The Long Beach Tattoo Scene: A Brief History

Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, our muti-faceted city holds something for everyone–food, music, art, and of course tattoos. Founded in 2012 in the East Village Arts Distract, Paper Crane is proud to be part of the Long Beach tattoo scene. Tattooing is in fact an integral part of our colorful community, one with a history that reaches back into the early 1900s. To get the full picture, though, we need to step even further back into our city’s storied past. Come with us on a little history lesson–and learn why the Long Beach tattoo scene has always been destined to thrive!

Long Beach’s Founding

Long Beach was first settled in 1784 as part of a Spanish land grant to Manuel Nieto. In 1866, a 27,000 acre section known as Rancho Los Cerritos was sold to the Bixby family, who began to develop the area. With a seven-mile stretch of pristine beachfront, it’s no surprise that visitors flocked to Long Beach, which was originally known as Willmore City. The introduction of the Pacific Electric trolley in 1902 led to a massive boom for the area: For the next eight years, Long Beach was the fastest growing city in the US. The resort atmosphere and bustling commercial industry made Long Beach a popular destination at the turn of the century–for families and more.

A Family Destination–and a Sailor’s Refuge

In 1902, the historical boardwalk known as the Pike came into existence, which over the years came to boast everything from kiddie rides and sideshows to photography studios and cabarets. In 1911, the Port of Long Beach was established in close proximity to the Pike. Families, sailors, and sea merchants alike could turn to the twinkling lights and boundless entertainment of the Pike for an escape unlike any other.

Because of the easy access to shipyards, the Pike became home to the original Long Beach tattoo scene. Numerous shops sprang to life to accommodate sailors on leave. American Traditional tattoos–also known as “Sailor Jerry” style–flourished, and many sailors and merchants left Long Beach sporting nautical-themed tattoos. Many legendary artists tattooed out of the Pike over the course of its ever-evolving history, including Lyle Tuttle, Bob Shaw, and Bert Grimm (one of the fathers of American Traditional style). Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo Studio (now known as Outer Limits Tattoo) holds the distinction of being the sole business still in operation from the Pike.

Destined to Thrive

With a steady influx of tourists, seamen, and investors, Long Beach was destined from its inception to thrive as a city–and with it, so was the Long Beach tattoo industry. The fact that a tattoo studio that opened in 1954 is still in business today goes to show that tattooing has long been an important part of our city!

We’ve continued to grow tremendously as a premier destination for arts and culture over the years. The Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Long Beach Museum of Art, Museum of Latin American Art, and Cal State Long Beach are a just few of our outstanding locales for everything from classical opera to avant-garde visual art. A casual trip downtown can lead to dynamic discoveries of local musicians, culinary masters, and more.

This continued growth is important to the tattooing scene because it helps to make Long Beach a destination city. We love our local clients, but “tattoo tourism” is a very real phenomenon: Tattoo collectors and enthusiasts are willing to fly all over the world to connect with talented artists. At Paper Crane, we are very fortunate to have people travel from other countries specifically to see our artists–but the fact that there are beautiful beaches, fantastic bands, unique galleries, and incredible food definitely sweetens the prospect of a six-hour plane ride!

Thanks to our city being such a multicultural epicenter, we also get to tattoo a lot of tourists who are visiting for other reasons–so if you’re just stopping by but decide you want to take home a piece of the Long Beach tattoo scene, give us a call!

Long Beach Tattoo Artists

Long Beach’s expanding focus on art and culture is uniquely important for tattoo artists as creative individuals, as it presents us with out-of-the-box opportunities to showcase our work, connect with others in our community, and push our creative limits. Whether that means a live tattooing demonstration or an art exhibit featuring tattoo flash, we’re excited to be part of the Long Beach tattoo scene in ways that incorporate other aspects of our city.

The East Village Arts District is one of the pockets of Long Beach where you can find a variety of cultural interests, from unique restaurants to galleries featuring local artists. It’s also home to Paper Crane Studio, the first tattoo shop to open in the downtown area since the decline of the Pike. We’ve been an influential part of the Long Beach tattoo scene since Mikey Vigilante founded the studio in 2012–and we are committed to being part of our city’s legacy of outstanding tattoo art for many years to come.

Whether you’re a long-time local or a tattoo tourist, we invite you to stop by our studio the next time you’re in the East Village Arts District to meet our artists, browse our portfolios, and get a feel for our friendly vibe. We’d love to help you be part of the Long Beach tattoo story by getting a flash tattoo or a custom original!

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