California Fool’s Gold — A Harbor Primer


Map of the Harbor
Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of The Harbor

The Harbor is the region of Los Angeles County centered around San Pedro Bay. It is the site of both the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, which together form the fifth-busiest port facility in the world (behind the ports of Shanghai ( 上海), Singapore, Hong Kong (香港), and Shenzhen (深圳) — all in Asia). It was originally a shallow mudflat known to the indigenous Tongva as the Bay of Smokes. It was dredged in modern times to an average depth of ten to twenty meters. Natural islands in the Harbor included Terminal Island, Mormon Island and Dead Man’s Island. The latter was removed, the second was connected to the mainland and the first is a highly augmented mudflat. There are four artificial islands built around oil rigs; Freeman, Grissom, White and Chaffee Islands. If one figure can be credited with the Harbor’s transformation, it’s Delaware-born Phineas Banning.

The Harbor (Long Beach in the background)

At the time of the Spaniards‘ arrival, the Harbor area supported the Tongva villages of Shwaanga Povu’nga, Monika’nga, Xoyuunga, Kinkenga, Ataavyanga, Xarnashnga, Chowinga and Amaunga. Nowadays it supports Carson, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, Signal Hill, West Carson and Wilmington. The region is surrounded by the South Bay to the west, South LA to the north, SELACO to the northeast and Orange County to the east. The diverse population is 39% Latino (mostly Mexican), 31% white (mostly German and Italian), 13% Asian (mostly Cambodian, Filipino, Japanese and Korean), and 13% black.

Henry V Wall's 1946 map of Los Angeles
Henry V Wall’s 1946 map of Los Angeles


And now for the communities of The Harbor:


Carson BP Refinery

Carson was incorporated on February 20, 1968. The Home Depot Center there is home of LA Galaxy (booo!) and Chivas USA (yeaaa!). California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) was established in Carson in the wake of the 1965 Watts Riots. The population today is 35% Latino (mostly Mexican), 25% black, 24% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 12% white. Carson gave us the musical acts Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., Ras Kass and The Boys. It’s been featured in TV  shows and films including 24, Reno 911!, The Social Network, Jackie Brown, Gone in 60 Seconds, Emergency!, Evolution, Joe Dirt, The Cable Guy, Colors, Vega$ and Entourage.


Reggie the Alligator

Harbor City is home of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. The hospital faces the Ken Malloy Memorial Park, also known as “Parque de los Patos.” The park was big news in 2005 when the press and onlookers descended to catch a glimpse of rogue crocodilian, Reggie the Gator. The population of the neighborhood is 48% Latino (mostly Mexican), 25% white (mostly German), 14% Asian (mostly Korean) and 11% black.


Harbor Gateway

The Harbor Gateway is a thin north-south corridor between Western and Normandie Avenues acquired in 1906 by LA in the “shoestring annexation,” to connect San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and the Port of Los Angeles with the rest of the city. It’s commonly known as “The Strip.” The small population is 53% Latino (mostly Mexican), 16% black, 16% Asian (mostly Japanese and Filipino) and 12% white.


Long Beach

Long Beach is the second largest city within the Los Angeles metropolitan area — as such, it’s home to many of its own neighborhoods (4th Street Corridor, Alamitos Beach, Alamitos Heights, Arlington, Artcraft Manor, Belmont Heights, Belmont Park, Belmont Shore, Bixby Knolls, Bixby Village, Bluff Heights, Bluff Park, Broadway Corridor, California Heights, Cambodia Town, Carroll Park, Central Area, Craftsman Village, Downtown Long Beach, Drake Park, East Village, Eastside, El Dorado Park, El Dorado Park Estates, El Dorado South, HellmanImperial Estates, Lakewood Village, Cambodia Town , Long Beach Marina, Los Altos, Los Cerritos – Virginia Country Club, Memorial Height, Naples, North Long Beach, Park Estates, Peninsula, Ranchos, Rose Park, Shoreline Village, South of Conant, Stearns Park, Saint Mary’s, Sunrise, Terminal Island, Traffic Circle, University Park Estates, Poly High, West Long Beach, Willmore City, Wrigley North and South, Wrigley Heights and Zaferia). The population is 36% Latino (mostly Mexican), 33% white (mostly German), 14% black and 13% Asian (mostly Filipino). To read more about the LBC, click here.


Casa Claret Retirement community in Rancho Dominguez

The original Rancho Dominguez contained the cities of Compton, Carson, and a portion Long Beach. The modern neighborhood of Rancho Dominguez is comprised of East Rancho Dominguez, West Rancho Dominguez and Rancho Dominguez proper. The mostly industrial neighborhood is home to a small population that’s 43% white (mostly German and Italian), 28% black, 16% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 8% Asian (mostly Filipino).


Vincent Thomas Bridge San Pedro California

San Pedro is a large port district at the southern end of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. On the west side of San Pedro Bay, it was used by Spanish ships beginning in the 1540s. It was annexed by LA in 1909 and includes the neighborhoods of Palisades, Port of Los Angeles, Point Fermin, South Shores, Terminal Island, Vista del Oro, The Gardens, Rolling Hills Highlands and Vinegar Hill. The population is 44% white (mostly Italian), 41% Latino (mostly Mexican), 6% black and 5% Asian. It’s home to the locally famous Vincent Thomas Bridge. For more about San Pedro, click here.


Signal Hill

Signal Hill is a small city surrounded completely by Long Beach. The hill was used by the Tongva for signal fires, giving it its name. Signal Hill is like the Vatican City of the Harbor if you replaced Catholicism with oil. Completely surrounded by Long Beach, every aspect of the small city is coated with the sheen of black gold, discovered in 1921 when Shell Oil Company‘s Alamitos #1 well erupted and Signal Hill became one of the world’s most productive oil fields. With over 100 wells, it earned the nickname “Porcupine Hill.”

In 1924, it successfully resisted Long Beach’s imperialist advances. Perhaps symbolizing its small but scrappy image, one famous resident, boxer Tod “Kid Mexico” Faulkner became the California bantamweight champion after lying about his age (he was just fourteen) the following year.

During the 1913-1923 operation of Long Beach’s Balboa Amusement Producing Company, Signal Hill was used for outdoor shooting locations for films starring Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle. It was largely a Japanese-American agricultural area until oil was discovered. Nowadays its population is 36% white, 29% Latino (mostly Mexican), 19% Asian (mostly Cambodian) and 11% black.


Before the discovery of oil, Signal Hill was home to an early silent film studio, Balboa Amusement Producing Company (1913-1923). The novel Oil! was written whilst Upton Sinclair lived in Long Beach, inspired by Signal Hill and loosely adapted as There Will Be Blood. And Signal Oil is familiar to radio fansfor The Whistler, the most popular West Coast radio drama. “Let that whistle be your signal for the Signal Oil program, the Whistler!”


Signal Hill was also the primary filming location for Broke GroundMoving Violation and The Hideous Sun Demon as well as the the carnival scene of the 2006-remake of When a Stranger Calls.


Alpine Village in West Carson
The Alpine Village Klubhaus in West Carson

West Carson is a tiny, unincorporated neighborhood which is naturally located west of Carson. It’s patrolled by the Carson sheriff but residents are required to list their address as Torrance. The population is 30% Latino (mostly Mexican), 29% white, 26% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 11% black. The neighborhood is home to Alpine Village, which hosts an annual Oktoberfest. There’s also a Rite-Aid, a Fallas Paredes, a Ross, a Big Lots! and presumably/hopefully more.


Wilmington California

Wilmington is a mostly industrial neighborhood in the Harbor. It’s home to the Banning House and Drum Barracks (aka Camp Drum), one of the only Civil War landmarks in California. It was named by “Father of the HarborPhineas Banning after his Delaware birthplace. Wilmington was annexed by Los Angeles in 1909.  Wilson College, (precursor to the USC) became the first coeducational college west of the Mississippi when it opened its doors in 1874. Its population is 87% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatemalan), 6% white (mostly Irish), 3% Asian and 3% black. Films short in part or in whole in Wilmington include Armored, A Man Apart, Back to the Future Part II, Captain America, Crank – High Voltage, Crash, The Fast and The Furious, Fight Club, Get Smart, Gone in, 60 Seconds, Hancock, Jackie Brown, The Last Shot, Primary Colors, Pretty in Pink, The Rose, The OC, Set it Off, Slappy and the Stinkers, Streets of Fire, Terminator 2 – Judgment Day, To Live and Die in LA, We Jam Econo, When Harry Met Sally, Kickboxer and Lion Heart.


To vote for Harbor or other Los Angeles neighborhoods to be the subject of blog entries, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, (including those in The Harbor) vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, explorer, cartographer, writer, rambler, and guerrilla gardener. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His artwork has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. Brightwell is always open to new opportunities — provided they don’t pay peanuts or require the writing of advertorials, clickbait, or listicles.

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