Ed Weyres, left, Mike Hahn, center, and Mike Muck at Joe Jost's in the Zaferia District in Long Beach.
JEFF GRITCHEN, LONG BEACH REGISTER By RON SYLVESTER / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
For being so rich in history, the folks who run businesses in Zaferia say they’re also one of the most overlooked districts in Long Beach.
“I think that a lot of people are really aware of Second Street and downtown and Bixby Knolls, but I don’t think a lot of people know about this little corridor,” said Lorie Stack, branch manager and secretary of the East Anaheim Street Business Alliance.
The place known as Zaferia sprang up as a railroad stop at East Anaheim and Redondo Avenue, where a McDonald’s now sits. No one really knows where the name came from, whether from a local school board member, a Spanish word for “little village” or a place in Spain. Even before Prohibition, it was one of the few places where people could get alcohol. Long Beach, which hadn’t yet annexed Zaferia, was a “dry” city.
It has always been a place where people who felt different could find community. Mexican farm hands finding work at the nearby Bixby family’s Rancho Los Alamitos at the foot of Signal Hill homesteaded the neighborhood. Decades later, the area welcomed Cambodian refugees, fleeing death camps from the civil war of the 1970s.
Cultural diversity remains, and that’s what gives the area such richness today. Mexican, Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese businesses sit beside those that have been in families for generations.
“It’s a melting pot down here, and people are real,” said Linda Chey, owner of the BeMe Boutique.
When race riots surrounding the Rodney King trial of 1992 spilled over from Compton to Long Beach, the violence took place well west of the business district, but it felt the impact of people who no longer felt safe driving down the street there. A group of businesses worked informally together to turn it around and eventually formed the East Anaheim Street Business Alliance. The group received grants and funding to install security cameras on the street corners, connected directly to the Long Beach Police Department. Contract crews pick up trash and cut weeds every week and power wash the sidewalks once a quarter.
And the group brought back the name Zaferia, which had disappeared from the railroad sign in 1920, when the depot became East Long Beach. Lamp posts and cornerstones now carry the name, and banners wave in the breeze touting businesses such as the Crooked Duck, a breezy casual restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway at Anaheim at one of the entrances to the district.
“We hope people who maybe drive by every day, maybe will look at what we’re doing and say this area cares about what’s going on – they’re trying to improve their condition,” said Ken Buck, whose family has run Joe Jost’s on East Anaheim since 1924. “Nobody is going to do it for you. You’ve got to do it on your own.”
When an earthquake hit East Long Beach in 1933, buildings in East Anaheim were devastated.
The front of the Farmers and Merchants Bank on East Anaheim crumbled, but the president was determined to keep serving its customers. Gus Walker, whose grandson is now bank president, set up a table inside a makeshift shack in front of the bank with piles of cash to keep the branch running.
That determination has kept businesses in Zaferia running for a century and makes the bank the longest standing, continuously running business in Zaferia.
The bank at 3140 E. Anaheim originally opened to help give workers in the nearby oil fields a place to handle their finances and cash their paychecks.
The area has seen its highs and lows, but it’s currently riding a resurgence that causes optimism even among the long-time businesses.
“Over the years we’ve seen a log of vacancies, but new businesses are coming to the area and bringing a lot of excitement,” said Lorie Stack, branch manager. “It’s bringing a lot of excitement back to the area.”