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Critically Speaking: A key question

What in the heck does the key to the city do?

Critically Speaking: A key question
World-renowned comedian Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias receives a key to Long Beach following a set at the Terrace Theater in Downtown Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

This week Mayor Rex Richardson gave the key to the city to Long Beach-raised comedian Gabriel Iglesias. You may know him as “Fluffy.”

While I didn’t attend the comedy show and presentation Tuesday night (I was covering the council meeting), I did do a considerable amount of research on the origins of keys to the city.

To answer a basic question, no, these keys don’t open anything. They might have been able to in past decades when the key designs were less intricate, but the one given to Iglesias Tuesday is about the size of an iPhone and is more of a trophy than a door opener.

They serve as a way to honor visiting dignitaries, community members and even famous comedians for their connection or contributions to the city.

Keys to the city previously served a functional purpose but that was in medieval times (not the restaurant in Buena Park).

Then, keys to the city were bestowed upon heroes, major merchants and visiting kings, all of whom were awarded the key, which gave them easy passage in and out of cities that were typically fortified with gates that were locked at night.

But these days, they’re just symbolic and are given out with much more frequency.

Tuesday was Richardson’s first key to the city event but past mayors used to hand them out like Halloween candy, according to news reports.


Jason Ruiz has been on strike from the Long Beach Post since March 21, yet he’s still covering city hall without pay. Thank him for his reporting.


A July 6, 1952 article in the Long Beach Independent chronicled Mayor Burton W. Chace’s reloading of his stockpile of keys to the city with a fresh shipment of 500. His secretary, Violet Dovey told the Independent she didn’t remember how many Chace had given out since 1947, but she believed the number was about 500.

The keys were made from a $300 cast but once the cast was purchased the keys were able to be pumped out for 55 cents a piece and every admiral who docked at port and every head of the navy base got one.

In 1960, Iowa’s Gov. Herschel C. Loveless received the key to the city while in town for the annual Iowa Picnic at Recreational Park. The event used to draw thousands of former Iowans who relocated to the Long Beach area.

A man had a heart attack and died during the event, according to the Independent.

Later that year, then-Senator John F. Kennedy was given the key to the city while visiting the Douglas Aircraft Company plant during a Presidential campaign stop. That key is now part of the national archives and can be found at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

Famed comedian, actor and singer Jimmy “The Schnozzola” Durante was given the key to the city in 1967 during the 31st annual meeting of the Downtown Long Beach Associates.

The key given to then-Ohio State University assistant football coach, Lou Holtz, in 1968 is up for auction. It’s only $100 with no current bidders.

Holtz went on to coach Notre Dame to a national championship in the 1988 season and became a fixture on ESPN as a commentator.

Stevie Wonder (1974) became the first entertainer to get Long Beach’s key to the city and in 1983 Queen Elizabeth II became the second most recent Queen — some might argue the second most important — to receive the key.

Jewels Long Beach was given the key in 2019.

There of course have been some mishaps with this tradition continuing on and you could look at the city of Detroit as an example of that. Detroit gave its key to Saddam Hussein in 1980 before redeeming itself by bestowing the gift to the popular Sesame Street character, Elmo, in 2010.

We’ve certainly come a long way from when keys to the city were practical gifts given to warriors and merchants who needed unfettered access to cities day and night. But it hasn’t driven down demand.

In 2009, comedy writer Mark Malkoff set out on a quest to get 100 keys to the city in under a month. He got to 94 by the time he spoke to NPR about it.

His secret? He pledged to do community service or simply asked very politely for them. So, there could be a path forward for any of you who would like your very own key to the city.

Or you could buy the Lou Holtz key before the auction ends.

What happened this week

E-scooters are coming back to the city’s beach bike path but it won’t be tomorrow. It likely won’t be any day soon but the City Council did vote Tuesday night to allow the Public Works Department to hammer out the details of the pilot program that will allow scooter riders back onto the path for up to 12 months as the city assesses if it’s safe. Public Works Director Eric Lopez said Tuesday it could be a few months before that process is finalized and it’s expected to include more community outreach. The city is looking at introducing “slow zones” on the bike path that would use the scooters’ onboard technology to force riders to slow down near pedestrian crossing points as well as other safety-related rules. You can read more about that here.

Something to keep an eye on

The city’s budget is a thing that evolves over the course of the year. The City Council approves a fiscal spending plan in October based on projections and is updated periodically on whether those projections are accurate. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not and that could mean the city has a bigger deficit than anticipated — or in this year’s case — a $10.8 million surplus after preparing for a spending gap. This is due to a number of things including the city’s policy to be pretty conservative when budgeting things like oil, which it set at $55 per barrel last September but has been selling at over $70 per barrel during the year. Some things lag behind expectations like sales tax and others exceed expectations like airport revenue, which is benefitting from its first full year of having 58 flight slots and fuller planes. The good news this year, though, might not last as much of the “savings” have come from unfilled jobs, something the city is trying to fix by speeding up hiring.  I’ve written about that previously.


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