Long Beach History
Historic Preservation (562) 570-6194

Long Beach has a colorful history that is very much alive today. Once occupied by Native Americans during the 1500s, the area had been known as the "Bay of the Smokes" named by an explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who observed smoke signals rising from the top of a hill, known today as Signal Hill. The native people used this form of communication with their people living across the water on Santa Catalina Island. A sculptured fountain has been erected in the park built on that site representing the smoke signals used 500 years ago.

In the late 1700s, the land that was owned by Spain was divided between two landowners and was named Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos. Both ranchos continue to operate and are open to the pubic for historic tours. By the 1880s portions of Rancho Los Cerritos were sold, subdivided and developed by William Wilmore in 1882, where he built 12 homes and founded Wilmore City. By 1888, only one school and less than 50 residences occupied less than three square miles, and the slowly growing population had voted to incorporate the city and rename it the City of Long Beach.

By the early 1900s the town had become a popular seaside resort and Ports O' Call. Long Beach was now home to one of the infamous boardwalk-style amusements of the era, known as The Pike. Visitors traveled to Long Beach aboard the subway to enjoy its popular attractions, like The Cyclone Racer, a wooden two-track rollercoaster, The Plunge, originally a bathhouse, and an original Looff's Carousel.

In 1921, oil was discovered in Long Beach and Signal Hill that caused the rapid growth in the city seen today, flourishing with a million-dollar per month construction boom downtown. Unfortunately, in 1933, a 6.4 earthquake hit the downtown area with a devastating loss of 120 lives and fifty million dollars of damage; a sizable amount sustained by public schools built with unreinforced masonry walls. As a direct result of these structural failures many changes were made to the building code. The most significant was passing of the Field Act of 1933, requiring earth-quake resistant design and construction for all public schools and the 1935 revisions for the Uniform Building Code provided a formula for calculating lateral earthquake forces that new buildings were now mandated to resist. As for the buildings remaining from that time, Long Beach has designated sixteen historic districts and fewer than one hundred structures as historic landmarks around the city. The Long Beach Heritage conducts walking tours in the downtown area.