The History of Long Beach
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo 1499 - 1543
Sailing in the ships San Salvador, Victoria, and San Miguel, Spanish
explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and his crew landed upon
the shores of what would eventually become Long Beach, California
50 years after Columbus discovered America. He named the area "Bahia
de los Fumos" - which translates to "Bay of Smokes".
Cabrillo witnessed plumes of smoke rising from the top of what we
know today as Signal Hill. The Native American Indians (Tongva)
who occupied the region used smoke signals as a form of communication
to those living on Santa Catalina Island (legend has it that Cabrillo
was buried there after dying from a fall on January 3, 1543).
Although Cabrillo's expedition to Alta California took place in
1542, Spain was not serious in gaining control of the discovered
coastal regions for another 200 years. Baja was their northwest
limit and where efforts to settle the land and convert the native
tribes to Christianity and the European way of life were unsuccessful.
Traveling north from Baja was treacherous and proved difficult.
Ocean currents and coastal winds were unfavorable and the Spanish
captains could not find safe harbors for their crafts. Spain did
not make a concerted effort to tackle this journey and colonize
Alta California until after the Seven Years War (1756-1763) when
European alliances along with their colonial empires were realigned.
In 1769, Spain set forth land and sea expeditions to Alta California
and established presidios (forts), missions, and pueblos (towns).
Land grants were given to start ranchos with the purpose of attracting
settlers and encouraging growth. In 1784, the largest Spanish land
grant of 300,000 acres was awarded to Manual Nieto. A land dispute
however, whittled the amount of land to almost half. Nieto's acreage
extended from the hills north of Whittier to the Pacific Ocean,
and from San Gabriel River (Los Angeles River) to the Santa Ana
River. "Rancho Los Nietos" was the first modern identity
for Long Beach. As time passed, the descendants divided the land
and eventually ended up with two ranchos - Los Cerritos and Los
After the collapse of the Spanish empire in 1821, Mexico (which
was one of their occupied territories) declared its independence
and claimed California. However, Californios had been self-sufficient
for so long that they simply never acknowledged nor had respect
for the governors sent from Mexico. Those with power were descendants
of the Spanish soldiers who were now owners of large and permanent
rancho land grants.
Manuel Nieto's daughter, Manuela Cota inherited Rancho Los Cerritos
- "Ranch of the Little Hills". After she passed away,
the Rancho was sold by her heirs in 1843 to John Temple from Massachusetts.
In 1844, Temple built a two-story Monterey-style adobe which served
as his headquarters for his large-scale cattle operation. In 1866,
Rancho Los Cerritos was sold to Lewellyn Bixby of Flint, Bixby &
This Adobe is an important exhibit of Spanish, Mexican and American
California history which portrays the transition of Southern California's
ranching beginnings to a modern and urban society. Today it is a
National, State and Long Beach Historic Landmark as well as a public
Rancho Los Alamitos Circa 1800 - 1834
Rancho Los Alamitos - "The Little Cottonwoods" or "Poplars"
was purchased in 1844 by Massachusetts native and Yankee merchant
"Don" Abel Stearns for use as a summer home. Stearns resided
in Los Angeles with his wife Arcadia who was from the wealthy Bandini
family. His father-in-law, Juan Bandini was an early leader and
one of the most prominent businessmen in Southern California during
his time. Bandini's fortune was made through farming, stock raising
and merchandising. He was also one of the leading rancho owners
in Mexican California.
Stearns was one of the largest landowners in Southern California,
a successful merchant with a lucrative business, cattle rancher,
politician, surveyor and one of the richest, well-respected and
important citizens in the town. Unfortunately, the worst drought
in Southern California which followed the series of severe flooding
during the winter of 1861 and 1862 brought misfortune to Stearns.
Cattle starved and died, there was an epidemic of smallpox and property
values plummeted in 'cow counties'.
The drought was financially devastating for Stearns. He lost control
of Los Alamitos, his favorite ranch. Stearns took a loan against
the ranch from Michael Reese and the property ended up in foreclosure.
Reese then leased the land in 1878 to Lewellyn Bixby's cousin John
Bixby Sheep Ranch
J. Bixby & Company, together with John Bixby and I.W. Hellman,
purchased Rancho Los Alamitos in 1881 and for the next 90 years,
the Bixby family which was one of the largest landowners of the
20th Century in Los Angeles area, occupied Los Alamitos. It would
later be referred to as the 'Bixby Ranch'.
In 1968, the city of Long Beach was granted the furnished ranch
house, six barns and gardens by the surviving trustees of the Bixby
Home Property Trust so that they could maintain and develop it as
a regional historic and educational facility.
In 1881, real estate developer William Erwin Willmore entered into
a lease provided by Jotham Bixby. The lease had an option to buy
4000 acres which was to be developed into a city and agricultural
community along the coast. The township of Willmore City was established
in 1882 and was promoted throughout the United States. Unfortunately,
the response was dismal and two years later, there were only about
a dozen homes.
In 1884, the Long Beach Land & Water company bought out Willmore's
lease option and the city was renamed Long Beach. Willmore's unique
design and layout of the city, however, was not discarded and the
extra wide streets and Lincoln Park are still in existence today.
The city of Long Beach was incorporated in July of 1887.
Long Beach Pier and Auditorium 1915
The few settlers in Long Beach choose to remain in the small town.
However, by 1887 and 1888, Long Beach experienced a great boom.
Railroad service was provided by Southern Pacific and the Santa
Fe Railway which brought in hordes of visitors to Long Beach, now
considered an established seaside resort. The real estate market
exploded and new developments throughout the city were well underway.
Over the years as the transit system continued to become more efficient,
growth remained steady and Long Beach prospered. Not only was the
city considered a resort, but by the early 1900s, it was also known
as a commercial center.
During the years between 1902 and 1910, Long Beach was the fastest
growing city in the United States. In 1897, the population was 1500
and within an area of three square miles. In 1914, the population
increased to 48,000, in 1954 it was 285,000 and today a population
of almost half a million are living within a 50 square mile area.
Pine Avenue 1920s
In 1911, the Port of Long Beach was officially in business. It has
grown from 800 acres of mudflats at the mouth of the Los Angeles
River to over 3,200 acres today. The Port of Long Beach is the second
busiest in the United States, the twelfth busiest container cargo
port in the world and it is a premier gateway for trade between
the United States and Asia.
Oil was discovered in Signal Hill in 1921 after several unsuccessful
drilling attempts and serious doubt it even existed in this location.
As a result, many became rich and Long Beach thrived. Signal Hill
field, which later became known as Long Beach field became the biggest
producer in Southern California and is recognized as producing more
oil per acre than anywhere else in the world.
On March 10, 1933, Long Beach experienced an earthquake with an
estimated magnitude of 6.25 on the Richter scale. Loss of life totaled
120 and damage was widespread throughout Southern California. Among
the many buildings severely damaged or destroyed were schools in
or near Long Beach. Specifically because of these structural failures
of unreinforced masonry schools, that the Field Act, which mandates
all school buildings must be earthquake-resistant, was passed. Downtown
Long Beach also suffered widespread damage and was rebuilt in Art
In 1941, The U.S. Naval base was constructed in the Long Beach Harbor.
Spruce Goose, Long Beach Harbor 1947
Howard Hughes' famous H-4 Hercules, nicknamed Spruce Goose
took off over the Long Beach Harbor in 1947 and made its first and
only flight. It flew for only one minute and traveled one mile at
an altitude of 70 feet. Hughes contributed $7 million of his own
money and an additional $18 million in government funds to build
this enormous cargo plane designed to transport up to 750 armed
troops or two 30-ton tanks during WWII. Due to complications, the
aircraft was not ready until after the war was over.
The Spruce Goose
was the world's largest airplane at the
time. It continues to hold the record as the largest flying boat,
largest wingspan, tallest airplane and the largest aircraft ever
made from wood.
In 1983, Hughes' massive creation was exhibited in the world's largest
geodesic dome adjacent to the Queen Mary
. However, in 1993,
the Spruce Goose
was moved to Evergreen Aviation in McMinnville,
Oregon where it is on display.
In 1949, California State University Long Beach was founded. Originally
named Los Angeles-Orange County State College, it offered 25 courses
which were taught in two apartment buildings. One year later, Long
Beach citizens voted unanimously to purchase 320 acres for a permanent
campus at a cost of one million dollars.
It is believed a portion of the campus is located on the site of
the ancient Tongva village and burial site recognized as Puvunga
which is an area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There were disputes over the land when the university attempted
to build a strip mall. A lawsuit was filed by the Tongva people
and a protest ensued. To date, this last undeveloped portion of
the campus remains untouched by builders.
California State University Long Beach is also known as Cal State
Long Beach, Long Beach State, LBSU, CSULB or simply The Beach. It
is the second largest campus in the California State University
system and has impressive reviews in these following publications:
U.S. News and World Report
's America's Best Colleges
Guide, The Princeton Review
and America's Best Value Colleges
RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor
One of Long Beach's most famous residents, the Queen
, is permanently docked in the Long Beach Harbor. The Queen
journey began in 1936 when it made its maiden
voyage from Southhampton, England to Cherbourg, France. The next
day the Queen Mary
continued its voyage across the North
Atlantic Ocean to Pier 90 in New York.
On December 11, 1967, the Queen Mary
from British registry after completing 1,001 crossings of the Atlantic
and officially turned over to the City of Long Beach.
This magnificent luxury cruise liner which is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places, is docked in the Long Beach Harbor.
It is a major tourist attraction, convention center and a first-class
In the mid-seventies, the control of downtown Long Beach redevelopment
was turned over to the city by the State Coastal Commission and
a multi-billion dollar redevelopment plan continued through 2000.
Many exciting changes were taking place. The first Long Beach Grand
Prix was held in 1977 through the streets of downtown. The winner,
Mario Andretti, became the first American to win a U.S. Grand Prix.
The race was as huge success and made news in Sports Illustrated
and the New York Times
as well as coverage in the local
and national media. This exciting event, now called the Toyota Grand
Prix of Long Beach continues today and is held every spring.
Long Beach Today
The Long Beach
opened in 1978, four Olympic events were held
during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and Southern California's largest
aquarium and the nation's fifth largest,
The Aquarium of the Pacific
opened in 1998. Long Beach is home
to the Congressional Cup, Transpac and Olympic trial races. New
retail development included Shoreline Village, The Pike and CityPlace.
Long Beach is recognized as a thriving waterfront destination for
tourists. This vibrant, world-class city features numerous attractions,
fabulous shopping districts, a beautiful Art Deco downtown, historic
buildings, recreational activities, festivals, Broadway shows, great
restaurants and terrific waterfront dining.