The City of Belmont Heights

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The City of Belmont Heights

The area we now call “Belmont Heights” started as the Mira Mar tract in 1901 by real estate agents Frank Shaw and H. S. Gundry.  Promoters advertised the tract as being on a high bluff overlooking the ocean just north of Devil’s Gate and one and one-half miles east of Long Beach. Before the arrival of the Pacific Electric you couldn’t have given the land away. Why? It was too far from Pine Avenue. But by 1905, with the electric rail line, and service every half hour, you could be in downtown Long Beach in eight minutes. Sales in Mira Mar really took off.

Devils gate

Belmont Heights was situated on the bluff above Devil’s Gate (shown here) later removed to build the Belmont Pier.

In January 1905, 120 lots (none smaller than 50 feet) were placed on the market with prices ranging from $500 to $1250 per lot. No shacks were allowed and homes had to be priced from at least $1000. By May 1905, some of the lots had been downsized which allowed for 383 lots.

In 1906 another tract was set up adjacent to “Mira Mar;” it was called “Belmont Heights.” Frank Strong of the F. W. Sterns real estate company was in charge of sales, but employed Mira Mar’s developer Frank Shaw as an agent.  Prices had risen and the minimum price for a bluff lot was $675, one-third in cash and the balance within one or two years. The name “Belmont Heights” would stick and by 1908 the entire area was known as Belmont Heights.

Mira Mar ad 1905

Early ad for Mira Mar (Belmont Heights) subdivision

With the arrival of  Long Beach’s first mass transit system the Pacific Electric Red Car, real estate sales skyrocketed. Farms turned into subdivisions and by 1908 the new residents were clamoring for city services. They had two choices: either incorporate and form their own city or be annexed to Long Beach or Los Angeles. Many in the Mira Mar and Belmont Heights subdivisions favored joining Long Beach because it had much to offer in way of street improvements, fire and police protection and street lightening. Others, however, favored forming their own city — the city of Belmont Heights. Some residents were suspicious about the motives behind forming an independent city and felt the liquor question was the real reason behind the push. Those touting city hood did all they could to dissuade this notion, pointing out that if liquor was the issue they would not have done everything in their power to keep the Naples area (which did allow alcohol) out of the new city’s annexation plans. What they did stress was that an independent city could spend tax money as it liked, not hampered by a larger political body.

Ximeno&Vista 1927

Ximeno & Vista 1927

On October 1, 1908, the annexation election passed. The vote was 59 to 33. Belmont Heights was a separate city. The following officers were nominated for the new city: Board of Trustees, Byron F. Van Deventer (residing at 11 S. Euclid), Henry W. Bassett (Ximeno & Vermont), Joseph W. Ray (3410 E. 7th St.), Asa Green (4045 E. Eliot), John H. Brown (Redondo & Anaheim); clerk, Clinton A. Higley (Obispo & State St.); treasurer, Andrew W. Reynolds (810 Obispo); marshal, Ernest Craig. Later, Ivan Ringheim (5th & Termino) and John Gould (275 Mira Mar) replaced Green and Brown as trustees.

Long Beach officials were angered, feeling this new municipality was deliberately seeking to menace the growth of Long Beach. Long Beach capital, effort and advertising had made Belmont Heights, now they wanted their own independence. Many called it “Spite City.”

The resulting war was a tactical one. A few weeks after incorporation, Belmont Heights officials voted (October 27, 1908) to become a recreation center—one that would compete with Long Beach’s Pike. They agreed to give Lovett, Lee & Company a franchise to operate a baseball and amusement park in town. In return, Long Beach in an annexation election managed to absorb most of the Belmont water front. The Belmont trustees sought to avenge themselves on Long Beach by running a whip lash strip across the northern boundary of Long Beach allowing them access to the harbor, bringing on another row. There were also rumors that scared Long Beach business interests, rumors that Signal Hill and Burnett area residents were circulating a petition to get into the newly created city and that Belmont Heights was working with Los Angeles harbor interests to weaken Long Beach and Long Beach’s port plans.   The final coup d’état was when Belmont trustees passed an ordinance allowing a wholesale liquor house into their city, run by the Yribarne brothers.

The granting of a liquor license came as a surprise to the citizens of the new community—they began to suspect that the true purpose of creating a separate city was to allow alcohol. It turned out they were right. Word leaked out that a Los Angeles company was going to build a dance hall offering alcoholic refreshments right in the center of the town. There were also plans for a hotel that would serve alcohol. Belmont Heights residents were outraged. They had been lied to and deceived by their city officials.

There was one thing, however, that Belmont Heights politicians had overlooked in their war with Long Beach—where their young folk would go to school. They had assumed they could continue to send them to Long Beach schools, but they hadn’t planned on retaliation by Long Beach. Debate raged over whether the children of this new city could use the Burnett school, whose district they were in. If so, shouldn’t they be contributing financially? And if so, how much? Building of the new Burnett school was stopped temporarily as the two sides argued. It was finally decided that if the Burnett district was annexed to Belmont Heights residents would be responsible for the entire cost of the reconstructed school.

burnett school

Who would pay for the newly renovated Burnett (now Bobbie Smith) school?

At a mass meeting of the temperance-loving residents of Belmont Heights, held on January 18, 1909, resolutions condemning the city trustees were adopted. The resolutions charged the trustees with failure to keep their promises, getting the city into expensive litigation, introducing ridiculous ordinances and trying to give liquor interests a foothold in the young municipality. At the meeting it was stated a petition asking for disincorporation, and consolidation with Long Beach, bearing the names of sixty-four voters, fully the legally required number, had been filed with the city clerk of Belmont Heights. When their request was ignored, rumors surfaced that there were plans to dynamite the home of Mayor Bassett, who favored liquor licenses.  With an olive branch and a white flag as their insignia, the Good Government League of Belmont Heights was launched March 8, 1909, at a public meeting. Many claimed that the town was not in a bad way, and that if the people would cease knocking and kicking and would get together the place would prosper. “To harmonize all factions” was the rallying cry of the new group.

Lack of faith in this Good Government League was shown when an April 1, 1909, school election was held in Belmont Heights. George M. Comparet (905 Obispo), Matthew R. Pendleton (Ximeno & 10th) and Mrs. Virginia Gundry (1st and Grand), Administration candidates, defeated the Good Government candidates 69 to 58. The fact remained that despite the creation of a Good Government League, a disincorporation/consolidation election had been requested by the required number of voters. Through legal action, Belmont Heights officials continued to put off  citizen’s requests for an election.  Belmont Heights citizens took their request to the California Supreme Court.

In August 1909, to try to appease the citizens on the disincorporation issue, and to ease their fears, Belmont Heights officials decided to amend the liquor ordinance.  They adopted a law abolishing liquor licenses for restaurants. This affected the Belmont Cafe, which had been operating under a license where liquor could be served with meals. “The only way to get a meal at that cafe,” one objector alleged, “was to get the management to send off somewhere else and buy it.” The manager denied this and said he had been obeying the terms of the license.

Belmont Heights residents had had enough, but Trustees Gould and Van Deventer were still doing their best to keep the town alive. Opposing consolidation with Long Beach, they went into hiding to avoid the writ of mandate from the California Supreme Court to call an election on the consolidation question. Trustees Ray and Ringheim had already agreed to the election, but it took Belmont Heights City Attorney Frederick A. Knight to convince Gould, Bassett and Van Deventer. On October 9, 1909, Gould and Van Deventer came out of hiding and capitulated. They had been told they had no choice but to call an election.

Belmont pier 1916

Belmont Heights residents were promised their own pier if they consolidated with Long Beach. This is the Belmont Pier in 1916.

On November 9, 1909, the young municipality of Belmont Heights disincorporated and became part of Long Beach. In the seven voting precincts of Long Beach the total vote in favor of consolidation was 823, while 32 voted against it. In Belmont Heights, where there was only one voting place, the vote was 87 for and 47 against. The total vote was 910 for consolidation to 79 against the measure. The liquor house closed and Long Beach fulfilled its promise of providing police and fire protection, street lights and maintenance to what was now known as East Long Beach. As a conciliatory measure a bond passed to build a new pier at Devil’s Gate (Belmont Shore). This was partially to appease the citizens of Belmont Heights angry over Long Beach’s earlier annexation of what Belmonters considered “their” ocean front.   Thereafter the district became known as East Long Beach.

belmont heights map

Belmont Heights district today.

On November 18, 1909, the trustees of the town of Belmont Heights held their final meeting, and after the transaction of a small amount of other business the motion was made, seconded and carried “that we do now adjourn until hell freezes over.” And that was the way it went on the books. The meeting closed the official life of the trustees, but immediately after a surprise reception to honor the three anti-consolidationists was held it the home of the mayor, Henry W. Bassett, by members of the Belmont Heights Association.

To each of the three —John Gould, Byron Van Deventer and Mayor Bassett—who were against consolidation, the association presented a handsome gold headed cane. The one presented to Mr. Bassett was inscribed appropriately and truthfully: “To W. H. Bassett, the only mayor of Belmont Heights.” (Author’s note, newspapers refer to W. H. Bassett, but city directories of the time list him as Henry W. Bassett).

RIP City of Belmont Heights ( October 1, 1908-November 9, 1909)