Do you remember the water tower that used to be the iconic symbol of Signal Hill, visible for miles around? If so, you must have seen it before 1999, when it was taken down.
There might have been a water tower on the Hill as early as 1906. According to the Los Angeles Herald:
“The water tower on top of the hill, tall and shapely, will be crowned with a design for beautiful lights which will illumine the whole hill.”
I am not sure when or if that water tower was built, but most report a water tower of some sort being on the Hill since the 1920s. That 1920s water tower was severely damaged in the March 1933 Long Beach earthquake but plans for a new tower were quickly approved in July of that year. The tower, atop the Hill at about the 350-foot elevation mark at Skyline Drive and Junipero Avenue became one of Signal Hill’s most visible landmarks, especially after nearly all the oil towers were taken down to make room for redevelopment. The tower was officially named the Denni tank after the Denni family, who had what many described as a “mansion” on the top of Signal Hill before oil was discovered.
Louis Denni (1859-1933) migrated from Switzerland in the
1880s and worked at the Bixby ranch on Rancho Los Alamitos, eventually becoming
foreman. He later set up his own dairy operations in Los Alamitos and in October
1912 sold his dairy herd and other holdings in the area to his nephew, Joe
Denni, who continued the business. The Santa Ana Daily Register described Louis
Denni as one of the oldest, as well as one of the wealthiest dairymen in Southern
California. Following the sale of his
Los Alamitos property, Louis, wife Elisa (1862-1941) and their family moved to
Signal Hill, purchasing the residence of George W. Hughes, one of the
developers of Signal Hill, for $24,000 ($624,000 today). Hughes had purchased 35-acres at the summit of
Signal Hill for $20,000 ($687,000) in 1904.
Denni home, 36 Junipero
Source: Long Beach Public Library
wealthy, Denni was made even richer by the discovery of oil in 1921. The Denni
family leased their Signal Hill property*, moving to Wilmington in 1923, investing
in real estate. At the time of his death in 1933 from injuries incurred in a
traffic accident, Louis Denni was said to be the largest single property owner in
Wilmington with an estimated worth of $1 million ($21 million today). He and
wife Lizzie had several children including - Frank (1889-?), Elizabeth (1893-?),
Mary (1894-1959), Anna (1895-1896), Nicholas (1896-1898) Louis (1899-1920), Joseph
(1902-1990). Anna, Louis, and Nicholas are
buried at Sunnyside cemetery, along with their parents.
Denni memorial - Sunnyside
Source: Long Beach Public Library
In October 1999, the Denni tank was dismantled as were two 300,000 gallon tanks at nearby Temple Avenue and Hill Street. New reservoirs, a $1.2 million ($2 million today) gallon Hilltop Reservoir, beneath Hilltop Park at Dawson Street and Skyline Drive and a $1.3 million ($2.1 million) Temple Reservoir next to the old Temple tanks replaced them. This was good news for developers who would now be able to supply ample water to the Hill’s new residents, and also good news for those already there who would no longer be troubled by poor water pressure.
* As of 1999 the city still leased the property from the Denni Family Trust. Attempts to find if they still do were not successful.
“A big buy; G. W. Hughes purchases summit of Signal Hill. Evening Tribune, 01 September, 1904.
Lowe, Joshua. “Signal Hill’s landmark tank coming down.” Press Telegram, 12 October 1999.
“Louis Denni succumbs to auto injury.” San Pedro News Pilot, 12 May 1933.
“Quits dairying after thirty years’ experience.” Santa Ana Daily Register, 10, October 1912.