The City of Signal Hill turns 90 this year and will host an anniversary reception featuring historical displays, a birthday cake from Rossmoor Pastries, champagne and live jazz. Attendees will also have the opportunity to speak with the city’s nonagenarians, several of whom have been residents since the City was incorporated in 1924. The event will take place at 6pm on Tuesday, April 22 at the Signal Hill Park Community Center, 1780 E Hill St.
The anniversary reception is one of two events planned to celebrate the City’s 90th birthday. The second event, a festival in the park, will take place from 2pm to 8pm on Saturday, June 21.
Councilmember Lori Woods has been in charge of putting together the City’s anniversary festivities. She said that the event on Tuesday will be casual.
Woods did not describe an event that will include a sit-down dinner. Instead, she opted for standing cocktail tables throughout the community center to “create an atmosphere where people will want to mingle and share their stories of their time in Signal Hill,” she said.
Woods and Mayor Edward Wilson will open the reception by introducing the city’s nonagenarians, who will answer questions about their lives in Signal Hill. Then, there will be a cake-cutting and an opportunity for attendees to socialize. Residents will also be offered a commemorative item that they can take home.
But the main focus of the event will be the historical displays located down the middle of the community center. Long tables topped with a cross-section of the City’s history, copies of yellowing photographs and documents will be arranged by decade.
As they move through the walking timeline, attendees will be encouraged to “pick up, touch, read and discuss” the historic items on display, Woods said. Some original artifacts will be sealed behind display cases at the event, but Woods said it was important to her that the majority of the displays be interactive.
“I’ve had the privilege of handling these archives, of scanning them, of reading through them, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Woods said. “I wanted to make sure that other residents are able to enjoy that same experience that I’ve had.”
Woods said that this process has been good practice for planning for the City’s centennial celebration in 10 years, as well as for her own future with the City Council.
“This project has given me, as a brand-new councilmember, first-hand knowledge of what it takes to get something done in the City,” Woods said. “It has been a very fun activity to discover the ins and outs of City Hall.”
Woods has been in charge of organizing the City’s 90th anniversary events since May of last year. During Council budget talks, she first suggested that they allocate “enough funds to plan something for the City,” Woods said.
“In a way, I was kind of self-appointed because I was the one who brought up the subject, who made sure it was in the budget, and I showed the most interest,” she said.
For Woods, it was imperative to come up with a mission statement for the anniversary planning process, she said. Her motivation was not just to observe the City’s birthday, but also to celebrate the challenges that the City has recently faced– coming out of the recession and closing out redevelopment were two, she said.
“There is a lot to celebrate,” Woods said. “We survived all of those bullets, so to speak.”
It’s also important to use the event to promote local businesses and to foster a better sense of community identity, she said.
“We have a unique identity and geography,” Woods said. “I think we need to celebrate that, recognize our accomplishments and also recognize that we are an entity outside of Long Beach. The more we distinguish ourselves from the greater metropolis around us, the more aware the residents will be of how valuable it is to support our own community.”
Then, the next step for Woods was asking for help.
Over the last few months, Woods contacted all of the department heads of the City and gave them an overview of the kind of archival information she was looking for. Since then, she has been going through City archives, as well as the personal collections of long-time residents.
She was also granted access to a professional flatbed scanner to help collect and digitize her findings, including the City’s original incorporation papers retrieved from City Hall.
“We’re also coming across all the City’s financial records that were published from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, and while we’re not going to digitize everything, eventually we can,” Woods said.
Woods said that some of the most interesting documents that she found were resident petitions– documents full of old signatures that ask the City for anything from putting up a new street sign to prohibiting residents from keeping their goats in the back yard.
“There are a lot of really interesting things I’ve found sorting through the archives,” Woods said. “I’ve found some things that are funny and some things that are really not politically correct anymore, and those are the things that I’m going to highlight, find again and put on display.”
Woods said that petitions had become very important to residents. “It was just kind of a turning point in the history of the city,” she said, referring to a time when citizens were ready for “a nice, quiet neighborhood.”
Community Services Director Pilar Alcivar-McCoy and her staff have been assisting Woods with planning the anniversary events. She also has been sorting through old photographs and historical documents.
Alcivar-McCoy said she found a heavy book about four inches thick from the 1920s. Inside are alphabetical tabs organizing the personnel records for the City. A person’s name is listed, when they were hired, general information about the position they held and then a letter grade– the results of employee evaluations.
“I found it fascinating to think about,” Alcivar-McCoy said. “Wow, this is a city employee that did a job similar to what I do, and it has just been fun to speculate what kind of city it was, and what it was like working here 70, 80, 90 years ago. The city has a long history.”
Alcivar-McCoy and Woods said they are still collecting photos and documents.
For more information or to RSVP, call (562) 989-7330.