Community Development

Long Beach History

The history of the land we know today as Long Beach dates back to the 1500s, when Native Americans occupied the area. It was famously coined as the “Bay of the Smokes” by Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who observed the native peoples’ ancient communication method of sending smoke signals at the hilltop we now call Signal Hill. In the late 1700s, the Spanish-owned land was rewarded to two Spanish soldiers and thus divided to become Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos. The first homes and school were built by developer William Wilmore in the 1880s, who named the area Wilmore City. Soon after, the growing population voted to incorporate the city and rename it the City of Long Beach.

The discovery of oil in Long Beach and Signal Hill in 1921 triggered a rapid growth, with a million-dollar-per-month construction boom in Downtown. It also helped establish the town as a popular seaside resort and port city, with the boardwalk entertainment area known as The Pike attracting many visitors. This lucrative growth was stymied, however, when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in 1933 hit the downtown area, taking 120 lives and costing $50 million in damage. This tragedy gave birth to the California Field Act of 1933, which requires earthquake-resistant design and construction for all public schools. Surviving buildings from that era have been designated in 18 historic districts, with around a hundred structures designated as historic landmarks. For information on walking tours of historic districts in the city, contact the Long Beach Heritage