Long Beach replaces rainbow lifeguard tower, a symbol of pride, burned in suspected arson

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LONG BEACH, CA - JUNE 10: Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Councilwoman Cindy Allen, flanked by lifeguards Devon Bebee, left, and Jeremy Rocha, celebrate the unveiling of a new rainbow-colored lifeguard tower at Long Beach to replace the one that burned down in March. The tower serves as a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride. Photographed on Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Long Beach, CA. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Councilwoman Cindy Allen, flanked by lifeguards Devon Bebee, left, and Jeremy Rocha, celebrate the unveiling of a new rainbow-colored lifeguard tower at Long Beach to replace the one that burned down in March. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

When Long Beach resident Rich Charley heard on the morning of March 23 that the city's rainbow lifeguard tower had been destroyed in a fire, he decided to see the smoky skeletal remains for himself.

“It hit me personally because I’m a vet that’s gay, and of all the places, the gay life[guard] tower gets burned to the ground,” he said.

But the community soon responded, and on Thursday afternoon, Charley was among dozens gathered at Shoreline Way and 12th Place for a festive unveiling of a new tower. It was painted by city lifeguards, just as the first had been last June in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month.

People waving pride flags cheered as a billowing blue tarp was dragged off the brightly colored tower and a red rescue can was hung on its deck — signaling it was in business.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said the first tower had given him an immediate sense of inclusion.

“As a gay person, as a queer person, seeing that just makes you feel welcomed and supported," he said.

Firefighters responded to the March blaze just before midnight. The cause of the fire, which has been classified as arson, is still under investigation, and the city's Fire Department has asked witnesses or those with video of the incident to come forward.

“To date, we don’t have any information that would indicate it’s a hate crime," said department spokesperson Brian Fisk. “Over the course of the investigation, that may change.”

Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to paint a Hermosa Beach lifeguard tower in rainbow colors in solidarity. In Long Beach, Councilwoman Cindy Allen will lead a committee to develop ideas to enhance the new lifeguard tower with more ways of showing LGBTQ pride.

At Thursday's ceremony, 71-year-old Long Beach resident Ray Ramirez said that while the blaze had been an unnerving reminder that "there's still a lot of work to do" for LGBTQ equality, the unveiling made him hopeful.

“Now we’re here, resurrected,” he said. “The idea that here on this promenade where people, walk, ride, run, [there’s] something so visual to remind people that we exist as part of the community.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.