ARTISTS WHO WORKED ON THE PIKE!
These are either confirmed or speculated (it will be mentioned in the post if it is unconfirmed) tattoo artists who worked on The Pike of Long Beach at some point. This page provides a brief overview of artists, their year of birth/death, and a bit of information about them. If you have any information you'd like to share with us, please email OuterLimitsLongBeach@gmail.com!
OWEN OAKLEY JENSEN
(1891 - 1977)
Owen Jensen was born in Pleasant Grove, Utah. As a young man he worked in the railroad shop in Ogden, Utah. In a 1972 letter written to Paul Rogers, Jensen said that in 1911 he walked 12 miles to Provo, Utah to see the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. It was there that he saw his first tattooed man, James Malcom, who had been tattooed by Charlie Wagner. Owen Jensen got his first tattoo in 1913 from Bob Hodge on the Lucky Bill Show.
That fall Jensen went to Detroit and met J.G. Barber. In a 1930s radio interview with the roving reporter Jimmie Vandiver, Jensen said that because he had skills as a machinist he was offered a part time job working in a machine shop making tattooing machines. He was interested in how the tattoo machines worked, and soon learned to tattoo.
Jensen worked all over the place and managed a successful tattoo supply company. His first time working on The Pike was in 1929, years into his career. He last worked on the Nu-Pike in Long Beach with Lee Roy Minugh at 26 Chestnut, just a stone's throw from Bert Grimm's location at 22. Lee Roy tells the story that Jensen once worked with Grimm at 22 Chestnut, but around 1971 Grimm and Jensen had a disagreement over flash and Bert "ran him off". It was then that Jensen went to work with Lee Roy.
On July 5, 1976, some young punks came into 26 Chestnut, grabbed Owen Jensen around the neck and stuck a knife in his back. They beat him up pretty bad and took $30.00. They must have caught him by surprise, as he was not able to get to his derringer. Owen Jensen never recovered from that beating and died July 24, 1977.
DOROTHY "DAINTY DOTTY" JENSEN (1909-1952)
Dorothy was born Florence Sprague but better known by the name of Dainty Dotty. She was a famous circus lady who weighed 600 lb; she was in the Ringling Bros. Circus in the 1930s and 1940s. She was not the largest woman on record but she was the largest female tattoo artist. She started tattooing in Detroit where she met and subsequently married Owen Jensen after initially coming to him for tattoo supplies.
Both she and her husband worked on The Pike, and they also ran the tattoo supply company together. She died of a heart ailment in 1952. While with Ringling, she weighed 583 pounds and at the time of her death, weighed 350. She and Owen had a son named Owen Jr., who was only 3 years old during her passing. She is one of the only female tattooers who worked on The Pike during its heyday.
CHARLES "RED" GIBBONS
Charles, "Red" Gibbons was a master tattoo artist for over 40 years. He lived from 1879 until 1964. It is said that Red worked on The Pike at 22 Chestnut Place (and other shops) long before Bert Grimm ever reached this location.
Little is known about Red's early life, other than that he had worked as a tattoo artist in an arcade in Spokane, Washington. He gained notoriety through Anna Gibbons (better known as Artoria Gibbons), who he met in Washington. The couple married in 1912, and moved to California to work together in the tattoo trade. Anna went on to performing for sideshows such as Ringling Brothers and The Barnum and Bailey Circus, and eventually became one of the most famous performers of that era. Red worked as a traveling tattoo artist while Anna performed on stage and gained popularity. Because Anna tattooed as well, it is possible that she also tattooed on The Pike at some point.
Unlike many tattoo artists of his time, Gibbons was interested in reproducing beautiful artwork, not just scratching rough outlines of pictures.
In the 1940s, a brutal robbery resulted in the loss of one eye. Shortly after that, an unfortunate construction accident resulted in the loss of his other eye leaving him totally blind. Nothing else but death could have ended his beloved career as a tattoo artist. He was devastated to the extent of no longer wanting to live. However, with the love and care of his wife and daughter he lived for nearly twenty more years.
ANNA MAE BURLINGSTON
"LADY ARTORIA GIBBONS"
Born on July 16, 1893 in Linwood, Wisconsin, one of seven children and the daughter of the Norwegian immigrants and farmers. In 1907 the family moved to Colville, Washington, and shortly thereafter, Anna’s father died. She and two of her sisters went to work as domestic servants in Spokane, Washington, to help support the family. She met the tattoo artist Charles “Red” Gibbons in Spokane; he was working in an arcade and had been tattooing professionally for a number of years. They married in Spokane in 1912; the couple had one daughter.
After several years of marriage, Gibbons and Red decided that they would make a better living if she became a performing tattooed lady, so Red tattooed Anna with images from her favorite classical religious artwork, in full color. Her performance name was Lady Artoria Gibbons – The Living Art Museum” She was a deeply religious woman and a lifetime member of the Episcopalian Church. Her tattoos included illustrations of angels and saints as well as patriotic images, including George Washington. Her work also included drawings by Raphael and Michaelangelo. She debuted as a performer in 1921 with the locally-based Pete Kortes Sideshow. After two years, she worked for Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey which would than evolved to countless circuses, dime museums, carnivals, and sideshows thereafter.
Artoria’s final steady gig was with Hall and Christ in the 70s. She officially retired in 1981 and passed away shortly after on March 18, 1985 forever idolized in the tattoo culture as one of the First Tattooed Ladies in the country. In more recent news, in 2016, Lady Artoria’s daughter announced that she was planning on publishing a book about her parents tattooed love affair.
Whether or not she tattooed on The Pike is some speculation at this point but at least worth mentioning; many claim that Red tattooed on The Pike which would likely mean that she also did or at least performed as a tattooed attraction for the sideshow here. More conclusive evidence will come once her story is published.
Lawrence lee mckeever (1885-1962)
Lawrence Lee "Mac" McKeever was a tattoo artist who worked in several West Coast cities. He was primarily known as L.L. McKeever in the city directory and newspaper ads for tattooing and tattoo removal. It is unclear how he did tattoo removal, but many tattooers did do both at the time. It is believed that he started working at The Pike in the 1920s. He apprenticed "Tahiti" Felix Lynch in the 1930s.
In the early 1950s, McKeever was part of a small movement of tattooers on The Pike who pushed to lower the age requirement to get a tattoo from age 21 to age 18. They explained to the city that individuals under 21 in the service frequently wanted to get tattooed but were unable to due to the age restriction - thus becoming violent towards the tattooers. Needless to say, McKeever was an active member in the tattoo culture of Long Beach. He worked there from the early beginnings of tattooing in The Pike into the remainder of his life and big boom for tattoo businesses there during the 1950s and 1960s.
While working at 214 W. Ocean Blvd, his is daughter Gloria also ran a photo studio at the same address.
Photo via Johnny Leonard on Flickr
FRANK THOMAS JULIAN
Frank Julian worked on The Pike in the 1920s as a tattooer.
He was an Italian immigrant and an early electric tattooer from Dallas, Texas. He was also a tattooed attraction for the Ringling circus; this is where he met his wife, Mary Alice Wade, when she joined the Ringling Brothers shortly after World War I. Known as "Alice from Dallas," she was a sideshow fat lady who also worked on The Pike in that role when Julian worked on The Pike as a tattooer and tattooed attraction. Her known weight during her popular years in the business was 625 lb, but slimmed down to 400 lb. when she towards the end of her life.
Julian was a strong Republican and he had the tattooed like images of U.S. presidents on his body with Republicans chief executives getting the favored locations.
"TAHITI FELIX" LYNCH
San Diego tattooer “Tahiti Felix” Lynch was apprenticed by Lawrence Lee “Mac” McKeever on The Pike in the 1930’s and tattooed there until he opened a shop in 1948 in San Pedro. In 1949, he moved to San Diego and opened Tahiti Felix's Master Tattoo & Museum where he worked until retirement in 1979. His clientele was mostly drawn from sailors who disembarked at the dock just a few blocks from his downtown shop at 317 F Street. Zeke Owen, a legendary tattooer who worked at The Pike in the 60s and was taught by his uncle - Ernie Sutton (of Sutton & Lewis), also worked at Felix’s shop at one point.
He worked with McKeever at 214 W. Ocean Blvd.
Charlie Barrs and Bert Grimm
Cap Coleman's shop front circa 1939 when Cap Coleman and Charlie Barrs were working together in Norfolk, VA.
EUGENE CHARLES HARRY BARRS (1978-1961)
Although his fellow tattooists held Barrs in high regard, few photographs of him or artifacts of his flash remain today.
It is speculated and rumored that he worked as a tattooer on The Pike during the early days but unconfirmed currently.
It is unclear when and where Barrs started tattooing, but early on he got a Christ Head back piece by Buckie in Philadelphia. Buckie was considered one of the best tattooists of his era and it is possible that Barrs may have got some training from Buckie.
Bert Grimm tells a story about running into Cap Coleman who was working a carnival in Cincinnati, Ohio in the early 1900s. Within a few years Coleman had left the road and set up shop in Norfolk, Virginia. Grimm stated that Coleman got in touch with Charlie Barrs and invited him to work with him in Norfolk.
Apparently Coleman made Barrs an offer he couldn't refuse; 100% of his take and free room and board. Coleman had heard of Barrs' talent and wanted to learn from him. Barrs made the trip east to work with Coleman. Bert Grimm went on to say that when Barrs left Norfolk, Coleman's tattooing looked like Charlie Barrs, only a bit heavier.
At one point, Barrs invited Owen Jensen into his shop. Jensen jumped at the chance. In a 1972 letter, Jensen wrote,
"He had been in this arcade for several years tattooing. He was a very quiet guy, but at this time he really was rated as just about the best tattooer in this country, so of course I was very pleased to get a chance to tattoo with someone that good. When I went in with Charlie I sold my spot in San Pedro to a young fellow named Sandy Dillon, he had been covered by Charlie and Bert Grimm."
HUGH C. BOWEN (1894-1970)
Sailor Hugh Bowen and his wife "Painless Nell" Bowen were great friends with Bert Grimm. Hughie Bowen started tattooing after being discharged from the Navy after WWI. By 1920, he set up shop in Detroit, Michigan. J.F. Barber, Edwin Earl Brown, and Percy Waters taught him the art and tattooed him. In 1929, at the time of the Stock Market crash, Hughie was on the West Coast tattooing with Fred McKee at 352 W. Seaside Boulevard, near the Long Beach Pike. Tattoo artists struggled there during this time. At the onset of the ensuing Depression, he began additionally working as a concessionaire for Joyland Shows, and then went onto becoming the carnival owner.
He met and married a stenographer named Nellie Bohnak while his brother Clarence married her sister Josephine aka “Jo.” Throughout the 1930s, the four of them worked and managed the carnival. In the 1940s, Hugh, Nell, and Jo settled in San Diego. San Diego was booming for the industry because of WWII and SD being the principal home port for the Pacific Fleet. Their shops were low maintenance sponge and bucket assembly-line operations, and the Bowens owned about 5 shops in San Diego. Nell eventually was the face of the brand, and her one-legged sister Ruth also tattooed alongside her. Both Nell and Hugh died in the early 1970s. It is assumed that only Hugh ever worked on The Pike, shortly before meeting Nell.
Frederick William McKee served as a 1st Sergeant in the 12th Company, Coast Artillery Corps, United States Army during World War I.He was originally from Fayette, Pennsylvania and his last place of residence was in Biglerville, Pennsylvania.
From the 1930s to the 1940s, he was listed as a tattooer in the Long Beach City Directories at the following addresses:
331 Seaside Way
317 W Seaside Blvd
310 W Seaside Blvd
352 W. Seaside Blvd
Frederick William McKee
Harry is regarded as another founding father of American Traditional tattooing as we know it. Lawson was a tattooer who at the end of his career worked on The Pike and Long Beach at 25 Cedar Way & 17 Pacific Way - from around the mid-late 1940s till his death in 1950.
Harry was born Hurtle Vivian Lawson in Australia. It is believed that he had a tattoo career of over 40 years, however, old Long Beach newspapers do refer to his career as an approx. 60 year career.
He refused to tattoo drunks, and young people who wanted to finger tattoos. "Where do you get that bunk, I ask them. 'Then I tell them don't let anyone tattoo your hands.' Where could you get a job with your hands all tattooed up - digging ditches, that's all." Lawson's hands were tattooed with a variety of stars, circles and other designs. From the neck down, his whole body was covered in mostly black, red, and blue. When asked why he was fully tattooed, he responded with, "Well, it was easier than working." He worked as a tattooed attraction in the circus for years. His first tattoo he got was as a youngster on a ship, from another sailor who painfully used a needle tied on the end of a stick. This sailor made money off of it, so Lawson decided to buy himself colors and needles the next time in port to make money and he had been tattooing since. Along with tattooing, Lawson practiced and advertised guaranteed tattoo removal as well. He had developed his own formula and kept it a secret. 25 Cedar Way on The Pike was Harry's last shop, and it continued as a tattoo shop under different ownership when he passed in 1950.
HARRY V. LAWSON (1882-1950)
Clipping from the 1947 Long Beach Independent Newspaper
V. L. Shoffner – Harry V. Lawson – 1941, photograph via the San Diego History Center
FRANK MARTIN (1886-1968)
New York Bowery tattoo artist Charlie Wagner tattooed Martin. He was a native of Denmark who arrived in America in 1905, and worked as a horseshoer. Sometime after April of 1915, he declared his intention to become a citizen in Denver, Colorado. Before July of 1915, he went to New York City’s Bowery, where Charlie Wagner, and his partner "Lew the Jew" Alberts tattooed Martin's back with a Virgin Mary piece, and the rest of his body with a variety of elaborate designs.
He was a tattooed attraction and also a tattooer, the duality being very common in those days. Even so, Frank was supplementing his income working as a horseshoer for Wells Fargo at the advent of World War I. But his career was ignited when he connected with the Los Angeles-based Al G. Barnes Circus. From 1922 to 1926, he enjoyed the standard of show life that a prominent circus like Al G. Barnes had to offer. During the off-season, he joined the numerous acts exhibiting in Los Angeles’ South Main Street museums, and in 1926, even performed alongside tattooed lady, Artoria Gibbons in Kortes and McKay’s World Museum line-up.
His last documented tattoo shop was on 417 Seaside Blvd on The Pike.
JACK JULIAN (1876-1969)
Born William F. Jackson, he was a tattoo artist who worked in San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Long Beach. He worked with numerous well known tattooers and is considered another prominent figure in the beginnings of Western American Traditional tattooing. 412 South Main, Los Angeles - The Main Postcard Arcade, operated by Marks-Fram Company (David H. Marks and brother-in-law Harry Fram), had A-class tattooers in the 1920s such as Robert Fletcher, Bert Grimm, Owen Jensen, Jack Julian, L.L. McKeever, Charlie Barrs, Frank Julian, Frank Martin, Harry V. Lawson, Red Gibbons, and then the great Ben Corday for almost a decade.
In the 1950s, Jack was listed in the Long Beach City Directories as working at 26 Chestnut Place on The Pike with Lawrence Walter Duff (Also known as "Duffy"). Eventually, 26 Chestnut Place becomes Lee Roy Minugh's shop.
Actress Doris Sherrell having artist Jack Julian tattoo her address and Social Security # on her legs, 1942
LOU LEWIS (???-1969)
ERNEST E. SUtton (1912-1967)
Tattooers Ernie Sutton and Lou Lewis were two of Bert Grimm’s partners at the Pike.
Sutton and Lewis had a small tattoo supply company that they ran out of their main street shop called Los Angeles Tattoo Supply. They also worked at this shop as well as a shop on 10 Cedar Way in the 60s. They were taking Jonesys and reworking them, cutting the top or all of the sidewing off and rewinding the coils with 26g. wire for a smoother ride, and replating them.
Lee Roy Minugh often referred to Lou as the best tattooer on The Pike.
Lou's son, Rio Degennaro, also eventually becomes a well-known tattooer on The Pike. In the 1960s, Lou and Zeke Owen worked the nighttime shift at Bert Grimm's while Bert and Bob worked the day time shift.
In 1964 the health department came in and told them due to a hepatitis out break that the sponge and bucket days was over. At the time, the setups were four machines: outliner, black shader, red shader, and green shader. They wanted this to be changed as soon as possible. Lou, having held various jobs throughout his life - everything from a customs agent and postal inspector to a machinist for the airplane companies during the war, eventually came back with the swinggate design. It was a simple enough design and easy to put on without ever needing to remove the coils.
Thus, that was the birth of the swinggate. We know of the birth of swinggate machines through Bob Shaw, but the first run of these machines were actually Percy Waters' frames that were reworked.
Sutton and Lewis were also locksmiths according to their 412 main street business card, which allowed them to utilize pieces from door lock parts. Eventually, Sutton went back to downtown and Lewis worked with Bert - finishing his career there.
Not as much is known about Ernie Sutton currently, but the duo was extremely pivotal in the forward movement of American Traditional tattooing on the West Coast as we know it.
Ernie Sutton & Lou Lewis aka Sutton & Lewis
Bert Grimm's World Famous Tattoo Studio at 22 Chestnut Place on The Pike of Long Beach business card
Bert Grimm (1900-1985)
Julia Grimm (1910-1984)
22 Chestnut Place at The Pike, which is now our shop, is Bert’s most well known studio. Bert purchased this location in 1954, filling the windows with photos of the people he had tattooed; the walls were crowded with design sheets. By 1956 he and Julia (his wife) had opened & operated 5 shops out of the 12 in The Pike.
Bert was a self promoter of the highest caliber, who used his shop as a theater where he presented the tales of his past. About 3/4 into the tattoo, he would pause, stick a toothpick in his mouth, pull on his suspenders, & announce: “And now for my famous ten minute speech…” Bert mesmerized his customers day in & day out, until people were coming hundreds of miles to Long Beach to get their work from the greatest.
Unfortunately, not much is known about his wife Julia. They married in 1931, and the rest is history. They remained together the rest of their lives. While there are no known photographs showing her putting the needle to skin, she is often photographed in her white smock which leads most people to believe that she tattooed alongside Bert.
But where did he begin?
Bert Grimm started hanging around tattoo shops in Portland Oregon when he was about 11 or 12 years old, and the shops of Sailor Gus, Sailor George and Charlie Western became his home away from home. Bert was given his first tattooing outfit in 1912 and for the next 70 plus years Bert Grimm was a fixture in the tattoo world. Early in his career, Grimm worked with carnivals and spent a season with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.
In his twenties, he made a living as a sideshow tattoo artist; traveling the carnival circuit, & tattooing in off-season in the arcades along Chicago’s South State Street.
In the span of Bert’s 7 decade career, he contributed & cultivated a professional standard tattoo artists embrace to this day. His iconic style & standards for cleanliness spoke to the whole of his success. His style was a stripped down version of the American Traditional style — simpler, more open designs popping with dimension, and limited color palette.
Bert worked with some of the greats in the business, including, Domingo Gulang, Charlie Barr, Tatts Thomas, Red Gibbons, Walter Torun, Bob Shaw (his nephew), and Col Todd, to name a few.
Bert was inducted into the Tattoo Hall of Fame, which was then located at the Lyle Tuttle's Tattoo Art Museum at #30 Seventh Street in San Francisco. Throughout the years he and Julia operated shops in Chicago, Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Seattle, Los Angeles, Long Beach, St Louis, Portland & Seaside Oregon, & China.
Bert retired in the small Oregon town of Seaside, set up a small tattoo shop in his home, & did about 10 tattoos a week out of his house.
Bert in front of 22 Chestnut Pl. (our shop now) circa 1960s.
Young Bertram Cecil Grimm and Julia Florence Lechler, they married each other in 1931.
Bert and Julia Grimm in front of one of their shops.
Julia in front of 22 Chestnut Pl. (our shop now) circa 1960s.