The late 1800s to the early 1900s was a time of rebirth for the practice of tattooing. Once reserved for servicemen or undesirables, the practice began to shift and waver, becoming something entirely unique from its previous time. Tattooing was slowly becoming something of a spectacle, a mainstream feature which was creeping from the depths into the forefront of society.
While tattooing was becoming more of an everyday practice during this time period, it definitely had a long road ahead of it before it would be fully welcomed with open arms. The Pike, located in Long Beach, California, was a pivotal point in the forward movement of the tattoo industry and is still carrying its name into the history books of the inked world as we speak.
Opened in 1902, The Pike was meant to be an all-inclusive entertainment center for Long Beach residents and tourists alike. The complex contained the pier, numerous food stands, and an amusement park. Mass crowds of families piled into the area every week, making it a well-known feature in the Cali area.
The Pike’s ambiance was very carnivalesque. Within close proximity to the local shipyards and multiple military bases, several arcades, sideshows, and bars began to crop up. The kitschy feel only intensified as numerous tattoo parlors began to hang their banners throughout The Pike. It didn’t take long before The Pike became the go-to place across the US to get inked. Not surprisingly, The Pike turned out some of the greatest tattoo artists of the era, including Bert Grimm, Bob Shaw, Lyle Tuttle, and Lee Roy Minugh.
Over the years, the popularity of getting tattooed at The Pike became legendary. Aspiring tattoo artists flocked to the area in hopes of being allowed the opportunity to sling their ink in one of the famed shops. Those looking for ink took to the area as it was recognized as being in the forefront of the industry—with some of the latest and greatest trends getting their start there.
One of the biggest draws for tattooers to set up shop at The Pike was the influx of military personnel that flooded the area twice a month. Tattoos and the military have had a love-love relationship for hundreds of years, so it is no surprise that The Pike, which was in such close proximity to multiple military and training bases, would bring them into the parlors in drove-like herds.
On military paydays, which were two weekends of the month, the servicemen would rush The Pike, eager to have anchors, flags, eagles, and other such flash etched into their skin permanently. For the tattoo artists of The Pike, these paydays were a whirlwind of madness like nothing they had ever seen before.
Business during these weekends was so bustling that many shops would refuse to close—for 72 straight hours, many tattooers would work around the clock, in order to meet the demands of the military weekend schedule. The majority of the pieces being applied were simple flash, with less and less detail work than the one before it. Many were applied in approximately 20 minutes with limited color, usually four colors or less.
The Pike led a good life, but as tattooing became more and more mainstream—moving into just about every street corner in every city—The Pike lost its vintage charm. It closed suddenly in 1979, however, one tattoo shop still stands, defying the odds. Famed tattooist Bert Grimm’s original shop, now named Outer Limits Tattoo, is still cranking. Thanks to artist Kari Barba, the shop was spared destruction along with The Pike, and now is home to many artists and a tattoo history museum.