Hundreds of people gathered on the sands of Long Beach, Calif. as the city unveiled its new Pride lifeguard tower yesterday evening. The rainbow-colored tower replaced a similarly painted tower that was destroyed by an arson fire last March. According to a report in the Press Telegram, Mayor Robert Garcia, the city’s first out mayor, said it was a pivotal event and showed the importance of community.
"It’s an important moment for us also to remember that the fight for equality and equity and justice is not just our own with our community," Garcia said in his comments to the crowd. "But it is work that we have to share and a struggle that we share with so many other communities, which is why I love seeing all the support for the diversity and beauty of what our community really stands for."
Garcia later thanked the "community and lifeguards for this symbol of love and inclusion" in a post to Twitter that included a picture of the new lifeguard tower.
The original Pride lifeguard tower was set ablaze on March 23. Constructed of steel and fiberglass, the tower should not have caught fire so easily, and one expert who manufactured and sold fiberglass lifeguard towers to the city said he had not heard of a similar fire in his 30 years in the industry.
"Fiberglass is not a particularly flammable material," Dave Stollery, chief executive officer at Industrial Design Research, said at the time.
Authorities have ruled the cause as arson, although an investigation still continues into whether the incident was a hate crime. Some at the time had speculated the blaze was set by homeless people who regularly used the lifeguard towers for shelter. A spokesman for the Long Beach Fire Department, Brian Fisk, told the LA Times they don’t currently have information to "indicate it’s a hate crime."
A spokesperson for Long Beach said the new Pride lifeguard tower cost $55,000, but some of the labor was done for free as the new tower was painted by the lifeguards themselves. The lifeguards had painted the old tower as well. Long Beach lifeguard Jeremy Rocha told the Press Telegram he helped paint both towers, and said he was proud to have helped show how a community responds to adversity.
"The amount of strength in our community is unmatched," Rocha said, adding the tragedy has brought the community "closer together" and "made us stronger."