Saturday, November 30, 2019

Long Beach, California

I have a fun pair of scans of slides taken in Long Beach, California, sometime in the 1950's - winter, by the look of things.

If I had to guess, I'd say that this is a typical post-war housing tract, with lots of nice little houses. They all have tidy front lawns!  I love the vintage cars, and even the detail of the bicycle nearby. The little boy is wearing cowboy boots, which makes him cool. The slide had a hand-written note saying that his name was Paul Nirstrath; I did a Google search for him, but had no luck. 

You might notice all of those oil derricks looming in the distance! This is the Signal Hill neighborhood, where oil was discovered in the early 1920's. Soon it was so covered in derricks that its nickname was "Porcupine Hill".

Here's another wonderful photo looking over the rooftops. In 1928, over 68 million barrels of oil were produced! Approximately 950 million barrels have been produced over the years, and small companies are still there.

Here's a vintage postcard...

And another one. "Porcupine Hill" indeed!

I hope you have enjoyed your visit to Long Beach and Signal Hill.


K. Martinez said...

I love these photos! They are wonderful and have a certain beauty to them. I've always loved industrial zones and even more I like seeing houses and neighborhoods within or next to industrial zones. There's just something surreal and beautiful about it.

And what can I say about those wonderful telephone poles. Even the clothes lines in the backyards echo the structures of the telephone poles. Today's post is a winner in my book! Thanks, Major.

Nanook said...


That young man is practicing the John Wayne 'wide stance'. I'm afraid the only car I can ID is the light green-? 1950-1952 bullet-nose Studebaker - "The next look in cars". And possibly the shadowed car in the driveway is a 1949 or 1950 Lincoln - with "suicide doors".

The juxtaposition of the houses and the oil derricks speaks volumes about having faith in American industry. "... I've got oil in Bakersfield, pumping, pumping, pumping!" Okay, it's not Bakersfield - but you get the idea.

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

I really like these photos. I would love to see what the view in that first pic, looks like today. Maybe someone out there will be able to identify the street.

Andrew said...

Hey, no fair - I want a house with an oil derrick view! I hope that the oil companies made sure to intentionally create some "gushers" every once in a while for the viewing pleasure of the neighbors.

stu29573 said...

All those oil wells are pretty cool! Strangly enough, here in east Texas we have plenty of wells but none look like that. Ours are very close to the ground, with no tower at all, but with a spinning weight that moves an arm up and down to pump. The whole thing is about the size of a large car. I wonder if it has to do with the conditions the oil is being extracted from? No idea, I'm afraid!

Chuck said...

You guys would have loved living in 1985A's Hill Valley.

Note that the Lincoln and the girl's bike parked next to it both have whitewall tires. They just scream "classy," which would have made that garage awfully noisy.

Nanook, I think that's a 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan Town Sedan. They only made the fastback model of the Cosmopolitan for one year.

Stu, I think technology has changed more than anything else. The traditional derricks we see here were only used for drilling the well and were usually abandoned in place, while the actual extraction of the oil was done by a separate pump. Drilling for oil is now done with mobile rigs, so once the well is sunk and capped, it's disassembled and moved on to the next job. And I think you're right that the conditions determine the size of the pump and pumpjack.

Chuck said...

Forgot to say how neat these photos are. Thanks again, Major!

zach said...

These remind me a little of the neighborhood I grew up in. Clotheslines, strips of concrete for driveways, oil wells... no wait. And do I see a 'Woodie' hiding behind that laundry?

And Paul looks like every kid did in my neighborhood. The partially untucked shirt was the 'look' then.

Thanks, Major. Swell photo reminders of my childhood.


Warren Nielsen said...

The first time I went to California was 1957, I was 7 years old, and the family spent a day at Disneyland (it rained) and then we went out towards Long Beach somewhere to visit my great uncle. These pics jog loose some memories of that trip. We were amazed about the derricks that seemed to be everywhere. Mere feet off the edge of the road there were oil rigs, practically in some houses' back yards, more and more everywhere it seemed. Thinking about it now, the disparity of domestic living and activity being a few feet from what could be considered heavy industry is striking. It made an impression on this kid.

I think one of the main reasons we make GDB a part of our days is to re-live and remember, to jog the brain a bit, whether it is Disney, Knott's, Worlds Fairs, small town or big city America, or any one of the other 'categories' of pics you post.

Thanks Major for sharing.


Irene said...

I live in Lakewood which is just North and next door to Long Beach and Signal Hill. The track I live in was built the year I was born, 1948. I would venture to say that except for the oil derricks in the background, this street would look pretty much the same today as it did then except the trees would be mature and some, if not many, of the houses would be remodeled. Those derricks are long gone now. Instead what oil production is going on is done by the smaller arm pumps as mentioned above. And Signal Hill has beautiful homes but mostly condos on it now and they are very pricey (because of the view). Wish I could pinpoint this street but it looks like so many in that area of Long Beach! This boy reminds me of my brother though he would have been that age in the late 40's. I wonder if he watched Roy Rogers or the Lone Ranger on TV. Cowboys were all the rage. Heck, for Christmas in 1952 (or 53, 54) I got a red cowgirl outfit with fringe, hat, and cap guns :)

Major Pepperidge said...

K. Martinez, yeah these were a fun find, and even without the hand-labeled slide, I would have probably figured out that they were pictures of Signal Hill. Because I’m so smart! I am glad to be able to satisfy your weird - er, I mean INTERSTING - telephone pole obsession!!

Nanook, if that kid had a six-shooter, I would be worried as heck. Why aren’t cars “bullet-nosed” today? It’s what we need. Wow I would have never noticed the “suicide doors” on that other car. A few years ago I was driving through Marina Del Rey, and there were very expensive McMansions on bluffs overlooking ugly oil derricks - it seemed like a very odd place to spend millions on a house.

TokyoMagic!, I have tried and tried to figure out what street that might be, and have a theory or two, but you know that those trees would be large today, the derricks are gone, and some of the homes have been replaced with apartment buildings, so it’s really tough.

Andrew, you can just buy vinyl stickers of oil derricks and place them on your bedroom window. There won’t be any gushers though! But maybe birds won’t fly into your window either.

stu29573, I think those tall oil derricks are obsolete. There are places around SoCal where they still extract oil from the ground, and you might see some of those “mules” pumping up and down (I think that’s the same kind you described, with the large flywheel), but that’s about it.

Chuck, were there oil derricks in Hill Valley? It’s been a while. I noticed the whitewalls, I love them. Thanks for the info about the derricks - I did no research, but kind of guessed something along the lines of what you described. Me smart! (I wish). Glad you liked these!

dzacher, did you grow up in SoCal? Yes, that is a “woodie” trying to hide back there! I’m sure if my mom took a random picture of me at about 5 years old I would have looked very much like Paul Nirstrath.

Warren Nielsen, there were other oil fields around California as well; I have pictures of cars driving through a forest of oil derricks in Wilmington - gotta post those someday. And yes, you can find plenty of photos online where it looks like they were pumping oil right out of somebody’s yard. Hopefully they got some sort of payout from the oil company! Imagine the noise, and possibly the smell. Thanks for the nice comment!

Nanook said...

@ dzacher-
Thanks for 'spying' the Woodie. I'm kinda surprised we can't see any backyard incinerators. (Maybe they were outlawed in Long Beach, then-?) In the city of Los Angeles they would have been in every backyard.

Anonymous said...

I remember those derricks as we would travel along 101 through Long Beach...way before the 405. It is amazing to see the place as it is today in comparison. What a memory jogger. KS

Dean Finder said...

I echo the comments on the whitewalls. I've been looking for a set of whitewalls for my New Beetle for years without any luck.

I'd guess Signal Hill was the origin of the Signal Oil company, sponsor of The Whistler on the radio.

Major Pepperidge said...

Irene, as I told TokyoMagic!, I did a pretty lengthy search trying to figure out where those photos could have been taken, and I narrowed it down, but still have no idea if I am right (which is why I didn’t bother to put that info in the post). I love that the oil derricks are such an unusual part of SoCal history. A family friend works at the California Oil Museum in Santa Paula, I wonder if she would like copies of these photos? I should ask her! I had a red felt cowboy hat with white stitching, it sort of looked like the one Jessie the Cowgirl wears in the Toy Story movies!

Nanook, my grandparents had a backyard incinerator, though by the time I came along, it wasn’t legal to use it. It always kind of fascinated me because I’d never seen anything like it before.

KS, it’s amazing to think that almost a billion barrels of oil have come out of that area! I was a fairly young kid when my dad worked in Long Beach, but I can’t help wondering if any of those derricks were there at the time, and I just didn’t pay attention to them.

Dean Finder, my guess is that if you could find new whitewall tires for your VW Beetle, they would be very expensive! There are companies that still make them (I presume that they are mostly purchased by antique car aficionados). Hey, I used to listen to “The Whistler” on KUSC!

Warren Nielsen said...

We visited the oil museum in Santa Paula about 20ish years ago while visiting family in the area. Neat museum. They provided information and a contact number for the Venoco Oil company (they are bankrupt now) that gave limited tours/visits out to Platform Holly in the Santa Barbara Channel, and a closeup look at where there are natural gas seeps bubbling up thru the water. Very neat. It was a PR thing for sure, but how often could Joe Public tour a working oil platform? We jumped at the chance.


Nanook said...


A little late to figure this out but, the dark green car in front of the Studebaker is a 1939 Dodge - can't discern if it's a coupe or sedan.

Anonymous said...

Major, these are a lot of fun, agreeing with the memories of the other GDB crowd.

@Stu, the pumps you describe were all along the highway on the way to Bakersfield and also to Coalinga (in the west San Joaquin Valley), a familiar sight on our Sunday drives, and trips to Disneyland.

Thanks everyone for sharing their memories.