Alamitos Heights

Alamitos Heights History

August 2000

by Claudine Burnett
Long Beach Public Library

Long Beach, which started in 1881, grew slowly until 1902, a pivotal year in Long Beach history. The announcement of the coming of the Pacific Electric railway set off a tremendous real estate boom along the proposed routes. Along these routes various housing tracts sprang up on former farmland, including Alamitos Heights. Actual development of Alamitos Heights and Alamitos Bay Peninsula took place together. Part of the Heights area was developed by George Hart. This is how he described his development in the Evening Tribune (May 23, 1904):

“I have looked over every beach resort along this California coast, and I have never seen one equal to this. Without desiring to disparage other similar places I candidly believe it to be the best natural location for what we shall make of it than can be pointed out anywhere in the golden State. That San Gabriel River pouring into the bay was a revelation to me. It seems to have been so to many others. I inquired of a resident close by as to how far up the bay it was navigable, and was assured that there is always good boating six miles up, with no obstructions intervening. We claim that, with such facilities as we shall provide for them, hundreds of people not yet settled at any ocean resort will readily flock to Vista Del Mar (the name of the development) and gladly make that place their seaside paradise.”

The true “father” of Alamitos Heights, however was Frank Shaw. In 1904, real estate promoter Shaw bought 160 acres of Alamitos Heights from the owners of the Rancho Alamitos for $150 ($2700 in today’s money) an acre. Having invested around $25,000 ($450,000), he subdivided the tract into twenty-five and fifty-foot lots. Fifty-foot lots started out at $750 ($14,000) and went as high as $1750 ($32,000) by 1906. The smaller lots started at $125 ($2200) and went to $300 ($5400). Shaw was quite a promoter, he sent up toy balloons with deeds attached. When people came to claim the land from the deeds, Shaw would charge them an administrative fee worth the price of the lot.

At that time the best way to approach Alamitos Heights was by water. Though it was only five miles from Long Beach, it was quite a drive to get there by horse and buggy. The Sprite, manned by Shaw’s partner Lee Judson, brought up to 75 passengers at a time up the channel from the ocean. The ten miles of channels off the bay gave prospective buyers the chance to see the Heights to their best advantage.

Railroad magnate Henry Huntington was also involved in development around Alamitos Bay. He was planning “Villa Carita”, a resort with cottages, houseboats and tents. He had big plans for the Alamitos Bay district which included dredging channels in the several thousand acres of tidelands between the bay proper and Alamitos Heights. With the dug up dirt he would build islands, each of which would be large enough for the construction of what newspapers of the day referred to as a “magnificent residence.” Huntington also planned to create a business town on the Heights back of the bay.

Property in Alamitos Heights started taking off in 1904 (Naples in 1905). Lots could be had for $125 dollars ($2250), with terms of $5 ($90) cash, $1 ($18) per week. It was advertised that they had water to spare, plenty for irrigation and for homes. It was also a center of transportation - the Los Angeles-San Diego Trunk Line of the Pacific Electric crossed Alamitos Bay at this point.

Then came 1906, and the devastating San Francisco earthquake. All real estate development in Southern California came to a halt, as money was redirected northward to rebuilt San Francisco. It wasn’t until after World War I that real estate sales picked up again in Southern California.

However, much of present day Alamitos Heights was annexed to Long Beach in 1909 as part of Belmont Heights. Few people realize that Belmont Heights was once a separate city. Promoters in the Belmont Heights region convinced others that their area would be better off as a separate city, if it were it would qualify for County funds to build roads. They assured residents that liquor would continue to be banned. Alcohol was quite an issue back then; cities were either dry (such as Long Beach) or wet (such as Naples). On October 1, 1908 the residents of Belmont & Alamitos Heights voted to create their own city of Belmont Heights (a city nicknamed “Spite City” by those in Long Beach who were against the move).

The real reasons for the new city became apparent three weeks after the election, when Belmont Heights officials voted to become a recreation center -- one that would compete with Long Beach’s Pike. This was a surprise to the citizens of the new community -- they began to suspect that the true purpose of creating a separate city was to allow alcohol. It turned out they were right. Word leaked out that a Los Angeles company was going to build a dance hall offering alcoholic refreshments right in the center of the town. There were also plans for a hotel which would serve alcohol. Belmont Heights residents were outraged. They had been lied to and deceived by their city officials.

On January 8, 1909, over fifty citizens met to draft a new disincorporation petition. They had written one before, but their city council chose to ignore it. But this time the citizens appealed to the California State Supreme Court which ruled that Belmont Heights officials had to hold an election and let the citizens decide the fate of their town. On November 9, 1909 they decided to disincorporate and join Long Beach. In return Long Beach agreed to give the community fire and police protection, streetlights, roads, and their own pier - Belmont Pier. Thereafter the district became known as East Long Beach.

One of the favorite spots of residents in East Long Beach was a towering grove of eucalyptus trees at 11th and Obispo, it was a perfect spot for a picnic, giving shade and an eye-filling view of the countryside to the Whittier Hills and farther towards Mount Baldy. But soon a real park developed in East Long Beach and Alamitos Heights--Recreation Park. Started in 1909 as the exclusive country club for the luxurious Hotel Virginia in downtown Long Beach (considered one of the five great hotels of the West), the Virginia Country Club, as it came to be called, also included a limited number of local memberships. The initiation fee was $25 ($450) and the monthly dues were $2.50 ($45). A ten-year lease was obtained from the Alamitos Land Company. The lease included a lake, the promise of the Alamitos Land Company to build a $10,000 ($180,000) clubhouse, golf course, stables and garages. The arrival of the country club brought further development to Alamitos Heights. However, in 1919, the lease was up. The board of the Virginia Country Club decided to purchase 125 acres of land adjacent to the old adobe of the Rancho Los Cerritos. What happened to the land vacated by the country club? It was turned into a city park. On June 10, 1922, the grounds of the former Virginia Country Club were opened to the public as Recreation Park.

Long Beach officials envisioned the 250-acre park as a rival to San Francisco’s great Golden Gate Park. Their idea was to dredge the inlet which ran from Alamitos Bay toward Recreation Park. The new state highway, Pacific Coast Highway, was to run through the park, making Recreation Park accessible to citizens from all over Southern California. The new highway and park brought more growth to the area. In October 1926 four model homes opened just north of Recreation Park. Called “Mountain View Heights” because of the unobstructed view of the mountains on the north, the tract was zoned for thirty houses. The new Woodrow Wilson High School and Bryant Grammar School were only four blocks away and the Anaheim Street bus line was nearby. The four model homes were all of Spanish style stucco with red tile roofs. Two were finished with oak flooring and ready for occupancy. Innovations in the houses included built-in sanitary garbage receptacles in the sink and breakfast rooms or nooks. Ample light sockets, generous closet space, linen closets, fireplaces, built-in buffets and showers over the large bath tubs were a few of the advantages. Each home had two bedrooms, and in the two-story bungalow there was a third room which could serve as an extra bedroom. Forty-foot lots could be purchased for as low as $1450 ($14,435) with the houses starting at $2500 ($23,000).

As previously mentioned, there was a tremendous real estate slump after the 1906 earthquake, in fact Alamitos Heights founder Frank Shaw ended up committing suicide because of financial problems. Earlier, his sanity had been questioned at a trial -- the only reason for the trial being his faith that the Alamitos Heights area could be successfully developed. But by 1920 development of Alamitos Bay was in full swing again, and that marshy area between Alamitos Bay and Alamitos Heights was filled in to create the community we know as Belmont Shore. This is how an article in the Long Beach Press described the area in November 1923:

“Those who held onto their property on Alamitos Heights during the real estate slump see it now as the future exclusive ultra-restricted residence district of the city -- a Montecito, or a Beverly Hills. The highest elevation of the heights is ninety-two feet, which is close to the site where Clyde Doyle, prominent attorney, will build a $22,000 ($190,000) Spanish style home next spring. Irregular slopes and elevations add much to the hillside architecture. The hill stands out, not so much by reason of its height, but because its foot slopes rapidly down to tide water level on the west and south. This level within a few months will become a developed city park (Recreation Park) with a 1200-foot lake on the immediate west and a channel 80 feet wide and a half-mile long. To the northwest side are the municipal golf course & the picturesque eucalyptus grove of Recreation Park.

The city has already made ambitious plans for the development of park thoroughfares in which the heights will directly benefit. Colorado Street will cross the channel on a viaduct beneath which will be the dam that will impound the proposed lake lying north of it.

A quarter of a mile further north, Sixth Street will cross the same channel, which then will be the north limit of the lake, and will continue on to Manila avenue, to be a 60-foot boulevard on the east side of the heights.

Seventh Street, it is planned, will also cut directly through the park and across the tract. Provision will be made for a road extending Fourth Street around the lake and cutting it up again with a continuation of the street through the tract.

The Alamitos Heights Improvement association, which at the present time is made up of about 35 property owners, has arranged that the district be included in the Naples - Alamitos Bay -State Street annexation election called for November 9th. If approved Long Beach will proceed to lay sidewalks and curbs, and to oil and gravel the six miles of laid-out streets in the tract and to restore the ten-year-old water mains now in a sad state of dilapidation. In this connection, the district has arranged for telephone conduits underground and gas extensions, both in the alleys.

The heights are bounded on the north and northwest by Hathaway Avenue (PCH today), plans for the development of which call for an 80 foot boulevard into State Street with which it connects.”

The 14 lots, advertised as Lakeview Terrace, began sales in January 1924 with parcels starting at $5000 (about $48,000 in today’s dollars). But things were to change--on June 23, 1921 oil was discovered on Signal Hill. A rush for oil and wealth began immediately. In 1926 it appeared that Alamitos Heights was a good prospect for black gold. Lots that had sold for $5000 ($48,000) two years earlier were snapped up for $80,000 ($742,000) or more. Though some locals tried to keep out the oil interests, they were not successful. In 1927 all of Alamitos Heights was open for oil drilling. Most people avoided settling in the area because it was continually sprayed by oil from successful wells. However, by 1931, as the oil boom slowed, homes began to be built in the area once again. During the depression and World War II little housing was built anywhere, but in the 1950’s a housing boom hit all of America. It was during this time that many of the homes in the section of the Heights near 7th St. and Bellflower Blvd. were constructed. Since then, oil and homes have lived side by side, but gradually oil is losing out to housing.

Posted by davep on 12/19/2006
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