A City Upon a Hill: Sending Smoke Signals to Radio Waves


A view of the surrounding community from on top of Signal Hill

A city upon a hill stands above the level plains of the Greater Los Angeles Area.  Signal Hill, encompassed by Long Beach, has been an incorporated city since 1924.  With a history spanning centuries, this hill has played a crucial role in its value to different peoples during different times.


At the summit of Signal Hill lies the Hilltop Park


Signal Hill Hilltop Park Native American Smoke Signal Monument

According to the Signal Hill monuments’ account, this hill broadcasted messages even before “The Jazz Knob” radio station, which aired swinging sounds throughout the mid-twentieth century.  Prior to the Spanish arriving in the sixteenth century, the Puvuvitam Native Americans communicated with their Santa Catalina (also known as “Pimu”) cousins by sending smoke signals.  With the arrival of the Spanish in Southern California, these smoke signal fires unknowingly lured Spanish immigrants to Signal Hill.

Spanish settling of Signal Hill occurred later in 1784, when King Carlos III gave Manuel Nieto a land grant.  For centuries, Signal Hill broadcasted messages of pastoral prosperity with its fertile soil that produced plentiful flower fields and crops, while raising horses, sheep, and cattle.  Not until the turn of the century, was a water reservoir discovered underneath the hill.  In the early 1920’s, another source of liquid gold was discovered—black gold!  According to the city of Signal Hill, the hill itself is, “Ultimately one of the richest oil fields in the world, it produced over 1 billion barrels of oil by 1984.  The field is still active and produced over 1.6 million barrels of oil in 1994 alone.”  To this day, the once nicknamed “Porcupine Hill” (due to the great number of oil derricks) still produces oil.

Upon visiting Signal Hill, I appreciated the different narratives represented in the monuments.  In the Signal Hill Hilltop Park, there are different monuments to explain the different peoples and their experiences on Signal Hill at different times.  From the Native Americans to the Anglo farmers to the oil workers, the monuments provide a place to consider other viewpoints and reflect upon the history of this unique space—especially since the geography of the entire Northern Orange County and Long Beach area is thoroughly flat.


I visited Signal Hill on 02/28/16, posed with the Oil Derrick Monument

In addition to the monuments in the park, there is a trail that wraps around the entire hill. Similarly, these monuments provide other historical narratives that have contributed to Signal Hill’s history.  Case in point, Japanese farmers worked on Signal Hill.  Additionally, some of Los Angeles county’s first airplane flights used the height of Signal Hill to proper their planes into the air.  Ultimately, I appreciated the thoughtfulness of other historical narratives considered in creating all of the Signal Hill monuments.


Signal Hill Aviation Monument positioned in view of the Long Beach Airport

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