By: Madalyn Amato, Julia Terbeche, Peter Villafane
What was once a source of pride for the city of Long Beach, the once vibrantly painted lifeguard tower on Alamitos Beach has been burnt to the ground in what is being investigated as an act of hate, according to Mayor Robert Garcia.
“Last night, our PRIDE lifeguard station that was painted by LGBTQ+ lifeguards, burned down. The fire is under investigation but I personally have little doubt this was an act of hate,” Garcia said in a tweet.
Last night, our PRIDE lifeguard station that was painted by LGBTQ+ lifeguards, burned down. The fire is under investigation but I personally have little doubt this was an act of hate. To whoever committed this act, we will rebuild it better and brighter. pic.twitter.com/VxNQZgCBpF
— Robert Garcia (@RobertGarcia) March 23, 2021
According to Marine Safety Chief Gonzalo Medina of the Long Beach Fire Department Marine Safety Division, authorities responded to the Pride tower engulfed in flames at around 1 a.m. Tuesday.
“By the time they made access to the tower on the beach, it was fully engulfed, and they couldn’t save the structure,” Medina said.
At this time, the source of the fire remains unknown, and it has not been confirmed whether there were any anti-LGBTQ motives. LBFD’s arson team is investigating the situation, Medina said.
Crews have been working this morning to “mitigate the damage and move it out of the area.”
“It was incredibly jarring, I felt a pit in my stomach. I fought back tears and composed myself as I needed to attend a Zoom meeting this morning,” Ellie Perez, social media manager and photographer for Visit Gay Long Beach, said.
The tower, located in the 12th position along the coast, was first painted with its bright, prideful colors in June 2020 and closely resembles the “gay” lifeguard tower in Venice Beach that was painted in 2017. According to Medina, LGBTQ lifeguards painted the Long Beach tower to “show strong support for the parade and everything that was going on in the month of pride.”
“We did it to support our staff and to support our LGBTQ lifeguard family,” Medina said. “I don’t think that anybody could have predicted it would become such a beacon over the course of several months. We see people coming down to it, and we see it pop up in social media across many sites.”
The 2020 festival and parade, a three-day event in May hosted by Long Beach Pride, was postponed by the board “with an abundance of caution” as a result of the coronavirus.
According to Long Beach Pride, the festival is the third largest in California.
The city of Long Beach has been ranked among the top five in the country for its Pride celebration and has been deemed one of the “Gayest Cities in America” according to the Advocate.
Long Beach local Joanna Mireles said she runs along the beach path near the tower at least four times a week and said it was “very disappointing” to see it had been burnt down.
“It’s an icon here,” Mireles said. “You see rainbows everywhere in this city. Hopefully they’ll get it rebuilt very quickly. It’s such a shame.”
In response to the fire, Garcia ensured that the tower will be rebuilt “better and brighter,” and Medina maintained that lifeguards will be working the community to repaint the tower “in a very similar fashion.”
“Our guards will be involved,” Medina said. “We are getting a ton of community support to try and help us with the replacements. So [we] appreciate that. The tower served as a symbol of our strong support for the diversity within our ranks and the LGBTQ community who call Long Beach home. I think our staff takes—no pun intended—a lot of pride in working out of that space with all of our staff.”
Fire authorities are continuing with their investigation.