Casablanca is on just about everyone's top ten movie list. The classic was filmed in just 18 days, but the producers and writers didn't know what the ending exactly should be, so they shot several and picked the scenes of the DC3 revving up in the foggy Casablanca airport with Lazlo and Ingrid Bergman aboard while "Rick" (Humphrey Bogart) and Claude Reins walked off into the fog bank. That ending scene was filmed at the then avant garde Long Beach Airport.
The buses in Long Beach are roomy and airy. In the mid-August heat the breezes blow off the bay like springtime zephyrs. The bus ends in downtown Long Beach near the light rail station going to Los Angeles (only $1.35). Long Beach I find out is a best-kept secret in southern California. I discover that the Hilton Long Beach is only a few blocks away from the bus stop, so the walk past the huge city library is enjoyable in the afternoon sun.
The Hilton Long Beachis well positioned for the leisure and business traveler. The Long Beach Convention Center and Aquarium of the Pacific are only blocks away. The high speed catamaran cruise terminal to Catalina Island (www.catalinaadventureourts.com) is less than a block down a gently rolling street, and the over the bay bridge to San Pedro and the new Carnival Cruise Line pier near the Queen Mary is literally on the Hilton's corner.
Later I find out you can pick up the AquaCat water taxi (part of Long Beach Transit www.lbtransit.com) near the Hilton to the Queen Mary dock for $1 and then connect from the Queen Mary to the rest of the 20-mile-long Long Beach Bay and numerous marinas by the Aqualink water taxi for an additional $1. This is the way to get around the immense southern facing harbor. The U.S. Navy is long gone from Long Beach, and along with it the tattoo parlors and gin joints along Pine Street, which has been resuscitated into a toney restaurant row. During World War II my mother was a riveter on Liberty ships here, and I can only imagine the port in its heyday.
I always like a hotel where the staff is happy. The first person I meet at the HLB (short for Hilton Long Beach) is Allen, the bellman, who it turns out is a budding author. After speaking with him about writing and journalism, I find out he loves his job so much as a bellman he has turned down numerous promotions, and serves as the Hilton's concierge when needed.
The Hilton is located at the "Greater Los Angeles World Trade Center" and it is difficult to visualize Long Beach as part of LA, especially after passing through their Casablanca-era airport. The Trade Center is a key structure in the redevelopment of Long Beach, and the open courtyard leading out the Hilton's side door attests to the symbiotic value.
That evening I attended, ad hoc, a non-profit fund raising Renaissance Faire in the Trade Center courtyard, sponsored by the "Who's Who" of Long Beach, drumming up money for the local legal aid committee. Local California and imported wines from around the world were poured and tasted and spilled while costumed period actors from the Elizabethan era mingled with the crowd. I had a spot of Australian merlot whilst in the company of Queen Elizabeth and Henry the VIII and court courtesans. My favorite character was the Court Jester. A jazz band played into the early evening and it was a great way to meet the local "peasants," so to speak.
After meeting Jay, the Long Beach Hilton's General Manager, who has been with the property since it opened in the early 1990s, I surmised that the hotel has established itself as a pillar of the local art community as well as a hostelry. The collection of tapestries and art works is incredible for a hotel. A 70-year-old hand-made Thai seeded and pearl tapestry hung on one wall and a six panel folding Japanese screen from the early 20th-century, depicting a scene from the "Tale of Genii" by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, was positioned unobtrusively.
The artist Yoko Watanabe, who is an internationally respected printmaker and woodblock carver, has a rice paper print over the Lobby Bar depicting scenes from the Far East. A commissioned mural in the Ascari Restaurant by Fred Crostic, a Long Beach native known in the international café society, contrasted with another California artist - Pat Everet. I didn't check to see if any of the art work was for sale.
After checking my email in the Hilton's little alcove around the corner from the registration desk, my last scene of the lobby was Allen sprinting to assist a new arrival. I quess this is why the Hilton Long Beach has twice earned Hilton Hotels' Top Guest Service Award.
Upon further inspection the next day I examined the Hilton's period costumes from China to the Balkans to Morocco and Nigeria and Scotland. Someone has put an enormous amount of effort to make this Hilton a cultural and artistic high note in Long Beach.