Continuing to beautify Long Beach's West End


Mary Ellen Pollina’s journey with her organization began in 2011 with a shared vision between friends in the West End Neighbors Civic Association.

“We just felt that the West End was not getting the attention that it should have gotten from the city administration,” Pollina said. “They were kind of concentrating, at that time, on the central business district.”

So, Pollina, with the help of some others, decided to take matters into their own hands, organizing a “beautification day” with the city’s support to provide flowers and plants. This initial effort saw community members cleaning streets, removing graffiti and planting around trees.

Their efforts expanded with the creation of the West End Beautification Association, which focused on enhancing the area’s aesthetic appeal and supporting local businesses.

The devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012 posed a significant challenge to the area, but the association wanted to assist in recovery efforts. It launched initiatives such as an Art Walk to attract people back to the West End and support struggling businesses. Grants from National Grid and other utility companies funded the installation of banners and a business directory kiosk at a key bus turnaround point right at the end of the West End, between Ohio and Nevada Avenues.

An important event for the organization is Irish Day, held every October. Originally designed to help local bars generate revenue during the off-season, the association saw it as an opportunity to further beautify the area.

“We organized a clean-up to get everything ready for Irish Day,” Pollina said. “The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish organization, donated $800, and we planted mums around the trees and put up little signs. This kind of community effort really brought people together and made the area look festive and inviting.”

One of the most impactful projects has been the “Adopt a Planter” initiative, launched around 2019. This project aimed to revitalize neglected concrete planters.

Local sponsors could adopt a planter for $350. Sponsors collaborated with local artists, selected by the Long Beach Arts Council, to design and paint the planters. This customization process allowed sponsors to create unique designs with personal significance, from scenes of Long Beach to tributes to loved ones. Each planter also features a plaque acknowledging the sponsor and often telling a personal story or dedication.

“Our work has helped the West End recover and thrive,” Pollina said. “It’s now a beautiful, welcoming community that attracts new residents and visitors, supporting local businesses and enhancing the quality of life for everyone.”

The personalized artwork on the planters not only beautified the area but also supported local artists by providing public platforms to showcase their work. Additionally, the organization had to work with city officials to figure out a plan if the planters get damaged.

“The first thing we would do is ask artists to try to fix it if it’s damaged,” Pollina said. “If the artist could not fix it, we would have the planter painted white, and return to what it was. We also would plant a shrub so it’s something that will still look nice.”

Last summer, the organization received another grant from PSEG to completely renovate one of the parks and put in lighting and new shrubbery. Special recognition was given to Larry Cerullo, a Long Beach resident who helped complete the project.

“The grant that I got from PSEG was wonderful to get, but it was too modest to completely renovate this big park,” Pollina said. “So, this local man, Larry Cerullo, who owns a very big landscaping company, agreed to do all this tremendous landscaping for whatever I got from PSEG.”

The West End Beautification Association continues to work closely with the city on various projects, including installing irrigation systems for beach entrance gardens and maintaining a large community garden on Beech Street.