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Tale of Two Cities
By Tim Grobaty   - 07/02/2006

Press Telegram

THE PAST IN PICTURES: There are cities with a past and there are cities with a history. The tales of two cities, Carson and Signal Hill, are the latest told in the handsome, largely enjoyable and picture-heavy Images of America series put out by Arcadia Publishing, and side-by-side they show that some towns have a more interesting heritage than others.

In these parts of Southern California, most of our towns' sagas spring from a glossed-over few hundred years of gathering tribes of Natives Americans, followed by a colorful couple of eras in the rancho days. In those early stages, Carson takes a bit of a lead over Signal Hill in terms of interest, with the area serving as an arena for a bit of a skirmish during the Mexican-American War, when 300 American troops took a whipping at the hands of a Mexican force of 100.

But it doesn't take long for Signal Hill to get back in the game and, ultimately, it's Arcadia's "Signal Hill," put together by Ken Davis in collaboration with the Signal Hill Historical Society, that is much more entertaining than "Carson," which was assembled by college professor (El Camino and Mount St. Mary's) Cindy Tino-Sandoval, with cooperation of the Carson Fine Arts and Historical Commission, Cal State Dominguez Hills and other archives.

Carsonites might and should enjoy the book of their town's history, but it's difficult to see how interest could spread very far past its borders, except for the notable inclusion of the historic 1910 Dominguez Air Meet.

Most out-of-towners think of Carson as being a place that has an IKEA and as the tethering spot for the Goodyear blimp. Well, there's more, but not a lot that's compelling enough to overtake the blimp or the furniture store.

For one, the book has an overabundance of aerial photos, something most history publishers like to steer clear of. And dwarfing those in terms of numbers is a mountain of staged shots. There are ribbon-cuttings galore, all the way down to such banal events as the opening of Building K at Carson High School, or the opening of the 223rd Street freeway overpass. You know you have a limited history when one of your most venerable


businesses is a Jack in the Box on Avalon and Sepulveda.

HIGHER GROUND: Signal Hill, on the other hand, has a surplus of history. The town's oil alone can fuel a sizeable tome, and it takes up a fair chunk of the "Signal Hill" book. But there's plenty on either side of the oil chapters.

Agriculture was huge before oil took root, and mansions sprouted up before they were torn down to make room for more lucrative oil wells.

After oil there was still plenty of life in the hill. There was the legendary local boxer and Hill hellion Kid Mexico and his business endeavors that brought cocktailing, gambling and other forms of fun to his stretch of Orange Avenue; the annual events like the Roughneck Roundup and the Model T Club's Hill Climb; such institutions, now bygone, as the Southern California Military Academy; and the beloved nightclubs, like the Hilltop Star Room and the treasured Bonnie Price's Foothill Club.

Finally, there are the neighborhoods on the hill, which have run from simple to majestic to quaint over the years (they are now running toward a drab and sprawling sameness, but that's not dealt with in the history), and many of them have been scarred by disasters - mostly refinery blasts and fires, but also, notably, by the crash, in 1954, of a Navy F-86 at 19th Street and Raymond Avenue.

"Carson" and "Signal Hill" are available at area bookstores and online sellers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888) 313-2665 or www.arcadiapublishing.com .

Tim Grobaty's column appears in the Press-Telegram on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (562) 499-1256 or at tgrobaty@yahoo.com

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