Although its path been sometimes rocky, the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce has been a consistent and positive community force since at least 1912—three years before the city was incorporated.
That year a newspaper blurb noted that Robert Draper Richards (known to all as “R.D.”) was not only elected first president of the new Bay City Chamber of Commerce, but would be representing it at the meeting of the county’s associated chambers.
Richards, as much the “Father of Seal Beach” as anybody, came to Bay City in 1904 and took over operation of Anaheim Landing. He built the new boathouse (with a billiard parlor and bowling alley), a couple new cottages, improved the dock and promoted events (bowling tournaments, baseball games, etc.) to attract crowds and picnickers. He organized a Bay City Board of Education, chose the site for the first school, and for Bay City/Seal Beach’s first 25 years, he was its prime booster, even from 1916 to 1919 when the Chamber leadership fell to the Joy Zone managers.
After the Zone’s demise by 1919, local businessmen became divided over the town’s direction. The Bayside Land Company continued to push to attract one day visitors (and parallel encouragement to the three-man police department to turn a blind eye to liquor and gambling violations, as well as the local inns specializing in illegal horizontal activity.) Another faction, led by Richards, wanted to promote more family-friendly events. This battle bled over to the ballot box, and was the main reason behind so many recalls up until just before World War II.
The friction took its toll on Chamber effectiveness, prompting citywide meetings in Feb. 1922 and November 1933 to “create new interest” and “revive the Chamber.” In the mid 1920s, Walter D. Miller, Seal Beach first banker, became Chamber president and promoted acquiring the Hellman and Bixby ranches for subdivision, and turning Anaheim Bay into a major Navy base. He had little success.
However some members were more successful in other areas. Albert W. Armstrong, editor of the Post & Wave and Chamber publicity director, promoted galas like the 1924 Grunion Festival, using radio broadcasts of Seal Beach bands to attract attendees. The radio broadcasts caught the attention of local gamblers and restrauteur/gambler George Parry who began sponsoring weekly radio broadcasts of bands playing at the Captain’s Inn and Parry’s Cafe, a couple rowdy eateries that also made headlines for bootleg liquor and occasional gambling.
In the 1930’s new Chamber President (and long-time Mayor) Elmer Hughes chose to co-exist with the gamblers while staging family-friendly events and trying to wrest control of the beaches (and the run-down pier, Joy Zone and roller coaster) away from the Bayside Land Company. The persistence paid off and in 1939 the chamber sponsored a three-day Beachcombers Frolic Festival to celebrate the dedication of the new pier and oceanfront area.
World War II stalled most Chamber activities across the Southland “for the duration.” One exception was an elaborate four-page brochure promoting the town’s qualities as a place to live and distributed to all workers in the nearby government defense factories. The group’s next big activity was in 1949 when they hosted a “Youth Day Parade” and a Rose Bowl float. Over the next few years, members helped end the town’s dominance by gamblers, and in 1954 the Chamber hosted the very first Seal Beach Rough Water Swim. By now the group’s focus turned more and more to Main Street. A majority of the street’s lots were still vacant when the war broke out, but by 1950 businesses filled every storefront from Ocean to the Coast Highway.
One of the newer businesses in town was Brock’s Drugs, at the corner of Electric and Main. Its owner, Jerry Brockman, became Chamber president in 1957 and led a campaign to “modernize Main Street” and print and distribute Seal Beach postcards on a nationwide basis. The Chamber even sponsored three college students on a 45-day bike ride across the nation at which they extolled the town’s virtues at every stop. For all the newcomers moving into the new tract homes on the Hill, the Chamber hosted a successful “Hi Neighbor” festival.
Beginning in the early 1960s many Chamber leaders oversaw a stereotypical pro-business, pro-development agenda which ultimately collided with many newcomers who moved to Seal Beach precisely for its small town, slow-growth atmosphere.
The 1970s and 1980s saw unlikely coalitions of old-timers and newcomers banding together to fight anything perceived as making Seal Beach into another Manhattan Beach or Newport Beach—be it developing the pier area or the DWP property into a into a Seaport Village, turning the old Pacific Electric right-of way into a long parking strip, or building high rise condos along the riverfront.
About this time the Chamber, often led by businessmen who worked for chain financial institutions but did not live in town, found itself at odds with a new group, the Old Town Business Association, which had primarily a Main Street/Old Town focus.
The Business Association became the more active group, starting the Christmas and Easter Parades, the car show, and other events. By the mid-1980s, the Chamber, now facing financial trouble, chose to become a sub-group of the Long Beach Chamber. However in late 1989, the Seal Beach members found that unworkable and re-formed as a separate entity, this time filing incorporation documents with the State of California.
The revived Chamber quickly realized that it and the Business Association had goals more similar than different, even during the divisive passions of local politics in the early 1990s that diminished both group’s effectiveness. By 1996, Business Association member Kim Masoner became President of the Chamber.
Working with Association President Stan Anderson (Coach’s Bar & Grill) the two groups began to merge their activities and energy. In addition to the parades and Car Show, the new group even resumed holding a Sandcastle Contest and helped launch a kite festival.
Despite some struggles, the combined Chamber and Business Association has grown steadily over the past 10 years, getting strong leadership from the likes of Joann Adams and Seth Eaker, and more recently Diana Brujes and Vince Bodiford. It has worked closely with the Lions and other groups and has tried to walk the fine line between promoting local business and preserving the unique Seal Beach way of life.
For the centennial celebration, we are trying to compile a complete list of all Chamber Presidents over the years.
If you can fill in any of the gaps, please contact Larry Strawther at firstname.lastname@example.org – RD Richards,
1913 – R.D. Richards
1914 – Andrew Simmington
1915 – RD Richards.
1915 – RD Richards
1916 – Frank Burt.
1917 – Frank Burt
1918 – Frank Burt
1919 – Philip A. Stanton
1920 – Philip A. Stanton (re. 3/13/1920); James A. Graham
1921 – James A. Graham
1922 – 1924 – unknown
1925 – P.A. Stanton
1926 – P.A. Stanton (res. 20 Apr 1926); W.D. Miller
Jan 1927 – W.D. Miller (res. Jun 1927); J.A. Armstrong
1928 – 29 – unknown
1930 – Feb Elmer Hughes
1931 – C. Bond Harpole
1932 – C. Bond Harpole
1933 – unknown
1934 – Walter E. Teague, Pres.
1935-1939 – unknown
1940 – J. Neil Franklin
1941 – J. Neil Franklin