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EAST LONG BEACH’S DEVELOPMENT DURING WWII

By Monique Garcia


“As a city that started out in the late 1800s, it’s amazing how it’s changed over so much time in so many ways.” – Jen Malone, Research Manager at Historical Society of Long Beach.


Imagine it is December 7th, 1941. You have just heard about an attack on Pearl Harbor over the radio. You want to know more but over the next few hours any communication relating to your loved ones overseas stops.


Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Long Beach already had an established history with the U.S. Navy. As a port city, Long Beach was the home port to many naval ships, even before the war. A year earlier on April 1st, 1940, Navy men of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet had said goodbye and sailed from Long Beach to Hawaii on the order of President Roosevelt.


Many Long Beach residents were personally invested in the news that December morning. Hearing of the attack could mean a beloved father, brother, son, or neighbor was in danger hundreds of miles away. Due to security reasons, news from Pearl Harbor was strictly limited. The only source of information came from telegrams informing families of the death of their sons or husbands.


AFTERMATH OF PEARL HARBOR

Only a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first of many mandatory blackouts began for the residents of Long Beach. According to A Big Change for Long Beach: World War II Transforms the City by Julian DelGaudio and Craig Hendricks, residents were instructed to shut off any visible lights after dark in fear of air attacks. Even cars were told to drive with no or very dim headlights. Any visible lights found by the patrolling local police were subjected to a fine. These mandatory blackouts ironically led to an increased number of accidents, injuries, and damages.


In the following months, life in Long Beach drastically changed. A city once dedicated to fishing, shipping, oil, and tourist trade became a wartime industry city seemingly overnight. Long Beach would essentially become a fortress dedicated to national defense by producing wartime resources. The city played a vital role in World War II by supplying naval support, aircraft, and training facilities.


Life also changed on a day-to-day level. As their sons, husbands, and fathers served overseas, the women in Long Beach did anything they could to help the wartime effort. Many women began working in naval shipyards or plane plants during this period, as well as starting organizations to help families. Soon, Long Beach became a hub for women who wanted to do their part in the war as a “Rosie the Riveter.”


HEIGHTENED TENSIONS

“Residents from Santa Monica southward to Long Beach, covering a thirty-nine mile arc, watched from rooftops, hills and beaches as tracer bullets, with golden-yellowish tints, and shells like skyrockets offered the first real show of the Second World War on the United States mainland,” the New York Times published on February 26, 1942. As tensions heightened, people living in the United States grew more paranoid about possible attacks on their homes. Rumors spread that the enemy had reached our shores.


On February 25th, 1942, dozens of enemy airships were spotted in the sky. All around Long Beach, sirens began blaring and spotlights lit up the sky. According to the HISTORY Channel’s online website, by morning the Los Angeles’ anti-aircraft batteries had shot over 1,400 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition into the sky. Despite the multiple accounts of enemy plane sightings and attacks to the coast, no aircraft were ever shot down.


By the next day, people were confused to learn that there had been no enemy attack. In fact, the most damage done was from friendly fire. Looking back on it now, it seems like it was just a case of “trigger-happy” soldiers firing at an imaginary enemy. At first, I found this really surprising. In reality, it speaks to the level of worry and fear residents on the coast experienced during wartime.


POPULATION BOOM

According to the United States Census, the population would grow from 142,032 in 1930 to 250,767 in 1950. This population boom was due to thousands of people migrating from around the country in search of jobs and opportunity. Thousands of workers were needed for wartime plants like the Douglas Aircraft Company, the U.S. Naval Dry Docks, and the Roosevelt Base.


The need for workers in these wartime plants outweighed racial discrimination for skilled labor positions. For the first time, African Americans and Chicanos were able to apply for jobs that had previously been out of their reach. Before long, Long Beach had a major boom in its minority population growth.


HOUSING BOOM

The popularity of Long Beach grew even more as war heroes returned home from duty. Soon word began spreading about this dream-like beach city. Even farmers from the midwest were enchanted as they began packing their bags and moving to this beachside paradise.


In the decade after the war, Long Beach society experienced a jumpstart as veterans with GI Bill mortgages in their pockets came home looking to make up for lost time. Thousands of young men now had the means to invest in home ownership, higher education, and new hobbies.


Taking advantage of this opportunity, Lloyd Whaley and his Bixby associates dreamed up Los Altos, one of the nation’s largest planned communities. By 1949, he completed about 880 homes from Bellflower/Clark to Atherton/ Stearns.


Could you imagine buying your first home for $8,000-$10,000 with 4% financing? Even taking into account inflation over the years, the houses seemed like a steal.


By the end of the war, Long Beach had transformed into a large city with almost doubled population, the creation of new industries and more diverse demographics.


A special thanks to the Historical Society of Long Beach. Their help was integral to writing this article.

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