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Early MB Family Returns to Its Roots

The Simkins clan, which dates back to 1918 in MB, is coming together from all over the U.S. to participate in the parade and gather for a family reunion at the centennial picnic.

The Roundhouse as a restaurant. American Martyrs on Fourth Street. Linda's Hair Salon. Lee's on The Strand.

These names and descriptions represent Manhattan Beach in years past.

On Saturday, the city will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a parade down Manhattan Beach Boulevard, once called Center Street because it basically split the city in two, and a picnic, games, cake, historical photos, a live band and more at Polliwog Park.

In the midst of the fanfare, a family reunion numbering 50 to 85 people will take place. 

Indeed, what began as an idea four MB family members had to see who might be interested in participating in the city's centennial parade has grown into a larger-than-life family reunion, and kept cousins Matt Simkins and Denny Ralyea incredibly busy.

Now, family members from Virginia, Colorado, Arizona, San Diego, San Francisco and San Luis Obispo are arriving in town to ride on a rented red trolley or walk alongside it.

"There are a slew of us," said Matt, explaining that there were eight kids in the original Simkins clan that lived in MB in the early 1900s," and the kids have had kids, have had kids.

"Initially, the intent was just to send out feelers to see what would happen. We sent out emails and kind of waited. There was a slow but sure response. Now, it's snowballed."

Mr. and Mrs. Williams Simkins are the greatgrandparents who settled in MB around 1918 and raised their eight children in the city, according to Matt. They came from England and were the only members of their respective immediate families to come to the United States.

Denny and Matt reference a letter William sent home to his sister in the late 1800s that reveals a Los Angeles area of another time. "The water here is very bad. I never touch it but drink tea or coffee with all my meals. It is a fact that I have not drunk a plain glass of water since I arrived." 

"This is a famous place for colds and I have not escaped," wrote William who also wrote, "Last Thursday was Thanksgiving day here in America. It is sort of General Harvest Festival and everyone eats turkey."

The family's first MB home was at 233 Seventh Street near Highland Avenue. William was an engineer for P,G&E and worked on the Red Car "on the management level," said Matt.

"The Simkins were known as a fun group of people in Manhattan Beach," said Denny. "They still are," chimed in Matt.

Matt, who is a paramedic/firefighter for the city, lists family members and the lines of work they went into. "There is a heck of an age span" among cousins notes Matt, mentioning that cousins Linda [of Linda's Hair Salon] and Sue, who are in their 70s, live in MB.

Denny's grandma had a home at Fifth Street and Highland Avenue; another family member has a home at Poinsettia Avenue and 12th Court; the house Matt grew up in is about two blocks away from where he lives now; Denny lives on a Walk Street; another family member had a home at 38th Street and Ocean Avenue from the early 1900s on; and at one time, a family member owned Strand property.

"The bulk of the people coming to town grew up here," said Matt. "Everybody that's here has a real strong Manhattan connection."

The trolley for the parade is full; it holds 26. Remaining family will walk nearby. After the parade, they will gather at the picnic. Sometime before the rental time expires at 2 p.m, the family may cruise around town in the trolley to see the city as it now stands.

During the interview with Manhattan Beach Patch, Matt recalled times past: his first-ever omelet (bacon, cheese and tomato) at Koffee Kart; talk of his dad riding the Red Car to the Redondo Beach Pier to fish; a Standard Oil station where a new building stands at the corner of Highland Avenue and 13th Street; rabbit fields on the southeast corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and Rosecrans Avenue and a small yellow house with a white fence on the lot; his mom's family coming out from Alhambra to summer in beach cottages; the La Mar Theatre where he saw "Gone With the Wind"; a model train store in one of the shops at 1020 MB Boulevard (the building will be razed soon for a new preschool).

The Manhattan Beach Centennial Parade begins at 10 a.m. at MB Boulevard and Pacific Avenue and will go east on the boulevard to Polliwog Park. The picnic is scheduled to start at 12 noon and will include food trucks for purchasing food, family games on Begg Field, tours of the MB Botanical Garden, tours of the MB Historical House and a historical photo display.

The band Surfari 101 will play from 12:45 to 2:45 p.m. and parade awards and city birthday cake will be announced at 1:45 p.m. The event is set to end at 3 p.m.

Simkins family will play the day by ear, according to Denny and Matt, but probably end up going to a family member's home or hotel to carry on into the evening. Both men figure there will be lots of stories to tell and memories to recall and reflect on.

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