22 S. CHESNUT PL.

A Brief History of Tattoos, Colorful Characters, & the Shop That Won't Stop

Outer Limits Tattoo’s Long Beach location is the oldest continuously operated tattoo shop in the United States and the second oldest in the world.  Its 88 year long history is unprecedented  and colorful, its threshold crossed by countless legendary tattoo artists. It is most easily divided into four distinct eras spanning from 1927 to the present day under the ownership of Kari Barba. If the walls could talk, eyes would be wide with the history played out at 22 S. Chestnut Place.

 

The location is the last remaining business from the original historic area of Long Beach called The Pike. It was a zone on the waterfront marked by the Long Beach Municipal pier and a wooden boardwalk and dates back to the late 1800s. 

 

The Pike was a seaside amusement area which offered a variety of entertainment and novelties for the public. The streets were filled with families as well as sailors and various sea merchants who were docked in Long Beach as their port of call.  Folks had access to a grand bath house, arcades, food stands, fortune tellers and of course, tattoo parlors. In its height, The Pike was home to twelve tattoo parlors and understandably had quite a reputation.

 

The storefront itself was originally part of the Sovereign Building and was constructed in 1921.

 

The first tenant was a photography studio until 1927. It is from there the space started its long life as a tattoo studio and was thought to be called The Professionals. Very little is known about this shop including the name of the owner. However this era is rich in history for tattoos and is the time when American Traditional and Nautical tattoo styles were de rigeur. Given the seaside location, it can be romantically presumed that many young seamen received their first tattoos there.

 

Fortunately MUCH is known about the next chapter of the location and Outer Limits Tattoo is in possession of a massive collection of artifacts from this time. In 1954 The Pike had changed its name to Nu-Pike as a rebranding effort to keep up with nearby family-friendly Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. It was also the year that tattoo great, Bert Grimm bought the studio and dubbed the parlor BERT GRIMM'S WORLD FAMOUS TATTOO STUDIO.

 

Bert was a well-known, yet mysterious tattoo artist who had had shops in Oregon and St. Louis before landing in Long Beach. He is considered one of the founding fathers of the American Traditional style and was famous for his large scale tattoo work including full back pieces, sleeves and even full body suits. 

 

Long Beach Pier, The Pike, Sailors, vintage tattoo, Long Beach history, Bert Grimm, Lyle Tuttle, Ed Hardy, Bob Shaw

The Long Beach Pier circa 1905 - public domain image

Long Beach, The Pike, tattoo history, Bert Grimm, Bob Shaw, Lyle Tuttle, Ed Hardy, California tattoo culture, tattoo museum, tattoo memorabilia

Panarama view of The Pike area circa 1908 - public domain image

Bert Grimm, Lyle Tuttle, Ed Hardy, Bob Shaw, Col. Todd, tattoo history, tattoo museum, oldest tattoo shop in America

He owned the tattoo shop, plus three others in the area, with his wife Julie Grimm. Bert was also a very talented photographer who diligently documented his tattoo work – many of his images still hang on Outer Limits Tattoo’s walls today.

 

Bert Grimm shared his skills and knowledge, serving as a mentor to up and coming tattoo artists. Among his two most famous students are Lyle Tuttle and Bob Shaw. Tuttle’s unmistakable beautifully detailed front torso & full back pieces were done by Bert at 22 S. Chestnut Place in 1957-1958 and these tattoos are considered a masterpiece by many. Bert was a great influence on the young Tuttle who went on to become one American's most famous tattoo artists.

 

Also close to Bert, was Bob Shaw having history together back to 40s in St. Louis. Shaw was a young kid and after being fired from his job as a dishwasher, Bert hired him to be an assistant to his wife Julie helping with their photography business. Bob asked Bert to teach him how to tattoo and Bert agreed. Shaw did his first tattoo at age 15 in 1941. 

 

By the time Bob was 16 years old, he also had full arm sleeves tattooed by Bert.  They were brought together again in 1964 when Bob moved to Long Beach to work for for Grimm.

After working together for five years, Bob Shaw bought the shop from Bert Grimm in 1969 and subsequently bought Bert’s shops in San Diego and Portland, Oregon in the 70s. Bob actively worked in and ran the shop for the next 15 years.

 

In 1973 he brought in his longtime friend, tattoo artist Col. Todd. Two of Bob’s sons, Larry & Bobby Jr. were also tattoo artists and the shop became a family business. The Shaw family left Long Beach for Texas in 1983 but continued to own the shop with Col. Todd managing it. 

 

Shaw passed away in 1993 and left the business to his wife Wanda. When Wanda died in 2002 the shop was left to their sons. Since they both had successful tattoo careers in Houston, TX it was decided that it was time to close the shop once and for all, completing the Long Beach chapter of their family history.

 

The manager of the shop at that time was Rick Walters who informed Kari Barba about the pending closure of this landmark tattoo shop and talked about her possibly buying the shop. In 2002 she successfully purchased the business and, as destiny is wont to do, this wonderful tattoo shop survives to see a brand new era.

 

May it continue to have another 88 years of history in Long Beach!

Entrance to the shop from the 80s-2002 - archives of Outer Limits Tattoo

VIDEO

This is a wonderful oral history of the Long Beach shop, narrated by Kari Barba.

She takes you through the interior of Outer Limits Tattoo, as it is today.

 

The video showcases many of the fascinating archives owned by Outer Limits Tattoo while also discussing many of the important historical facets of this famous tattoo shop.

 

A must-watch for anyone appreciating history and memorabilia!

Shop Lyfe video by Sullen TV