On April 15, 1913, a grove of
twenty trees, one for each child in the Coseboom school was planted on the
school grounds by mothers of the students. On that spring day in 1913, the women did
their own digging and placed the trees, and the name of each youngster who
agreed to care for the tree until it had grown enough to provide shade for the
schoolground, into the earth. The Parents Teachers Association, organized in
the fall of 1910 when the school opened, met monthly and besides discussing
school affairs, celebrated member’s birthdays. This month Dora Coseboom was
honored. The women PTA members sewed while they talked about events, and this
April morning they pieced together rag rugs for Mrs. Coseboom. At noon lunch
was served and guests were told they could roam the large poppy field by the
Coseboom home and gather an armload of flowers to take home. Little did they
realize they would be delivering flowers to Dora’s grave four months later.
The Michigan native had lived in
Long Beach 17 years with her husband Clarence, whose family was one of the first
to settle in the area. The two had married in 1897 when 38-year-old Dora wed
42-year-old Clarence. They brought 9 children into the marriage; 7 from
Clarence, whose wife Nellie had died in 1896; and Dora 2, following the death
of her husband James Metcalf.
|Burnett school 2015.
Now Bobbie Smith.
Several of the Coseboom children attended the Burnett elementary school before the new Signal Hill school began classes in 1910. The Burnett and Signal Hill areas had grown considerably since the Burnett school opened in 1888 and the school was in desperate need of an upgrade. By 1908 there were 177 students, taught by 4 teachers in a building that consisted of three rooms and a shed. On windy days the walls moved and the windows were often blown from their casements. Besides the 177 students there were another 88 children who couldn’t attend the school because there wasn’t enough room for them. They were forced to travel a distance to the Alamitos Heights, Pine Avenue and Daisy Avenue schools. A bond election passed and soon there was a three story, brick school, with a shingle roof.
To accommodate the influx of students to the area, the middle
section of the old Burnett school building (20 x 50 feet), was transported to a
100 x 150-foot corner lot on the north slope of Signal Hill, two blocks west
and one north of the Coseboom residence in September 1910. Another 22 x 38-foot
section was moved to the Alamitos Heights school at Temple and 17th Street
to serve as a home economics classroom.* The third section was given as partial
payment to the moving company, Bucey & Huckstep, along with $300 ($8,830 in
2021). The moving company thought they could convert and sell the third section
as a residence.
Some believed Clarence who offered
to donate the land in May 1909, was doing so to help the family name. It had
been tarnished when his 18-year-old son Walter was sent to prison in December
1903 for stealing confiscated liquor from Long Beach city hall. Clarence was
not free of sin himself. In 1896 he was elected as a City Trustee, giving his
word he wouldn’t interfere with the operation of McCarthy’s saloon as long as
the business was conducted in an orderly fashion. As soon as he was elected,
however, he voted to close the saloon. The next day someone hanged an effigy in
Pacific Park (now Lincoln Park). The straw stuffed figure had no name, but it
had only one leg. Everyone knew it could only be Coseboom who, too, only had
one leg. The city was now without a
saloon tax, which was the major source of funding for the town of 550. This led
to the disincorporation of the city and a fight to keep Long Beach alcohol
free, which I discuss in detail in my book Murderous Intent.
It was certainly a blow to
teetotaler Clarence that his 18-year-old son Walter took to alcohol, and became
brazen enough to try to steal confiscated booze from city hall, along with
friends J.S. Saunders and Carl Jordan. To make matters worse, Carl Jordan was
shot trying to escape. Carl later died of blood poisoning while still
The population in the Signal Hill area continued to climb. Overflow attendance at the Burnett and Temple Avenue schools was transferred to Coseboom school in September 1920, when a bungalow addition was added to the Signal Hill school. By March 1921 the Coseboom school had 43 students. A bond issue to enlarge the school by adding a new six room school building was in the works in June 1921 when oil was discovered. Finding liquid gold changed life changed forever on Signal Hill. It became unsafe for children to attend the school as more and more wells found oil, which gushed forth a gooey tar, covering everything.
|First oil well, 1921.
Long Beach Public Library
In September 1922, the school
district abandoned the school site, sold the buildings, and leased the land to the
Transport Oil Company, the highest bidder. The oil company agreed to a $4750 ($76,800
in 2021) cash bonus and pay a 20 percent royalty on the lease. By then a large
number of families had left what many now called “Porcupine Hill,” because of
its prickly appearance from all the oil derricks. They were tired of regularly
being routed from their homes by blowouts from the oil wells. Houses, streets
and sidewalks were covered with sticky tar; rocks that came up with the gushers
hurdled through roofs and windows. Fortunately, many who left had made money
leasing or selling their Signal Hill real estate, including the Cosebooms.
Oil made Clarence Coseboom a rich
man. Witnessing the changes around him, he wondered if the wealth oil brought
was worth the price. In April 1925, oil worker Henry Burton perished while
working on the Shell Coseboom Well #2 after a plank fell 80 feet and hit him. Was
sacrificing a human life for oil riches, worth the price? Coseboom knew the
pain Burton’s family suffered. All three of Clarence’s wives passed away before
him – Nellie in 1896, Dora in 1913, Elizabeth in 1924. He lost his 16-year-old
son Fred in 1898, and the miscreant Walter in 1909, who was electrocuted
following a car accident. Then there was daughter Pearl, who didn’t want to end
up with one leg like her father. She had broken her leg in 1922, but it never
healed properly, resulting in her death on March 3, 1924.
Seventy-year-old Clarence joined his three wives, daughter and two sons in death on February 26, 1926. But they never left their love of Signal Hill behind, all buried on its slope at the Long Beach Municipal Cemetery. Eventually sons Tom, Lloyd and Ralph would join them there not far from the land they loved.