It started with a stroll down Pacific Coast Highway 20-plus years ago. Dee Andrews and a young lady were walking toward and reminiscing over the area near the V.I.P Records store in Long Beach and he said, “Maybe we can do a walk of fame.”
Flash-forward to July 2011, and the now councilmember has had the pleasure of revealing the long awaited and first five honorees of the Poly High Walk of Fame. Opting to place the stars on a fence to avoid graffiti problems in the area, the five stars represent a form of recognition to the individuals who came out of Poly.
“People come from all over the world to see the V.I.P record shop and I thought, ‘God, wouldn’t it be nice to have this little walk of fame in the little circle,” Andrews said. “Why not try the fence of fame? And that’s why we went to that idea to really keep it away from any graffiti situation.”
Singer Thelma Houston, former Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill, former NFL player Willie Brown and tennis champion Billie Jean King were among the first batch of alumni to be honored with a star at the first ceremony on July 9. Latin singer Jenni Rivera was honored at the second ceremony held July 26.
The Poly Walk of Fame is a project partnership between the 6th district of Long Beach and redevelopment agencies (RDA). Vice chair of Long Beach RDA Diane Arnold said the agencies contributed $35,000 for the design and fabrication of the five stars. CJ Latimore, founder and CEO of CJL International Inc., created the stars for the five honorees.
“The art project not only adds to the city’s vast collection of public art, but it also serves to celebrate the rich history of Long Beach Poly High,” Arnold said.
Arnold joined Andrews and Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education President Dr. Felton Williams in honoring Rivera at the Poly High Track and Field Stadium, which brought out the singer’s family members, friends and over 50 fans cheering from the bleachers.
Rivera said she still considers herself a Poly Jackrabbit and thanked everyone for choosing her for a star. “It feels really good to be able to come back,” Rivera said. “I would play my music then, and I came back because of my music, and that feels really good. I am truly honored, truly humbled and very blessed– thank you very much.”
Andrews asked several individuals within the Poly High community for input about famous alumni that they felt would be worthy to go up on the fence.
“We felt really strongly about Willie Brown. Beverly O’Neill was one of our number-one candidates and Billie Jean, with her background, everybody knows about her,” Andrews said. “I wanted to put the diversity in there. You know, with as many nationalities as we could.”
Funding for the Poly Walk of Fame came from RDA, however Andrews hopes to reach out to the community for next year’s stars as RDA funding may no longer be an option.
“I’d like to get a lot of the community involved financially. I think it will be very easy to get some community input financially on that. I really do,” Andrews said. “Once they see those beautiful stars up on the fence, I think a whole lot of people will want to be a part of that. It brightens up our community.”
Andrews is hoping to fill up the whole fence that lies on the east side of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. He is keeping hush about the possible choices for next year’s honorees, however he has one candidate in mind for the Poly High community to consider.
“I don’t want to give away the secret. I think I’m going to be one of them. Let’s just put that down,” Andrews said and laughed.
Other Long Beach high schools have shown interest in starting their own walks of fame, said Andrews, but he’s confident that Poly’s will gain momentum through the years. He’s predicting an even bigger and better turnout for next year’s ceremony.
“I think with the next one you probably won’t be able to get into those bleachers,” Andrews said. “It was one of those situations where it just came about. All kinds of individuals came from Poly. It’s the history everyone thinks about. It just resonates no matter where you go.”