Heights History Includes Colorful Controversy

By Maureen Neeley, MLIS

Belmont Heights might be considered a study in dichotomy. On the one hand it has a history of rabble-rousing and being slightly contrarian. On the other, it was a leader in setting a standard for quality and elegance in regards to the homes and buildings constructed in the area. It is easy to speculate that it is just this melding of philosophies that has created the substantial and desirable community we have today.

More than 95 years ago, when the Long Beach city limits stopped at Carroll Park, residents of Belmont Heights voted to incorporate as a separate town. One obvious benefit was to keep its lucrative tax base from the clutches of Los Angeles County. A little-known side benefit was the ability to operate a baseball and amusement park with alcohol sales, while alcohol was not allowed in the city limits of Long Beach.

History indicates the legacy of Belmont Heights was to be the rebellious offspring of Long Beach.

The early 20th century was a time of great growth for Belmont Heights, which at the time included Mira Mar to the west and Zaferia to the north, around Anaheim Street and Obispo Avenue. Farms and ranches were giving way to housing.

 

Lots sold for $400 to $1,200 in 1908. Real estate advertisements announced there would be "no shacks." Buyers were required to build homes costing a minimum of $1,000. Substantial, well designed Craftsman bungalows and Spanish Revival houses soon dotted the neighborhood.

Belmont Heights offered a convenient system of trolleys and railroads, an unsurpassed view and proximity to the ocean. It's no wonder the area was popular with those of discerning taste who wanted to live outside the bustling city center.

By 1908, Belmont Heights residents realized they had some the wealthiest and perhaps most fun-loving taxpayers in the region. Attempts by Long Beach to annex the waterfront were met with cries of revolt.

A movement to incorporate as a separate town surfaced. Within weeks, subversive gerrymandering in John Brown's one-room store at Anaheim Street and Redondo Avenue assured the creation of a new town of Belmont Heights with a vote of 56 ayes to 22 nays.

However, enthusiasm for the new town dwindled. The Long Beach Press reported additional work for police due to the trolleys coming to and from Higley's liquor house on Anaheim at Obispo Avenue with drunken passengers. One inebriated man said it was the first time in 20 years he had been drunk.

Adding to the realization that liquor was affecting the reputation of Belmont Heights was the sobering fact that Heights residents must raise funds for a new school, their own roads and a pier at Devil's Gap at the foot of Termino Avenue.

These woes overwhelmed the new town. Just 13 months after incorporation, residents voted in November 1909 to become part of Long Beach.

The neighborhood became "dry" like the rest of Long Beach. The roads, however, were graded, the school was financed, and the pier was built.

Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, one can only assume the future of Belmont Heights will continue to include a great gathering of minds and community spirit. These qualities have resulted in a pretty good neighborhood so far!