trying journey of the centennial year.
Though the city’s hundredth birthday has come and gone, the Manhattan Beach community will surely remember it for years to come – the good, the bad and the ugly. There will be a few reminders, as well: a centennial photograph with hundreds of residents gathered at the pier; a coin specially designed for the centennial; and of course, the soon-to-come centennial sculpture that will grace the civic center between City Hall and the new library.