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Nonprofit Seeks To Preserve Signal Hill’s Rich History

By Heidi Nye - Contributing Writer

November 19, 2013 – The Preservation Organization of Signal Hill (POSH) last Wednesday accepted its first major artifact donation – a 1920s clock that once graced the offices of Signal Oil and Gas Co.’s late-president, Forrest Shumway. Evelyn Tuitt, Shumway’s former personal assistant, presented POSH with the clock.

POSH President Elizabeth Wise said the acquisition is the sort of participation she welcomes from anyone who has stories, photos or memorabilia from Signal Hill’s past. “Signal Hill wouldn’t be Signal Hill without the oil,” she said. A clock that belonged to the man who grew a regional energy company into one of the nation’s largest conglomerates through the acquisition of the likes of Mack Truck and Golden West Broadcasters “is a vital component of that legacy.”

Plans For A Mobile Museum

POSH Board

Members of the newly formed Preservation Organization of Signal Hill gather
by an oil well outside of Curley’s restaurant near Cherry Avenue and Willow Street.
Pictured left to right are: Alfred Wise, Jr., member; Gloria Nava, boardmember; Allan
Gerbino, member; Robert Long, boardmember; Elizabeth wise, board president; Bob Mendoza,
boardmember; Maria Lopez, board assistant secretary; Nancy Sciortino, board
secretary; Carmen Authier, member; and Ted Authier, historian. Not pictured are
Phil Johnson, board vice president, and Aurora Lee, board treasurer.
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville)

Wise and the approximately 65 members who comprise the nonprofit POSH have plans to build a mobile walk-in museum in a 40-foot container mounted on a semi that will travel to local schools and “educate a new generation,” she said. Eventually, POSH would like to build a permanent structure to house its collection.

“We want children to see what oil has done [for Signal Hill] since the time it was discovered [on June 25, 1921] to the present,” Wise said. “We want to show young people how oil has impacted our little city.”

POSH Historian Ted Authier recognized the role that oil has played in the city’s history, but also said that “there’s so much more than oil – the Gabrielino Indians, the Spanish ranchos, the Japanese farmers who grew vegetables and flowers on the hill.”

More To Signal Hill’s History Than Oil

Authier is interested in the political intrigues of the early ’20s that prompted Signal Hill’s incorporation in order to prevent an oil revenue grab by Long Beach. He also pointed to Balboa Studios, which owned “acreage on Signal Hill in the teens and ’20s,” and how actor Buster Keaton wanted to buy land but his advisors told him “there was nothing there – just bean fields and sheep.” He listened to the naysayers and so lost out on what soon became the world’s largest producing oil field, yielding nearly a billion barrels a year in its heyday. The Discovery Well at Hill Street and Temple Avenue is still pumping, 92 years after oil first gushed from that spot.

POSH Public Relations Manager Casey Carver said he is especially interested in the stories of the people who lived and worked on the hill. He hopes that notable institutions as the Southern California Military Academy, which operated from 1924 to 1987 on the present-day site of Alvarado Elementary School, and the horse races from Signal Hill to the ocean that pitted the best riders from the Los Alamitos and Los Cerritos Ranchos, will be remembered through POSH’s efforts.

On Saturday, December 14, POSH will host a 1920s-inspired fundraising dinner from 7 p.m. to midnight at the Petroleum Club, 3636 Linden Ave. Call 562/618-9996 for more information or to order tickets.

POSH meets the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Curley’s, 1999 E. Willow St., a bar-restaurant that has working oil rigs in its parking lot. Anyone interested in Signal Hill’s history is welcome.