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A (Siren) Blast From The Past

By Laura Scully

At one time they stood as silent sentinels, ready to signal imminent danger. Today, they are rusty reminders of an era when we worried more about an enemy attack than a viral invasion.

An antique air raid siren still stands as a silent sentinel over Belmont Heights, near the corner of Vista St. and Quincy Ave.

They are the air raid sirens found throughout the Southland and in our very own Belmont Heights. The particular siren pictured with this article is located near the corner of Vista St. and Quincy Ave. There are a handful of old sirens throughout Long Beach, including one near John Muir Elementary on Santa Fe Ave., and one near Cubberley Elementary on Killdee St.

Sirens were installed throughout the Southland following the attack on Pearl Harbor, to alert residents of a possible attack from Japanese naval or air forces. Local columnist Tim Grobaty mentioned them in a reflective article about his school life during the 1960’s, at the time of our Cold War with the Soviet Union. He recalled drills with the sirens blaring throughout Long Beach on the last Friday of each month. Students would then dive beneath their desks to “duck and cover.”

Although most sirens stand silent today, some are still used throughout Orange County coastal cities to alert people of tsunami danger. Historically, some folks may recall the early morning false alarm on February 25, 1942, when sirens wailed warnings of a Japanese air raid that never materialized.

The Belmont Heights siren is a “Scream Master” model, like the one near Cubberley Elementary and another at Willow St. and Palo Verde Ave. There are “Federal” models, such as the one near John Muir Elementary on the city’s West Side, among others. You can search for maps of siren locations online.

“Belmont Heights is lucky to have this ‘exclusive’ relic,” said Gabriela Yates, Field Deputy for Councilwoman Suzie Price. She calls it “exclusive” since it does not currently appear on siren maps made by aficionados.

Although cell phone alert networks have replaced sirens, these relics among us can prompt us to consider what life in the Heights was like when they were considered essential.

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