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The roller coaster and gambling parlors of Seal Beach's rough and tumble 1920s have given way to sand castles and the charm of an old-fashioned downtown today.
Incorporated as Bay City, the town made its official debut with a population of 250 on October 25, 1915, during a night full of music, food and fireworks. The festivities seemed appropriate for a town with beaches covered with picnic tables, plenty of surf, and amusement zone crowned with a scream-generating roller coaster and the longest pier south of San Francisco.
Soon, the town was rechristened Seal Beach after the seals that used to frequent the coast there. Its good times and Henry Huntington's Pacific Electric Railway brought it more year-round residents.
The tents of the earliest settlers were replaced with bungalows and by the twilight of the 1920s, Seal Beach's roads sported permanent homes, according to "A Story of Seal Beach," by Jean B. Door.
The Depression years brought a change of pace. Low-cost amusements were the order of the day. Some of the town's 2,000 residents started the Seal Beach Civic Choir while others enjoyed the little Seal Beach Airport on the corner of Bay Boulevard, now Seal Beach Boulevard, and Highway 101, where they could watch biplanes take off. During World War II, homes at Anaheim Landing in the city gave way to a US Navy ammunition and submarine net depot.
The loss of Anaheim Landing marked a big change in Seal Beach. Already gone or about to disappear were the roller coaster, which burned in the late '20s; the Jewel Cafe, site of the town's inaugural celebration; and the dance pavilion next to the pier.
But the loss of Anaheim Landing also marked the beginning of the city's expansion, as the population grew after World War II.
Beach erosion, oil drilling, a new subdivision, professional gambling and other issues were debated. At least one gambling parlor had been around before, but by the end of the decade professional gambling was banned.
At the same time, the old electric railroad tracks were ripped up, public recreation facilities were expanded, and the city arrange to get a small share of royalties from a newly built, privately owned offshore oil rig.
By 1960, Seal Beach had a population of 6,994. But new subdivisions and annexations soon added to the population.
Building of the walled retirement community, Leisure World, began in 1962 with enough apartments for almost 10,000 new residents. Surfside, originally a summertime beach community, joined the city in 1968.
Today, Seal Beach is becoming a haven for those in search of a quiet, hometown atmosphere. With its old buildings, the downtown Old Town beach is filled with small reminders of Bay City and its lively little colony by the beach.