History That Made Long Beach

Long Beach is one of California’s few major cities located on the coast–San Diego and San Francisco are the others. Home to one of the world’s busiest ports and industries like aerospace and healthcare, it is also made up of dozens of unique neighborhoods rich with history and character. Here’s a look at some of the unique historic factors and events that played a role in shaping what Long Beach is today.


Thousands of years ago, the Los Angeles Basin was known by Indigenous people as Tovangaar, with around 100 villages in the region. The most significant, Puvunga, is on the site of present-day Long Beach. Spanish colonists divided the land into Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos. In the 1880s, William Wilmore was the first developer to build homes and a school here, giving it the name Wilmore City. When the city was incorporated in 1897, locals voted to name it Long Beach after the miles-long stretch of sand on its waterfront.



Oil was discovered in Long Beach in 1921 and soon the city’s inland horizon was flush with oil derricks, especially on Signal Hill. The Los Angeles Basin went on to produce one-fifth of the nation’s oil in the 1920s. A construction boom followed in the Downtown Long Beach area at a pace of $1 million spent per month. Today, oil is still being drilled in Long Beach, including on four offshore oil islands.



Throughout its history, Long Beach has built structures on its waterfront, from piers to the port. What surprises some to learn is that everything below Ocean Boulevard in Downtown Long Beach–including Shoreline Village, Rainbow Lagoon, and the Aquarium of the Pacific–sits on land that was filled in during the second half of the last century. Shoreline Village was built in the 1980s and the Aquarium of the Pacific opened in 1998.

About the Author
Claire Atkinson
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