Laurie Angel, division fiscal manager of CSULB’s Office of Physical Planning and Facilities Management, led a cheer recently as the president of the volunteer North Long Beach Community Action Group (NLB CAG) when the organization won the national “Neighborhood of the Year” Grand Prize for documenting and permanently archiving the history of North Long Beach since 1924, when the area was annexed to the city of Long Beach. The group was recognized at Neighborhood USA’s (NUSA) national conference held in May in Hampton, Va.
NLB CAG also won first place against four competitors in the category of “Social Revitalization – Single Project” for its “Back to the Future – North Long Beach History Project,” winning the overall competition in a field of 25 finalist cities throughout the USA in three categories.
The task of documenting NLB’s history was pursued by a team including Angel; Dan Pressburg, NLB advocate and former Long Beach Cultural Heritage commissioner; Linda Ivers, project initiator and 8th City Council District field representative; Kaye Briegel, emerita lecturer in history at CSULB; and T. Beth Hall, a professional historical archaeologist. Each member lives and has roots in NLB for several generations.
“This is a pretty incredible award,” said Angel, who joined the university in 1996 after earning her bachelor of science degree in business with an emphasis in accounting and a master’s degree in business administration from CSULB. “It’s the first time Long Beach ever won this award and it has been around since the 1970s. It’s quite an accomplishment to be recognized for work in our community. There has been a perception of NLB as not meeting the standards of the rest of the city. The truth is, this award draws positive attention to our part of the city and says we have a strong community here.”
The history project collected and preserved historical and cultural elements, newspaper articles, photographs, oral history interviews and family stories from longtime residents. “It’s the most incredible feeling for our neighborhood to be recognized in Long Beach, much less nationally,” said Angel. “Maybe we’ll help to set an example for neighborhoods throughout the country to undertake history projects to bring pride and recognition to their communities.”
The project created a permanent NLB archive for integration into the collection of the Historical Society of Long Beach (HSLB), which recently moved to Bixby Knolls. The project’s ongoing focus is to document the history, people and cultural elements of the NLB community, and to create and sustain a more fulfilling and positive sense of community.
“There has never been a history written about NLB until now,” she said. “Remember, NLB was annexed by the city of Long Beach in 1924. We’ve always been a kind of appendage. We’re not part of the city’s mainstream. Long Beach is the fifth largest city in California and the 35th largest in the U.S. This isn’t a small city. It’s a big city. It is a city of neighborhoods and each one has a story. Ours was lost and we were determined to let people know it’s been found again.”
One goal of the project’s research is to foster a sense of community. “Our goal is to inform people and bring them together,” she explained. “Unless you have a sense of community, you lose a big piece of life. That sense of community seems to be lacking nowadays, especially in southern California.”
At CSULB, Angel is responsible for managing Physical Planning and Facilities Management's complex annual budget now approaching $300 million. She is a former member of the budget advisory committee for the Long Beach Unified School District and a member of North PAC (as homeowner representative) since 1996. She has more than 25 years of financial experience from advising small businesses on financial matters to providing financial management for multi-national corporations and public agencies. At the Orange County Transportation Agency (OCTA), she served as the senior financial analyst with responsibility for financial analysis, long range forecasting, and developing and administering grants with the Federal Transportation Administration, the state of California, the Southern California Association of Governments (the LA area regional planning agency) and other regional government or non-profit funding agencies. In addition, she was the principle financial analyst in developing OCTA’s 15-year Road Map to Recovery after the Orange County bankruptcy.
The NLB History Project has its roots in March 2006 when the Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association awarded NLB CAG a $10,000 grant to fund a historical survey of targeted redevelopment sites in NLB and to create a NLB archive for the HSLB. The Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association exists for the purpose of historic preservation as a result of the federal government relinquishing control of the Long Beach Navy Base and its subsequent demolition.
“We put together what we thought was a good project to survey properties along corridors we knew would be targeted for redevelopment,” she said. Using the $10,000 grant, they surveyed and began documenting around 100 NLB properties. Of those, between 40 and 50 are now leveled. Each property was photographed and described. “We wanted a record of what existed before it was gone,” she said. “Working with various departments within the city of Long Beach, we began collecting documentation to determine whether any of those properties had any historical significance.”
But the full scope of documentation proved elusive. After six months the city was very slow to support their efforts and time was running out on the grant. “We actually had to formally request a change of focus for the grant,” she said. “As a part of the project we reviewed local newspapers beginning around 1924 to determine historical context. What we found was that the local NLB newspaper, The Argus, was falling apart. We shifted focus to include digitizing most of the full run of the paper, from the 1920s to the 1960s from actual print and microfilm media, creating a searchable record to aid in research. It’s really pretty fascinating and a wonderful resource because now The Argus is preserved forever with DVDs at the main library, HSLB, and for each team member. As the opening exhibit in HSLB’s new home the development of the NLB archive created an incredible set of circumstances. Everything came together beautifully.”
There were plenty of surprises along the way. “A property that had once supported a Church of the Latter Day Saints for 70 years became Grace Park, named for Grace Wiley, a rare professional herpetologist who lived in NLB and the church. Some of the seniors we interviewed recalled cauliflower fields and a community of Swiss dairy farmers in NLB, which we found by reviewing census data. The Los Angeles River, the discovery of oil in the 1920s, and the Long Beach earthquake, play important roles in the development of NLB. It’s pretty interesting and there are still plenty of stories to discover, preserve and tell.”