Signal Hill turns the big 90 next month, and the City will commemorate its milestone with festivities throughout the year.
The public is invited to a birthday celebration and open house at the Signal Hill Park Community Center on April 22, the day Signal Hill was officially incorporated as a city nine decades prior.
“This is a reason to celebrate, create community and get to know our neighbors more,” said Signal Hill Councilmember Lori Woods, who is part of an ad-hoc committee, along with Parks and Recreation Commission members Carmen Brooks and Ken Davis, to develop and organize the activities.
During a community meeting near City Hall on Wednesday, March 5, Woods said people can still volunteer to help sort through artifacts as well as assist in other areas. The City is also seeking historical documents, photos, news articles and any other memorabilia for a new permanent historical display that will be featured during the celebration.
She added that the exhibition will be a surprise for the community when finished.
“I’m resisting to give any more information,” Woods said.
Signal Hill is most famous for its rich oil history that began in 1921, when the first “gusher” was discovered at Alamitos Well #1. Nearly three years later, Signal Hill, which was once an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, officially became a city in 1924 as a way to avoid Long Beach’s per-barrel tax on oil, according to the City’s website.
Throughout the years, Signal Hill became one of the richest oil fields in the world and was once called “Porcupine Hill” for the many oil derricks that dotted the land. It produced 1 billion barrels of oil by 1984, the website states.
But oil is not the City’s only claim to fame. After oil production declined in the 1970s, Signal Hill, named after the hilltop being use by Tongva Indians to send smoke signals, became a premiere real-estate market in Southern California for luxurious homes with ocean and landscape views.
Also legendary was Shell Hill, now known as Hill Street, which once provided a steep incline for the famous Model-T Hill Climb, in which vintage Ford cars drove up the hill. The sharp hill was also the site for the Signal Hill Speed Run, a downhill skateboarding competition from 1975 to 1978 that became world renowned.
This year, as part of Signal Hill’s birthday celebration, the community will recognize residents who were born in the 1920s and 1930s.
“I used to run around this hill as a kid. And then I got wise, and my mother cut that out,” said 89-year-old Keaton King, who has lived in his home near City Hall for 57 years and was once a Signal Hill councilmember and mayor.
The longtime resident reminisced during the community meeting last week about the famous Hancock Oil Refinery Fire that occurred on May 22, 1958, nearly a year after he bought his home on 15th Street and Legion Avenue. He said winds blew oil-filled clouds clear to the Santa Ana River, leaving rooftops, lawns, cars and clothes hanging out to dry covered in the black tar.
“It rained oil,” King said. “I mean, big drops of oil… They spent millions and millions of dollars re-roofing houses.”
Another part of Signal Hill’s history includes the creation of the City’s Redevelopment Agency in 1974 that helped form major commercial development, filling up vast empty lots with tax-revenue-rich mega stores, shopping centers and auto dealers.
King, who had served as a planning commissioner, was the first chairman of the Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency, which was abolished by the State nearly two years ago.
Without the agency, he said, Signal Hill wouldn’t be what it is today, adding that the property-tax increment funds were the City’s main economic-development tool to incentivize commercial expansion by paying for costly oil-well cleanups.
“You can’t afford to clean up a lot that’s had an oil well on it and build something on it because it’s too expensive,” King said.
During the community meeting, Woods said she hopes to uncover more of the untold history about Signal Hill as she shared a story in which residents once petitioned the City Council to ban goats in the city, declaring them a public nuisance.
“This is just one of many things that we’re finding that’s really great and fascinating,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
The City has set aside $9,000 from its Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget for the anniversary celebration, which is seen by some city officials as a trial run for the City’s 100th Anniversary in 10 years. Woods said one of the City’s goals in organizing the events is to promote Signal Hill businesses.
Aside from the birthday party next month, Signal Hill is planning a picnic and carnival on June 21. The event will include dance performances, old-fashioned family-style games, music, contests, historic vehicles and a movie in the park with a showing of the documentary film Signal Hill Speed Run, which debuted last year.
Some activities will go along with ongoing events but will have a 90th-anniversary theme, such as a Roaring ‘20s at Concerts in the Park on July 23, a Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce Mixer on Sept. 11 and an Old-Fashioned Tree Lighting at Discovery Well Park on Dec. 3.
Additionally, the City is organizing a student art and essay contest in which Signal Hill elementary- and middle-school students and other residents age 5 to 13 will write an essay and make art with the theme, “What I love about Signal Hill.” The contest will be conducted in September and October.