Water Changes Everything

Exhibition & Educational Programs

Opening July, 2019

Long Beach rests in the flood plain of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers. For years the two rivers meandered across land now populated with residential neighborhoods and commercial areas. Through an exhibition that will open in July of 2019 the Historical Society of Long Beach will explore how humans attempted to harness local rivers, utilize the ocean front, and find enough fresh water to develop a city.

Los Angeles River

Native people once thrived along the two rivers and near where the first ranchos were established. The people and development of Long Beach have always been at the mercy of water in every direction. In the early years, local fresh water springs supported the population and farming. As the population rapidly expanded, local fresh water sources could no longer support the city.

Very few residents realize how the San Pedro Bay and the land between the rivers looked before Long Beach was established.

Through the exhibition we seek to share images of those early days and recount the major developments that led to the built environment we know today with a focus on how the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers and their tributaries shaped the contemporary geography and communities of Long Beach.

Surf Hitting the Peninsula circa 1950

Educational displays in our Bixby Knolls gallery will explore how the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Los Angeles County Flood Control District, and other agencies channelized rivers and wetlands. We consider the commercial, recreational, residential, and governmental motivations for attempting to control water and our shorelines. Using a chronology, we show how long-term flood control efforts such as storm drains, concrete channels, pumping stations and breakwaters made way for development and impacted communities across the city.

This exhibition will demonstrate how early residents, local water companies, the Long Beach Water Department, the Metropolitan Water District, the Water Replenishment District, and other entities secured enough fresh water for our growing city utilizing wells, regional water supplies, aquifer recharging systems and conservation.

Water Changes Everything will serve as a living reminder of the value of one of our most precious resources and tidelands resources in the historical development of our Long Beach community.

It will show how the City and the Port leveraged tidelands resources over the years to remake the area into a modern metropolis, and how development of the Tidelands produced billions of dollars of economic impact in the city and region. Finally, special programming plans offer opportunities to reach the public with expert panel discussions and presentations to cover more complex and nuanced topics.

We hope to collaborate with the Long Beach Water Department, Port of Long Beach, Metropolitan Water District, Water Replenishment District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rancho Los Alamitos, and others to present this fascinatingly dynamic story.

Exhibition Topics

  • The Ocean as a Tourist Attraction
  • Fresh Water Sources
  • Floods 1910s – 1950s
  • Army Corps of Engineers Change Topography — Flood Control and Breakwater Make
  • Way for Development
  • Recreation Along the Water
  • Impact of World War II, Navy, Industry
  • Mid-Century, Long Beach Returns to its Tourism Roots
  • Water Challenges Today — Sea Level Rise, Wetlands Restoration, Drought
Aerial View of Marine Stadium