North Long Beach

North Long Beach

Many of the housing tracts which would form North Long Beach weren’t built until the 1930s or later. I’ve written about these in my book Fighting Fear, which I will not repeat here, but let me tell of the area’s early development in the 1880s through the 1920s.

California Cooperative Colony

Ad 4/27/1887
Ad 4/27/1887

There were other colonies forming around Long Beach’s American Colony, parts of which would eventually become North Long Beach. On the proposed narrow-gauge railroad from Long Beach to Pasadena, the California Cooperative Colony was created on 7000 acres of Rancho Los Cerritos territory on land lying east of the Los Angeles River and north of present 56th Street. It was about six miles inland from Long Beach. On May 2, 1887, stock in the colony was offered for sale. It operated on the subscription basis: 200 shareholders, to be known as “founders,” would each buy a $140 share of stock at a fifty per cent discount. Each share would entitle the holder to a business or residence lot in the projected town, and the privilege of purchasing not more than four ten acre plots of surrounding farmland at a discount. For subsequent investors the farm tracts were offered at $100 per acre, one-third down. The town, called Clearwater for the crystal clear water found in the area, was one mile square. It extended from Downey Road on the east to Cherry Avenue (now Garfield) on the west and from Washington (now Compton Blvd.) on the north to Flower Street on the south.

In July 1887, the following ad appeared:

“The California Cooperative Colony offers for sale at $100 an acre a portion of its valuable lands in the Cerritos ranch, to those who wish to purchase such property before the prices are advanced still higher. The land is subdivided into ten-acre lots. It is located in an artesian belt 12 miles from Los Angeles, with plenty of water, and is most desirable for all practical uses. Fertile soil, magnificent scenery, ocean breezes and pure water are prominent characteristics of the Colony tract. A railroad will soon be built through the tract and townsite, running from Pasadena and Los Angeles to Long Beach. The boom has struck the Colony tract and nothing can suppress it.” (LATimes 7/22/1887)

Ad 5/3/1887
Ad 5/3/1887

The acreage, purchased from J. Bixby and Company, was well above sea level and easily drained. The lush grass lands fed by the pure water attracted dairy farmers. Land sales took off and by May 1890,realtor Ben O. Rhoades auctioned off the remaining property of fourteen parcels of 10 and 20 acres each at close to $100 per acre. (LA Herald 5/6/1890). When the railroad came through the area in 1891 a depot was built; however the dairymen of South Clearwater, feeling the depot and post office were too far away, wanted a station and post office of their own. Told they would have to form their own city if they wanted a separate depot and post office, the citizens of South Clearwater agreed. When they petitioned Congress for a post office, however, they were told the Post Office Department would not establish a branch unless a shorter name was chosen for South Clearwater. At this time the railroad manager was S. B. Hynes. Residents decided to name the new town after him hoping that by appealing to his ego they would get a station. However, he didn’t take the bait. It took more than a name change to get the depot. It wasn’t until the area grew and the railroad changed hands that a station was put in at Hynes.

Through the years, as the boundaries of the two towns moved closer and closer, they became known as Clearwater-Hynes. In 1948 the two cities merged and a new name, Paramount was adopted. Paramount Boulevard, named for the movie company, was the main street through both Clearwater and Hynes. Both towns agreed it was as good a name as any for the newly created city.

Downey and Hellman tract

Present day North Long Beach incorporates part of both the California Cooperative Colony and a subdivision known as the Downey and Hellman tract. Acreage in the Downey and Hellman tract, part of the Rancho San Pedro situated on the west side of the Los Angeles River, was sold to farmers as far south as the present 63rd street around 1882.

Isaias Wolf Hellman was a major investor as well as landowner in Southern California. Born in Reckendorf, Bavaria, on October 3, 1842, Hellman and his brother Herman arrived in Los Angeles in 1859 to join their cousins in their dry goods operation. I. W., as he was called, was industrious as well as smart. With earnings from his many endeavors he formed the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles with John G. Downey, a former governor of California, in 1871. Downey, born in Ireland on June 24, 1827, had come to California during the gold rush of 1849. He soon moved to Southern California and became a successful businessman and financier. In 1860 he became governor of the State. Each man invested heavily in real estate in the burgeoning region. Hellman purchased numerous city lots and vast swaths of former rancho lands including the Rancho Los Alamitos with John and Jotham Bixby in 1881, and portions of Rancho San Pedro with John Downey. It was this land, formerly owned by the Dominguez family, on which the Downey and Hellman Tract was situated.

The area was much different in the 1880s than today. To the south there were two great ranches with only two sets of farm buildings and no road through the ranches except Cherry Avenue on the east. All the area north of 14th street in Long Beach to Los Angeles, with the exception of Downey to the east and Compton to the west, was nothing but farming and grazing land until the orchards and vineyards of Vernon were reached. Here one found crops of barley, oats, alfalfa, corn, pumpkin and later sugar beets and beans. Occasionally herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and a small herd of dairy cows could be spotted.


It was not an easy life being a farmer. Running a farm was a full time proposition and it was hard for all the family members to get away together. Though there were occasional individual trips to Long Beach to sell crops and buy supplies, most farm families only went to Long Beach together once a year, usually on the 4th of July. It was a long way over the rough roads. Besides fitting all the family into the wagon, hay had to be taken along so the horses could eat while their owners picnicked on the beach.

Gun clubs were popular in the area in the early days. From the time Southern California was settled through the 1890s, the entire country was a paradise for the hunter of either large or small game. There was plenty of water in North Long Beach, which meant lots of ponds for wild life. One of these gun clubs was located on 40 acres at the southwest corner of what would become Atlantic and South. Another was located south of South Street and east of Cherry Avenue. There was also the Long Beach Gun Club which leased shooting privileges on some 20,000 acres of Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos swampland in September 1891. It was said to be home to more species of ducks than anywhere else in Southern California, and the best shooting location in the State. The Greenwing Gun Club was organized in 1899, leasing a 1500 acre piece of marshland north of Long Beach. Jotham Bixby had sunk a well several months earlier which provided a large flow of fresh water needed to attract the ducks so club members would not have to wait for rain.

Gun clubs were popular in the early days of North Long Beach.
Gun clubs were popular in the early days of North Long Beach.

Farmers welcomed these gun clubs, for the birds were always after the crops. But by the end of the 1890s the drainage of marsh lands, the breaking up of mesa lands for grain crops, and aggressive hunting had decimated the wildlife in the area. “Keepers” were hired by the gun clubs to keep trespassers at bay. The hope was the “keepers” would keep others away and bring the birds back to be slaughtered by club members only. (LAT 9/30/1891 p.2)


The Houghtons

One of the first settlers in what is today known as North Long Beach was Colonel Sherman Otis Houghton and his wife Eliza Donner who purchased extensive acreage in North Long Beach in 1896, and built a large home. Houghton was born in New York City on April 10, 1828. At the age of eighteen, after completing his college education, he enlisted in the First Regiment of New York Volunteers for the war with Mexico and later came with his command around Cape Horn to San Francisco. From San Francisco he accompanied the detachment of his regiment to Mexico and fought in several conflicts with Mexican troops. At the close of the Mexican War he returned to California in October 1848. He was in the right place at the right time, for gold was discovered shortly after his return to California. He was one of a party of four who were the first to dig gold in the profitable mining district of Sonora, California. In the latter part of 1849 he settled in San Jose. He soon became an active political figure. After serving in several municipal offices Houghton was elected clerk of a Senate committee in the first legislature of California, and in 1854 was a deputy clerk of the State Supreme Court. In 1855-56 he was Mayor of San Jose. In 1857 he was admitted to the bar and three years later was admitted to practice in the California Supreme Court. For a number of years he specialized in settling titles to old Spanish and Mexican grants before the United States Court, representing almost all of the original holders of California lands. His command of both French and Spanish aided him greatly in this pursuit. During the Civil War he was ordinance officer on the staff of Major General Henry Halleck, senior Union Army commander in the west, training a company of infantry and another of light artillery for active service in the army.

Sherman Otis Houghton
Sherman Otis Houghton

Colonel Houghton was a member of the 42nd and 43rd Congress (1871-1875), and instrumental in securing government funding for San Pedro harbor and inducing the Southern Pacific Railroad to place Los Angeles on its main line. He came to Southern California in 1886 from San Jose with his law partner Charles Silent. Together with Alexander Campbell they formed the Los Angeles law firm of Houghton, Silent & Campbell. He retired in 1900 to his ranch in North Long Beach.

 He married twice, both of his wives girls in the ill-fated Donner party. His first wife was Mary Martha Donner, daughter of Jacob and Elizabeth Donner, whom he married in 1859. They had one child, Mary, known as “Mollie.” Mrs. Houghton died June 21, 1860, from complications related to childbirth. Mollie was only two weeks old. The following year (October 10, 1861) he married Eliza Poor, a daughter of George and Tamsen Donner, and a cousin of his first wife. With Eliza he had seven children: Eliza Poor, Sherman Otis, Clara Helen Sally, Charles Donner, Francis Irving, Stanley Washington and Herbert Sutter.

On May 12, 1896, fifty years after the infamous Donner party left Independence, Missouri, for their trek west, Eliza Donner Houghton, youngest daughter of Captain George and Tamsen Donner commemorated the event, gathering friends and newspaper reporters to hear her tale. After a few words of welcome, she read a yellowed letter, written by her mother, to her mother’s sister at Newburyport, Massachusetts, just as the party was leaving Independence. The letter was full of hope for the future and accounts of the hasty preparations being made for departure. Tamsen Donner was the first woman correspondent for an eastern journal who ever started for California. She wrote for the Springfield, Illinois, Journal. She was well educated—she wrote, sketched, spoke excellent French, and was skilled at botany. Her first marriage to Tully Dozier ended tragically in 1831 when Tully and their two children died of cholera within a few weeks of each other. She met her second husband, George Donner, in 1839 while out on a “botanizing” field trip with her students.

Though she was only three years old at the time, Eliza remembered the slow journey in the ox teams, with the party finally reaching Donner Lake in October 1846. She talked about the snow which continued falling until it reached a depth of twenty-five to thirty feet and the realization that the nearest settlement, Sutter’s Fort, was 200 miles away.

Mrs. Houghton also read an extract sent by Mrs. J. P. Jones of Santa Monica, from the diary of her grandfather, George Yount, relating his dream, in which he saw the location of the Donner camp and its dire distress. It was Yount who gathered public support for the surviving members of the party.

Eliza Donner and her two little sisters were taken to Sutter’s Fort and were cared for by an elderly Swiss couple, Christian and Mary Brunner, who they called “Grandpa” and “Grandma.” In 1854 they went to live with their half-sister Elitha and her husband Benjamin W. Wilder. Twenty-two years after the tragedy, Eliza was the first of the Donner party to revisit the lake, on the first railway train that crossed the mountains above the lake, from Greenough to Sacramento. She brought away with her a souvenir from the camp. An emigrant lamp of iron, which her husband, searching over the ground, found hidden in the earth.

Colonel Sherman O. Houghton passed away August 31, 1914, at his North Long Beach home. Eliza Poor Donner Houghton died February 19, 1922, exactly 75 years after the arrival of the first relief party to rescue the stranded pioneers. Born March 8, 1843, in Springfield, Illinois, she was survived by four children: Eliza, Clara, Stanley & Sherman Houghton, Jr. and her half-sisters Leanna Charity Donner, and Elitha Cumi Donner. She is buried next to her husband at Rosedale cemetery. In 1924, two of their surviving children, Stanley and Eliza, donated several acres of the family land to the City of Long Beach for a park in memory of their parents.

On March 1, 1924, Long Beach gained a new three acre park near the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Artesia Boulevard. Eliza P. Houghton and Stanley W. Houghton, daughter and son of the late Colonel Sherman Otis Houghton and Eliza P. Donner Houghton, donated the land for a park in their memory. The gift included the family home and garden. The city could, if it wished, utilize the old home site as a location for a library. The only consideration asked by the Houghton family was that special attention be given the bird life in the garden, creatures the aged Colonel loved to feed. In addition, the 76 acre ranch surrounding the new park was sold by Stanley Houghton for $343,000. Later another acre would be donated to the park site by the new owners. The ranch had originally been called “Santa Clara Farm” in honor of Santa Clara County where Sherman Houghton had first settled. The old Houghton homestead remained standing in the park until 1933 when the city razed it, for the sake of the park’s appearance, they said.


No Electric Line

 In March 1909 several individuals who had purchased acreage in the Glenville tract near Hynes won the suit against the realtor who had sold them the land at $1000 each. They had been told their property would skyrocket when an electric line from Monrovia passed through their land to Long Beach. The road never was built and the purchaser of lots brought suit to  recover the difference between what they believed to be the actual value of the land and its estimated worth if the promised line had been constructed. (LA Herald 3/24/1909).

Growth in the area would have been much more substantial had the electric line gone through, but things were to change with the discovery of Signal Hill oil in 1921.  Before the petroleum boom only 700 people were scattered over this whole section. The oil discovery led to the major portion of North Long Beach being annexed to Long Beach on December 28, 1923, followed by 3 other annexations: June 4, 1929; November 19, 1930; and July 21, 1931. By 1927 5,000 people were making North Long Beach one of the best residential sections in Long Beach.

Orange Avenue Homesites, located between 60th and 61st Streets on Orange Avenue, offered all the conveniences of mid-city with the health and freedom of a modern suburb. A few blocks west of Houghton Park, it was close to Harding Park School, offering both recreational and educational opportunities to the children of the community. Homes could be purchased with 10% cash and the balance in easy monthly installments. Sidewalks, curbs, granite streets and shade trees were already in and paid for. There were no tax assessments for these improvements. City water was piped directly to each home and fire hydrants were located on every corner. It was carefully restricted with race, building and sanitary restrictions, but had room enough to allow for a few chickens and rabbits.

North Long Beach would continue to grow…on August 27, 1939, ground was broken at Atlantic and Fifty-Second Street for the $2,591,000 Carmelitos Housing Project. If interested in learning more about this project and other North Long Beach housing developments in the 1940s please read my book Fighting Fear: Long Beach in the 1940s.