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By Sarah Teran

Most people would agree: Reaching the 100-year mark is a big deal. This is true whether you’re talking about a person, a business, or even a city! 

This year marks 100 years since Signal Hill incorporated to become its own city. And while that is young by other cities’ standards, enough has happened in its 2.2 square mile radius to fill an entire history book!

Every good birthday toast includes a little backstory to set the stage. So let’s start ours with a quick history lesson! 


Signal Hill has never been one to shy away from reinventing itself. Over the centuries, the area has gone through some dramatic transformations, each era very different from the next!

Lomo Sental

In the beginning, the native Tongva tribe of the Greater Los Angeles Basin used the hill to send smoke signals to other tribes on Catalina Island. Starting in the 16th century, Spanish colonizers began to arrive. Noting the Tongva smoke signals, they named the hill Lomo Sental (or Signal Hill). In 1784, King Carlos III of Spain granted possession of the area to Manuel Nieto, who split it into a number of ranchos; Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos encompassed modern-day Signal Hill. The land was used primarily for agriculture, but by the 1900s, Signal Hill’s landscape had made cameos in a number of silent western films, and wealthy families began to build luxurious estates on the hillside overlooking the ocean.

Porcupine Hill

Oil prospecting was on the rise in the first part of the 1900s, but Union Oil’s first drilling attempt in 1917 turned up dry. In 1921, however, Royal Dutch Shell Oil tried their luck and struck black gold at the Alamitos #1 Well near Temple Avenue and Hill Street. Oil sprayed over 100 feet into the air! (Alamitos #1 would go on to produce over 700,000 barrels of oil!) After word got out, nothing could stop the huge influx of prospectors. People who had purchased land to build homes decided instead to drill, and many even made a lot of money on their investment! Before long, there were more derricks than homes, and the area was dubbed “Porcupine Hill.” By 1923, Signal Hill was producing ¼ of the world’s oil!

The City of Signal Hill

In 1924, Signal Hill residents, concerned about overdrilling, pollution, and high taxation on oil by the City of Long Beach, voted to incorporate. The new city’s first mayor was “The Mother of Signal Hill,” Mrs. Jessie Nelson. The Signal Hill oil field produced over 1 billion barrels of oil by 1984, and oil production continues to this day. However, with declining oil prices in the 1970s, the Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency was formed to focus on development beyond oil production. Today, 60% of Signal Hill is occupied by industrial manufacturers and other businesses. 

Over the centuries, people came to Signal Hill to explore and conquer, to build luxurious estates overlooking the ocean, or to try their luck in the oil business. It continues to grow and thrive outside of oil. And you still can’t beat the view. 

To our neighbor, Signal Hill: Cheers to 100 years! (And many more…)


Signal Hill’s Centennial Celebration Event on April 27th was the official kick-off for the city’s birthday celebration, complete with a color fun run, food, music, and entertainment. But that was only the beginning! Events, programs, and activities are happening all-year to commemorate Signal Hill’s milestone anniversary. Here are some highlights!

100 Trees for 100 Years

Sponsor a tree to honor a loved one in celebration of Signal Hill’s 100 years! You can choose a planting zone and even the species of tree based on the size and conditions of your planting area!

Celebrating Centenarians

Not only is Signal Hill turning 100 this year, but some of its residents are too! These community members who have “grown up with” the city will be recognized in a future City Council meeting. Know anyone in Signal Hill who is celebrating their 100th birthday? Nominate them for recognition!

Model-T Ceremonial Hill Climb and Open House

From about 1956-1979 (dates are disputed), crowds gathered every year along Hill Street to watch local daredevils race their Ford Model Ts up “Southern California’s own Mount Everest” (as described in a 1973 Press-Telegram article). This year’s ceremonial climb on Sunday, September 20th, is the first official climb since the races of yesteryear. A few Model Ts will make their way up the hill (this time with proper safety precautions and lane closures!), followed by a presentation by one of the original ‘70s racers and an exhibit of different Model T vehicles. Get there early and bring a chair!

Signal Hill Time Capsule

The history of a city is really a tapestry of each of its residents’ histories woven together. Signal Hill residents are encouraged to submit their stories about the city to be memorialized during the Tree Lighting and Centennial Time Capsule Installation on November 20th! 


Head to Signal Hill Park on Wednesday evenings for Signal Hill’s Summer Concert Series and toast to their 100 years to a great soundtrack! Check out the concert dates on the LB908 Event Calendar.

To learn more about centennial celebration, visit: 



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