Long Beach is recognized today as one the most ethnically diverse large cities in America, but that wasn’t always the case, says Julian DelGaudio, Ph.D., history professor at Long Beach City College (LBCC).
Historical census data shows that, starting in the 1940s, Long Beach was once considered “one of the whitest urban areas in the country,” with a racial makeup of more than 90 percent Caucasian, he said.
At the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War era, new jobs in war industries drew a flood of people into the area, spurring mass construction of housing in east Long Beach and Lakewood, DelGaudio said.
Defense contractors created a new population of workers that drove the need for new suburban homes, but private real-estate developers had certain protocols of just who could live there, often implementing “restrictive covenants” to prevent certain ethnicities, in those days considered minorities, from buying property, he said.
“If you were trying to buy on the east side and you were a minority, you basically weren’t allowed,” said DelGaudio, who further explained that, up until about the 1970s, the area of east Long Beach and Lakewood could be considered an “extraordinary model of racial purity.”
The subject is the basis for his latest research paper titled “War and Race in the Making of East Long Beach,” which DelGaudio plans to present during the third Long Beach Community Studies Conference scheduled for Saturday, April 26 at LBCC’s Liberal Arts Campus, building T-1200 at 4901 E. Carson St.
The Historical Society of Long Beach (HSLB) and LBCC’s community studies program, which DelGaudio helped to create, is organizing the conference that will feature a panel of presenters, covering an array of research about the area’s history. The deadline for submissions was Feb. 15.
This year’s conference, which has a theme titled “The City’s Neighborhoods Past & Present,” will be at LBCC’s newly remodeled campus after the last two conferences in 2010 and 2012 took place at the Historical Society of Long Beach. Past presenters included independent scholars, community researchers, faculty members, archivists, librarians and students.
“It’s really a dynamic conference and brings a lot of people together who are doing work and all contributing to history of the area,” said Julie Bartolotto, executive director of HSLB, who helped launch the conference.
DelGaudio, who moved to Lakewood in 1977 from the San Fernando Valley, decided in 2005 that he wanted to write a book about the history of Long Beach.
“One of the motivations behind launching this was that I decided that I wanted to know more about the community I live in,” he said.
In doing so, DelGaudio joined other faculty members to develop a community-based research program at LBCC with the goal of enabling honor students to research the local community. Delving into quality-of-life issues, the college students then presented their reports to the City Council, DelGaudio said.
Based on the success of the program, LBCC agreed to create a community-studies website, where researchers are allowed to publish their work online.
Since the program’s inception, students and faculty from such disciplines as sociology, political science, anthropology, history and economics have participated, he said.
“Our honors program is not a large program,” DelGaudio said. “We only have a couple hundred students, but we have a highly motivated student population there, and they are the most skilled students. This would be one way for us to offer them a more attentive curriculum that would be more appropriate for what we do in the program.”
Faculty and students have since been able to connect to different archives and museums in the area while making contacts with academics at Cal State Long Beach and other institutions, he said.
“We want to bring together a community of researchers, writers, academics and scholars to raise the level of analysis of our communities,” DelGaudio said.
Unlike some books on Long Beach history that are mainly “pictures with captions,” DeGaudio said he hopes to dig deeper into specific stories, striving for archived-based, detailed analysis of the documentary record.
For his latest research, DelGaudio’s next step is to visit Long Beach’s hall of records, where he expects to uncover deeds with restrictive covenants that once prohibited minorities from buying homes in east Long Beach.
“We really have two cities,” he said. “We have the east side, and we have the west side, and the populations of those two halves are quite distinct. So we’re trying to explain, historically, how that happened.”
So far, DelGaudio has discovered that before 1940 there were restrictive covenants in some areas of Long Beach, including the affluent Virginia Country Club neighborhood.
In one instance, he described how a black family was able to buy a house in the Bixby Knolls area and move into the neighborhood in the middle of the night. This enraged their white neighbors, who circulated a petition to have them kicked out since there wasn’t a restrictive covenant on the property, DelGaudio said.
Residents gathered hundreds of signatures and turned them into the City Council, hoping for an ordinance to prevent blacks from living there, but it was later determined that such an ordinance would have been a violation of the 14th Amendment, he said.
DelGaudio is co-authoring the book with retired LBCC history professor Craig Hendricks, Ph.D., who is also presenting a research paper at the conference.
This year, Hendricks is focusing research on Signal Hill, with a paper, called “Signal Hill: The Neighborhood that Got Away.” He said the research paper, which will later become a chapter on oil in the book, describes “three views from the Hill,” referring to three waves of economic growth that have shaped Signal Hill’s history.
Aside from the oil boom, which the city is most known for from 1921 to the 1960s, Hendricks touches on the fact that Signal Hill was once a major agricultural producer.
Before Signal Hill incorporated as its own city in 1924 to avoid being annexed by Long Beach, the area was first known for a cheese factory and farms of black berries, watermelons and cucumbers from the 1890s to 1920, he said.
Hendricks said Japanese-Americans and Mexican-Americans, who were eventually taken over by oil prospectors, did most of the farming on small, one-acre plots. The produce was then put on Pacific Electric red cars, which would then take it to the Southern Pacific Railroad for the East Coast.
After domestic oil production was surpassed by foreign oil, developers began looking at Signal Hill for commercial real-estate development because of its open land and scenic views. Thousands of condo units were built from 1965 to 1985, turning Signal Hill into a “very desirable real-estate market,” Hendricks said.
DelGaudio said such local research helps to shine light on how Long Beach and surrounding communities have changed throughout the years.
“It’s so ironic, because you see all these flips in terms of what Long Beach was and what Long Beach is,” he said. “And that’s a measure I think we can take pride in. This is a community that has undergone tremendous transformations.”