The Dolly Varden Hotel

Today it is called “The Varden”. I took a photo of the outside of the building, and walked through the front door. I wasn’t sure it was still a hotel. There was a man sitting behind a desk, so I guessed it might still be one. I thought “What a cute European style hotel!”

The fellow at the desk shared their bookmark advertising with me. It said “European style hotel.” The implication is that it has a small room capacity (35 rooms), serves continental breakfast (it does), and has a feeling of history (certainly). It is all of these, plus it has an afternoon wine gathering. The hotel has been upgraded to a stylish boutique hotel. It’s historic, but does not feel old, as it was recently renovated. I asked whether there was a bathroom in every room. The old hotels in Europe often have shared bathrooms, one or two per floor. I caught myself as I asked, because it’s obvious from the sign.

You may have noticed the sign on the roof as you drove or walked along Pacific Avenue in downtown Long Beach. The hotel website shares that the Dolly Varden was built in 1929, named after circus performer, Dolly Varden who lived in a penthouse on the top floor. It makes me wonder whether it is still a penthouse, and whether Dolly’s penthouse occupied the entire floor. That would certainly have been a luxury.

The hotel’s website informs “The 1935 sign on the roof of the hotel was given city landmark status in 1995, and will remain in place after the renovation. The sign’s landmark status was partially granted based upon the message on the sign, evoking the nostalgic flavor of Long Beach’s past as a prominent beach resort town. The remaining basis for landmark status is its silhouette and shape, typeface of the letters, and the use of neon and metal supporting struts. These are all typical of “thirties signs,” and therefore, historical significance.”

I wonder whether Dolly Varden, the circus performer, ever worked on the Long Beach Pike. As I write this, I am also thinking of the “Parade of Elephants” which event took place when the circus came to town, and which was referenced in a book I recently checked out from the Bayshore library.

Here is a video I took of the hotel.

The Cyclone Racer Roller Coaster

The last remaining car of the Cyclone Racer can be seen at Looff’s Pike Museum at 2500 Long Beach Blvd.

The Cyclone Racer Roller Coaster was conceived of by Fred Church and built by Harry Traver.(1)

The Cyclone Racer was a two train racing roller coaster that graced the Long Beach Pike between 1930 and 1968. Built to replace the JackRabbit Racer in 1930, the Cyclone Racer was 94 feet tall and had 17 drops(2). This wooden marvel was built on a pier that extended a couple of hundred feet over the water and, looking down, you could see the ocean through purposeful gaps in the pier flooring, making the ride even more thrilling. (3)

The turns and drops were designed so as to make you feel as if you would be thrown off of the car and into the Pacific Ocean. It was indeed a race as, although two trains left the station at the same time, the winning train varied and depended partly upon the load of the passengers in the car. (4)

It appears that there might have been seat belts that could be fastened(5) but lap bars had not yet been invented(6). Note: Upon conversation with Larry Osterhoudt, the part of the Leave It To Beaver episode where I observed a seat belt was observed being fastened, was filmed on the Pacific Ocean Park Pier in Santa Monica. Other parts were filmed on the Cyclone Racer.

The roller coaster was featured in episodes of “Abbott and Costello” and “Leave it to Beaver” (7).

Rides cost 25c for most of the time the Cyclone Racer was operational. Near the end, the cost was increased to 35 c. (8) Note: Later conversation with Larry Osterhoudt shared that the initial cost was 15c. We observed together a photo with a 10c re-ride sign.

The braking was initially done through exertion of physical force, requiring the ride to be operated by men. During the war, this was changed over to air-braking, as men were sent to war, and women took over the role of ride operator. (9)

Larry Osterhoudt, who runs website, is interviewed extensively for the video “The Cyclone Racer”, which provided much of the content for this post. Actual video of the ride in action is downloadable from this website, along with considerable amount of additional information for your reading pleasure.

I was able to check out the CD “The Cyclone Racer” from the Bayshore Library in Long Beach. I could not find a copy available for purchase.

In 2003 a bridge, which design evokes memories of the Cyclone Racer, was built over Shoreline Drive. The story of that bridge is very interesting, you can read about it in the Los Angeles Times.

IF you love wooden roller coasters, you can still see one up close at Knott’s Berry Farm. Called the Ghost Rider, it was built in 1998 and appears to still be operational.


(1), (2) –

(3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9) the Cyclone Racer on the PIKE World’s Greatest Thrill Ride Video, Authentic History Productions, 2004