Signal Hill is a small city (2.2 mi², 5.7 km²) in California located in the Greater Los Angeles area. Signal Hill, completely surrounded by the city of Long Beach, was incorporated on April 22, 1924, roughly three years after oil was discovered there. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 11,016.
The hill that the city is named after is 365 feet (110 m) above the surrounding town of Long Beach. Because of this height, it was used by the local Tongva Indians for signal fires that could be seen throughout the surrounding area and even out to Catalina Island, away.
After the Spanish discovered Alta California ("Upper California," or what is now the state of California), Signal Hill eventually became part of the first large rancho grant to be allotted under Spanish rule in Alta California. The Rancho San Pedro (Dominguez Rancho) land grant exceeded as granted to a soldier, Juan Jose Dominguez, who accompanied Junipero Serra, by Governor Fages through authority of King Carlos III of Spain in 1784.
Between 1913 and 1923 an early California movie studio, Balboa Amusement Producing Company (also known as Balboa Studios), was located in Long Beach and used 11 acres (45,000 m²) on Signal Hill for outdoor locations. Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle were two of Balboa Studio actors who had films shot on Signal Hill.
Before oil was discovered in Signal Hill, there were large homes built on the hill itself, and in the lower elevations was an agricultural area where fruits, vegetables, and flowers were grown. Many of the truck farmers were Japanese.
Discovery of oil
Signal Hill changed forever when oil was discovered. The hill would soon become part of the Long Beach Oil Field, one of the most productive oil fields in the world. On June 23, 1921, Shell Oil Company's Alamitos #1 well erupted. The gas pressure was so great the gusher rose 114 ft (35 m) in the air. Soon Signal Hill was covered with over 100 oil derricks, and because of its prickly appearance at a distance became known as "Porcupine Hill".
The city was incorporated on April 22, 1924. Among the reasons for incorporating was avoiding annexation by Long Beach with its zoning restrictions and per-barrel oil tax. Signal Hill's first mayor, Jessie Nelson, was California's first female mayor.
One of the city's more colorful residents was the boxer Kid Mexico (real name, Tod Faulkner) who was the state's bantamweight champion in 1914 (at age 14—he had lied about his age) and the state's welterweight champion in 1925. He put his earnings into businesses and real estate in Signal Hill, including an eight lane bowling alley, restaurant, cocktail lounge, auditorium, and movie house. He also had a bingo parlor that was ignored by the local police for many years. He was well known for his large annual Christmas parties for children from Signal Hill and Long Beach. Besides his bowling alley, he also had a single lane for bowling in his nearby home. Eventually he was arrested for gambling, tax evasion, and election fraud (Davis, 2006, p. 62-64).
Today, many of the oil wells and nodding donkey oil pumps are gone, although some remain. Signal Hill is now a mix of residential and commercial areas.