Long Beach is a city on the Pacific Coast of the United States, within the Los Angeles metropolitan area of Southern California. It is the 39th most populous city in the United States and the 7th most populous in California, with a population of 462,257 in 2010. A charter city, it is the second largest city in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and the third largest in Southern California behind Los Angeles and San Diego.
Incorporated in 1897, Long Beach lies in the southeastern corner of Los Angeles County and borders Orange County. Downtown Long Beach is approximately 22 miles (35 km) south of downtown Los Angeles, though the two cities share an official border for several miles. The Port of Long Beach is the second busiest container port in the United States and is among the world’s largest shipping ports. The city is over an oilfield with minor wells both directly beneath the city as well as offshore. The aerospace industry continues to play an important role.
Indigenous people have lived in coastal Southern California for over 10,000 years, and several successive cultures have inhabited the present-day area of Long Beach. By the 16th-century arrival of Spanish explorers, the dominant group was the Tongva people. They had at least three major settlements within the present-day city. Tevaaxa’anga was an inland settlement near the Los Angeles River, while Ahwaanga and Povuu’nga were coastal villages. Along with other Tongva villages, they were forced to relocate in the mid-19th century due to missionization, political change, and a drastic drop in population from exposure to European diseases.
In 1784 the Spanish Empire‘s King Carlos III granted Rancho Los Nietos to Spanish soldier Manuel Nieto. The Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos were divided from this territory. The boundary between the two ranchos ran through the center of Signal Hill on a southwest to northeast diagonal. A portion of western Long Beach was originally part of the Rancho San Pedro. Its boundaries were in dispute for years, due to flooding changing the Los Angeles River boundary, between the ranchos of Juan Jose Dominguez and Manuel Nieto.
In 1843 Jonathan Temple bought Rancho Los Cerritos, having arrived in California in 1827 from New England. He built what is now known as the “Los Cerritos Ranch House“, a still-standing adobe which is a National Historic Landmark. Temple created a thriving cattle ranch and prospered, becoming the wealthiest man in Los Angeles County. Both Temple and his ranch house played important local roles in the Mexican–American War. On an island in the San Pedro Bay, Mormon pioneers made an abortive attempt to establish a colony (as part of Brigham Young‘s plan to establish a continuous chain of settlements from the Pacific to Salt Lake).
Long Beach pier, 1905
In 1866 Temple sold Rancho Los Cerritos for $20,000 to the Northern California sheep-raising firm of Flint, Bixby & Co, which consisted of brothers Thomas and Benjamin Flint and their cousin Lewellyn Bixby. Two years previous Flint, Bixby & Co had also purchased along with Northern California associate James Irvine, three ranchos which would later become the city that bears Irvine’s name. To manage Rancho Los Cerritos, the company selected Lewellyn’s brother Jotham Bixby, the “Father of Long Beach”. Three years later Bixby bought into the property and would later form the Bixby Land Company. In the 1870s as many as 30,000 sheep were kept at the ranch and sheared twice yearly to provide wool for trade. In 1880, Bixby sold 4,000 acres (16 km2) of the Rancho Los Cerritos to William E. Willmore, who subdivided it in hopes of creating a farm community, Willmore City. He failed and was bought out by a Los Angeles syndicate that called itself the “Long Beach Land and Water Company.” They changed the name of the community to Long Beach, at that time.
The City of Long Beach was officially incorporated in 1897.
Long Beach boardwalk, 1907
Worker filling cans with tuna at Los Angeles Cannery Co. in Long Beach, undated photo by John Nathan Cobb
The town grew as a seaside resort with light agricultural uses. The Pike was the most famous beachside amusement zone on the West Coast from 1902 until 1969; it offered bathers food, games and rides, such at the Sky Wheel dual Ferris wheel and Cyclone Racer roller coaster. Gradually the oil industry, Navy shipyard and facilities and port became the mainstays of the city. In the 1950s it was referred to as “Iowa by the sea,” due to a large influx of people from that and other Midwestern states. Huge picnics for migrants from each state were a popular annual event in Long Beach until the 1960s.
Another Bixby cousin, John W. Bixby, was influential in the city. After first working for his cousins at Los Cerritos, J.W. Bixby leased land at Rancho Los Alamitos. He put together a group: banker I.W. Hellman, Lewellyn and Jotham Bixby, and him, to purchase the rancho. In addition to bringing innovative farming methods to the Alamitos (which under Abel Stearns in the late 1850s and early 1860s was once the largest cattle ranch in the US), J.W. Bixby began the development of the oceanfront property near the city’s picturesque bluffs. Under the name Alamitos Land Company, J.W. Bixby named the streets and laid out the parks of his new city. This area would include Belmont Heights, Belmont Shore and Naples; it soon became a thriving community of its own. J.W. Bixby died in 1888 of apparent appendicitis. The Rancho Los Alamitos property was split up, with Hellman getting the southern third, Jotham and Lewellyn, the northern third, and J.W. Bixby’s widow and heirs keeping the central third. The Alamitos townsite was kept as a separate entity, but at first, it was primarily run by Lewellyn and Jotham Bixby, although I.W, Hellman (who had the largest single share) had a significant veto power, an influence made even stronger as the J.W. Bixby heirs began to side with Hellman more and more.
When Jotham Bixby died in 1916, the remaining 3,500 acres (14 km2) of Rancho Los Cerritos was subdivided into the neighborhoods of Bixby Knolls, California Heights, North Long Beach and part of the city of Signal Hill.
Oil field in Long Beach, 1920
Oil was discovered in 1921 on Signal Hill, which split off as a separately incorporated city shortly afterward. The discovery of the Long Beach Oil Field, brought in by the gusher at the Alamitos No. 1 well, made Long Beach a major oil producer; in the 1920s the field was the most productive in the world. In 1932, the even larger Wilmington Oil Field, fourth-largest in the United States, and which is mostly in Long Beach, was developed, contributing to the city’s fame in the 1930s as an oil town.
The M6.4 1933 Long Beach earthquake caused significant damage to the city and surrounding areas, killing a total of 120 people. Most of the damage occurred in unreinforced masonry buildings, especially schools. Pacific Bible Seminary (now known as Hope International University) was forced to move classes out of First Christian Church of Long Beach and into a small local home due to damage.
Long Beach is located at 33° 47′ North, 118° 10′ West, about 20 miles (32 km) south of downtown Los Angeles. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 51.437 square miles (133.2 km2), of which 50.293 square miles (130.3 km2) is land and 1.144 square miles (2.96 km2) (2.22%) is water. Long Beach completely surrounds the city of Signal Hill.