HB History

Photo of Historical Huntington Beach Oil Deckers

The area of Huntington Beach was originally occupied by the Tongva people, also known as Gabrielinos, whose lands stretched from what is now Topanga Canyon through Aliso Creek in Laguna Beach.  European settlement can be traced to Spanish soldier, Manuel Nieto, who in 1784 received a Spanish land grant of 300,000 acres, which he named Rancho Los Nietos, as a reward for his military service.  The Stearns Rancho Company ran cattle and horses and raised barley crops on what is now the city of HB.  In the early 1800’s a portion of property was sold to Col. Robert Northam, who raised and sold barley to surrounding ranchers.  By 1889, the city was called Shell Beach and consisted of a small group of settlers.  In 1901, Shell Beach was changed to Pacific City when P.A. Stanton formed a local syndicate and purchased 40 acres along the beach with 20 acres on each side of Main Street.  Stanton’s dream was to build a town on the Pacific Coast which would rival Atlantic City on the East Coast.

Huntington Beach incorporated in 1909 under its first mayor, Ed Manning.  Its original developer was the Huntington Beach Company, a real-estate development firm owned by Henry Huntington, a railroad magnate after whom the city is named.  The Huntington Company is still a major land-owner in the city.  Huntington Beach remained a sleepy seaside town until the famous oil boom in the 1920’s.   

The initial growth of the city began with the oil boom in 1920.  This was the largest California oil deposit known at the time.  Wells sprang up overnight and in less than a month the town grew from 1,500 to 5,000 people.  After a final oil strike in 1953, the fire department began clearing out oil derricks within the city and along the coast to make room for the population explosion that began in the 1950’s.  Beginning in the late 1950’s and continuing into the 1960’s and 1970’s, residents by the thousands moved into the City.  Huntington Beach became the fastest growing city in the continental U.S. as housing tract after housing tract were built.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s oil production rigs were concealed to improve the beach’s image.  Forty years ago, Donald Douglas Jr. acquired the bean fields across from the current U.S. Weapons Station bordering Bolsa Chica in HB.  He began building the Douglas Aircraft Space Systems Center.  The plant produced the upper stage of the Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo astronauts on their successful mission to the moon.  Douglas aircraft became McDonnell Douglas, and in the 1990’s Boeing purchased the combined firms.  Today Boeing is one of the largest employers in HB.

In 1925, Duke Kahanamoku brought the sport of surfing to Huntington Beach and the Southern California shores.  The city’s first surf shop, Gordie’s Surf Boards, opened in 1953.  Six years later, the first U.S. Surfing Championships were held in Huntington Beach.  The following year, the Surfing Championships were covered on television, which rocketed Huntington Beach’s international fame as a surfer’s paradise.  In 2005, the USA Surf Team adopted Huntington Beach as its official home and the Association of Surfing Professionals-North America moved to the city.

View a list of previous City Mayors

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