Street lamp restoration project brings back beauty from bygone era

cal-heights-lamp.jpgBy Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

Restoring a neighborhood to its original classic beauty doesn’t just increase property values; it gives residents a sense of pride and encourages them to do whatever it takes to keep their houses, yards, streets and sidewalks in the best of shape. With those things in mind, about eight years ago, the California Heights Neighborhood Association (CHNA) initiated a project to restore the area’s street lamps to the way they looked when they were installed in the 1920s.
Last week, the 36 lampposts along Orange Avenue between Wardlow and Bixby roads were restored. (That area is the only portion of Orange Avenue that runs through the California Heights District.)
“The restoration of a lamppost consists of replacing the globe with a long-lasting non-yellowing, unbreakable globe complete with the metal cage and top finial which matches what the lampposts had when they were first installed,” said Karen Highberger, a member of the CHNA Board of Directors, and the project’s coordinator.
She explained that a finial is the decorative ornamental top of the lamp cage. “Very few of the original tops remain, out of the approximately 280 old-style lamps in the neighborhood,” Highberger added.
In 2001, the Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association gave CHNA a $12,000 grant to fund the first phase of the restoration project. Twenty-three of the recent lamppost renovations on Orange Avenue were funded primarily with the proceeds raised from the last few years of CHNA’s annual home tour, and 13 homeowners sponsored the lampposts in front of their houses.
“It costs $600 to restore a lamppost,” Highberger noted. (CHNA’s most recent home tour took place last weekend, after the Orange Avenue phase was completed.)
“The board thought that this was an appropriate street to restore in total, since the Cal Heights mural is on the corner of Wardlow and Orange, the Cal Heights re-leaf committee planted new trees on Orange and Orange is the main artery into the neighborhood,” Highberger said. She noted that since the first phase of the project in 2001, a total of 60 lampposts have been restored.
Last week’s project was undertaken by City Power and Light, a private company that subcontracts with the City of Long Beach.
“We wanted the installation completed prior to the home tour so our residents could see the benefit from our fundraisers,” Highberger said. “It has been a slow process to restore the lampposts and we hope the sight of a fully restored Orange Avenue will encourage people to donate to the project and support our home tour.”
Highberger added that CHNA is waiting for city crews to paint the lampposts, and expects it to happen in the next few weeks. The posts will be painted a dark navy blue—the standard color citywide. She explained that the lampposts’ original color was grey-blue, but that color does not hold up as well as the darker version.
“Once we complete the restoration of the older posts, we hope to replace the newer streetlights from Walnut to Cherry Avenue with the original-style lampposts,” Highberger explained. “This is a very costly proposition, and we are researching grants to finance the project.” She explained that cast-aluminum replicas of the original lampposts cost $12,000 each. “This does not include the removal of the existing poles and installation of the new,” she added.
Highberger noted that the restoration project is a great benefit to the neighborhood. “To replace the old, yellowed, and sometimes cracked plastic globes with the beautiful new tops enhances the streetscape and provides a much nicer quality of light,” she said. “Now that Orange Avenue is done in its entirety, it’s easy to see the difference.”
She added that California Heights residents have worked hard over the years to improve the neighborhood by volunteering for a number of other projects including the mural, the historical house plaques, the historic district street signs and the tree plantings.
“It’s a great group of people who work very hard and spend many volunteer hours working on the various projects,” she said. “I am proud to be part of the organization and I am proud of what we have accomplished so far.”

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