LONG BEACH >> It’s 11:30 a.m. on a weekday, and the bar is packed at Joe Jost’s, the nine beers on tap are a frosty 28 degrees and the Polish sausage sandwiches, pickled eggs and roasted peanuts are being served just about the same as they ever have.
Keeping things the same at Joe Jost’s is important. Just ask Ken Buck, its third-generation owner.
Years ago, when the bar’s black-and-white tile floor needed replacing, Buck, 63, hired contractors to do the work overnight, lest loyal patrons find out and get grumpy at the change underfoot.
“Nobody noticed,” said Buck, with a hint of mission-accomplished satisfaction.
Joe Jost’s at 2803 E. Anaheim St. illustrates the struggle between past and present in the 90804 ZIP code, a tri-council district patch east of Cherry Avenue, west and south of Pacific Coast Highway and north of Seventh Street.
Founded in 1924 by namesake Joe Jost, a Hungarian immigrant, the establishment was originally a barbershop amidst sharecropper’s homes, lumber yards and other service businesses on the rural fringe of Long Beach.
With the repeal of Prohibition, Jost applied for a beer license and began serving light fare.
Health Department officials decided scissors and razor blades didn’t go well with food and alcohol, though, presenting Jost with a forked path.
“He looked at his books, decided the future was in beer, and pretty much that’s it,” Buck said.
Change has flowed around stalwart Joe Jost’s like a stream around a rock.
The area has always been diverse, and today, Hispanics make up 42 percent of the population, whites 24.2 percent, Asians 14.8 percent and blacks 13.6 percent.
Where the ZIP differs most from 100 years ago is in population density.
Beginning in the 1970s, city officials altered residential zoning around Anaheim Street to allow for more multi- family units, and now the density in the 90804 is the highest in Long Beach, at 19,300 residents per square mile.
The zoning switch is most keenly visible south of Anaheim Street in the Rose Park Historic District, where Craftsman homes intermingle with apartments on streets lined with palm trees, the smells of gardens waft in the air and the dim feel of the Pacific Ocean lingers a mile distant.
Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, who represents the ZIP’s southwest, lives along the Rose Park circle.
A mix of homeowners and transient renters means that not all are invested in the community, according to Lowenthal, and drug deals out of rental properties are not entirely uncommon, requiring neighborhood vigilance.
“It is a neighborhood you cannot take your eye off,” said Lowenthal, an urban planner. “You cannot blink.”
She speculated that elected officials who made the decision to rezone decades ago didn’t see their roles as being urban planners.
“Allowing a home to be torn down and a four-plex put in may seem innocuous and harmless,” Lowenthal said. “But an entire block? It’s not something I can fathom happening today.”
Still, community endures in the neighborhood, mere blocks south of rough-around-the-edges Anaheim Street, and there is a fair share of colorful characters.
Boaters along the Long Beach shore may recognize Gladys Avenue resident “Radical” Rick Dunn, or at least his hippo boat.
A towering presence at 6 feet 6 inches tall, Dunn, 53, bought his boat on a lark at the suggestion of ex-neighbor Christopher Reece, a former drummer for American punk-rock band Social Distortion.
Dunn said he enjoys the questions and catcalls he gets cruising in the boat in nearby calm canal waters, participating in the Naples Holiday Boat Parade and donating rides to charity.
“I like to tell them I took a wrong turn at the Jungle Cruise,” Dunn quipped.
Dunn has lived in Rose Park for 30 years and described it as a throwback to a less busy-busy time.
“We know each other by name, and a lot of people hang out on their front porches,” Dunn said.
Southeast 90804 is anchored by Woodrow Wilson Classical High School. Opened in 1926, it’s the second oldest high school in the city behind Long Beach Poly.
While it doesn’t boast the powerhouse alumni list of its older cohort, Wilson High is no slouch, having educated MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II and 2012 Summer Olympic Games gold medalist Jessica Hardy, to name a few.
Across Park Avenue from Wilson is Blair Field, home of the Cal State Long Beach 49er baseball team, the “Dirtbags.” The field is a popular site for filming, with movies such as “Moneyball,” “Space Jam” and “Mr. Baseball” choosing the location, along with such television shows as “Anger Management” and “Franklin and Bash.” It also was a practice field for the former Los Angeles Rams.
The ZIP’s residential southeast area, comprised of Lincoln Heights and part of Alamitos Heights, is represented by 3rd District Councilman Gary DeLong.
DeLong said Lincoln Heights is in the process of being “reborn and re-imagined.”
“We’re looking at a greenbelt in the (Pacific Electric) right-of-way,” he said. “It may include a pocket park, it may include a community garden. I expect most of it will remain in a natural state.”
Back north of Anaheim Street, there has also been renewal and expansion at Orizaba Park, also built on the strip of land where Pacific Electric Railway Red Car once ran.
The park has more than tripled in size in recent years, and in June, the city broke ground on a 3,000-square-foot community center with a computer classroom that will offer after-school learning programs and meeting rooms. A community garden is also planned.
Fourth District Councilman Patrick O’Donnell, the representative of the balance of the 90804, including Orizaba Park, called the area “underparked.”
“A tired kid is a good kid,” O’Donnell said. “Orizaba Park keeps kids tired.”
It was also the site of a tragedy on Oct. 11, when teacher Kellye Taylor, 53, was fatally stabbed in the neck in front of 24 of her students. Long Beach resident Steven Brown, 50, was arrested on suspicion of murder. Authorities said Brown is the father of Taylor’s grandchildren, who were in her custody.
“The incident was not reflective of the neighborhood,” O’Donnell said.
What is reflective is the response, he said. Since the stabbing, the community has shown an outpouring of support, setting up an impromptu monument at the picnic bench where the stabbing occurred.
About 100 residents gathered the following day at the site, and neighborhood leaders say a permanent memorial is in the works.
Orizaba Park itself is located in the ZIP code’s Zaferia district, an old name for a swath of the city along Anaheim Street from Temple to Loma avenues.
Zaferia once stood apart from the city, dotted with mustard and sugar beet fields and notable for being “wet” when Long Beach prohibited alcohol. A Red Car station in Zaferia is now the site of a McDonald’s parking lot and Ralphs supermarket.
The original Virginia Country Club was also in the district, where golf courses of Recreation Park now sit.
Long Beach annexed Zaferia on Labor Day in 1920, and today, some are trying to make good out of the name.
Jan Ward is an active community member who wears many hats, but as a board member of the East Anaheim Street Business Alliance, she advocates for Zaferia, calling it the original East Long Beach.
Ward, 60, has lived in the area for 28 years and passionately talks about rebranding efforts and neighborhood events for the diverse businesses and culture that lines Anaheim.
“It does have a lot to offer people if they would come out of their safety zone and become familiar with something they’re not familiar with,” Ward said.
That’s been a decades-long challenge along the street and the 90804 as a whole, but through the efforts of elected officials and community mainstays, there’s been a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
“Things have really been going in the right direction,” Buck said.
Eric Bradley can be reached at 562-499-1254.