Bell is an incorporated city in Los Angeles County, California, near the center of San Antonio Township. Its population was 35,477 at the 2010 census, down from 36,664 in the 2000 census. Bell is located on the west bank of the Los Angeles River and is a suburb of the city of Los Angeles. At , Bell is number thirteen in the list of the 25 smallest cities in the United States that have a population of at least 25,000 (ranked from smallest to largest in area).
In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Bell's land area at 1245 out of 1257 cities (defined as incorporated areas) and two unincorporated areas that had a population of at least 25,000 in year 2000. Ten cities in the list of 1267 cities had no land area data (e.g., Goleta, California).
City residents voted to become a charter city in a special municipal election on November 29, 2005. Fewer than 400 voters turned out for that special election. More than half of those votes were dubiously obtained absentee votes.
The area comprising the city of Bell has a Native American history dating back thousands of years. The Gabrieliño Indians migrated to the place now called Bell in 500 B.C. Spaniards have been living in this area of California since the mid-16th century. Among the early Spanish settlers was one of California’s first families, the Lugos. While stationed at Mission San Antonio de Padua near Salinas, California, Francisco Lugo’s first California son, Antonio Maria Lugo was born in 1775. That son became Don Antonio Maria Lugo, Spanish aristocrat and soldier, who settled on 30,000 acres of land that encompasses what is now the city of Bell. In 1810, the King of Spain formally granted the land to Lugo as a reward for his military service. Lugo also became the mayor of a little town called Los Angeles, from 1816–1819, and the acreage became known as Rancho San Antonio. The grant was confirmed by the Mexican governor in 1838. By 1865, the Lugo family's fortune had dwindled and most of the Rancho was sold for less than a dollar per acre. The Lugo family did manage to retain its home, built about 1810, which is the now oldest house in Los Angeles County. The original adobe house was on Gage Avenue.
Between 1870 and 1890 settlers arrived to the area and among those was the city’s founder. In 1876, the pioneer residents for whom the city is named, James George Bell and his wife Susan Abia Hollenbeck Bell, and their two children, Maude Elizabeth and Alphonzo Sr. moved from Los Angeles where they lived for a short period with Susan's brother, John Hollenbeck, in their Victorian style home — the Bell House, now a historic landmark located at 4401 East Gage Avenue. On April 6, 2000, the Bell House was dedicated as a California State Historical Resource.
They acquired about of land and in the next decade, helped in its development as a small farming and cattle raising community. The Bell Family lived at the Hollenbeck’s “Town House” on 4th and Breed Street until they moved into the “ranch” Bell House in 1876. The Bell House was an early Victorian style farm house. In 1898, the town’s name was changed from Rancho San Antonio, to Bell, in honor of its pioneer founders.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Bell area was a sparsely settled countryside with a scattering of houses, including the Bell family's home. Between 1900 and 1915, more people settled into the area. More homes, schools, churches and a library were built, and several small businesses were established by 1913. The citizens agreed to provide all facilities and services for the library, except for the books.
In the fifteen years following World War I, from 1920 to 1935, an explosive growth in population occurred in the Bell area. Old and new residents built new businesses, established schools, and founded community organizations, such as the Bell Chamber of Commerce and the Woman's Club. An area-wide sanitation district was formed in 1923 to provide sewer facilities. In 1924, George O. Wheeler founded the Industrial Post, the local newspaper which now serves the communities of Bell, Cudahy, and Maywood. In 1925, the Alcazar Theater to show "talking pictures", was opened. It has since been demolished. In 1926, Bell High School was opened.