As early as 5000 B.C. people inhabited this area, but little is known of their existence except for a few artifacts. The Tongva (People of the Earth) arrived from the Great Basin and absorbed these early tribes around 500 A.D. Across the coastal plains, mountains and Channel Islands of southern California they grew to establish a vibrant network of villages and trade routes. They were a peaceful people, their culture flourishing in an area rich with the resources of land and sea. Substantial settlements existed in Long Beach near Rancho Los Cerritos and where Cal State Long Beach is today. The knolls provided protection from seasonal flooding and gave them a vantage point over the Pacific, the basin and the rich wetlands formed by the LA and San Gabriel rivers.
The following video was submitted at the 2012 Neighborhoods USA Conference. It’s a great historical video.
When the Tongva, in their large seaworthy canoes, greeted explorer Juan Cabrillo off the coast, little did they know that life as they knew it would soon end. With the Spaniards came missions, disease and a new name, the Gabrielino Indians. In 1784 the land Cal Heights occupies became part of a 300,000 acre Spanish land grant to a soldier at the Mission San Gabriel, Manuel Nieto. Stretching from the Puente Hills to the Pacific and the Santa Ana River, the rancho was a gift for Nieto’s service to the king in recognition of his successful cattle ranching operations. After Nieto’s death the land was divided amongst his children, our area becoming part of the 27,000 acre Rancho Los Cerritos, “ranch of the little hills,” in 1834. By that time, independence from Spain placed the land under Mexican control.
Massachusetts businessman, John Temple, purchased the rancho lands in 1843 where it became the headquarters and grazing land for lucrative cattle operations. The Gold Rush secured American interest in California and the end of the Mexican American War made California part of the United States. As the railroad brought more people and a diversifying economy, the decline of the tallow trade and a succession of floods and drought led Temple to sell the land in 1866 to the Flint Bixby Co. Jotham Bixby soon formed his own company and operated a sheep ranch until civilization began to encroach and the sheep industry declined. Jotham sold off and leased the land to developers and farmers and Cal Heights became a bean field until the discovery of oil on Signal Hill in 1921 spiked interest in the knolls.
The Jotham Bixby Co. placed 830 lots in new California Heights tract on sale October 10, 1922, marketing the properties to include oil rights. An ad in the Daily Telegram on October 14, 1922 stated, “You could stand on one corner of California Heights and with a 30-30 rifle shoot the lights off the top of dozens of [oil] rigs where gushers are spouting thousands of barrels of liquid gold daily.” Within four hours, 185 lots were sold and within 24 hours 250 more. Twenty-five of the lots were purchased by a syndicate of local businessmen who planned to drill for oil. Because the question of oil beneath the properties remained unsettled, it wasn’t until November 15, 1923 that the water, gas, telephone and electric mains necessary for building the homes were completed. Once these were in, it became evident that very little oil was under the tract and residential development began.