Long Beach, California’s Los Cerritos Ranch House, also known as Rancho Los Cerritos or Casa de los Cerritos, was “the largest and most spectacular adobe mansion created in southern California during the Mexican period.” Los Cerritos translates as “the small hills.” In 1970, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The adobe home was built in 1844 for trader Jonathan Temple, a Yankee pioneer who became a Mexican citizen. The home was previously the headquarters for a 27,000-acre (110 km2) ranch, with cattle and sheep being the mainstay of the operation.
The area was part of Manuel Nieto’s 167,000-acre (680 km2) Rancho Los Nietos land grant, which was later separated into six parts, one of which being Rancho Los Cerritos. Temple bought the rancho in 1843 and built the adobe home in 1844 as the headquarters for his cattle activities. Temple sold the rancho to Flint, Bixby & Company in 1866, who turned it from cattle to sheep. From 1866 to 1881, Jotham Bixby, the brother of one of the company’s founders, operated and lived at the ranch. Jotham Bixby, dubbed the “Father of Long Beach,” eventually bought the land and raised seven children there. Fanny Bixby Spencer, one of Jotham’s children raised at the ranch house, went on to become a philanthropist, poet, and pacifist.
Bixby began leasing or selling areas of the ranch in the late 1870s, which became the cities of Downey, Paramount, and Lakewood. The adobe fell into decay between the 1880s and the 1920s. Llewellyn Bixby (Jotham’s nephew) bought the property in 1929 and renovated it extensively, adding a new red-tiled roof, electricity, plumbing, fireplaces, a sun porch, new floors, and much of the landscaping. Llewellyn Bixby died in 1942, and the mansion was sold to the City of Long Beach in 1955. The city converted the house into a museum dedicated to educate the public about the rancho period in California.
Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site was converted into, and is still administered as, a public museum by the Rancho Los Cerritos Foundation in collaboration with the City of Long Beach. Wednesdays through Sundays are open for tours, activities, and events. The house is furnished in the Victorian style in which Jotham Bixby raised his family in the 1870s. A visitor center with displays describing the site’s history from Native American times to the present is available. Temple planted orange and cypress trees in a classic Italian garden. The facility also has a 3,000-volume study library on California history and a gift store. The Museum and its operations are supported by the Friends of Rancho Los Cerritos.
From 2001 to 2002, the museum was closed for 17 months to allow for seismic retrofitting, lead paint and asbestos insulation removal, masonry repairs, and renovations to increase accessible for the disabled.
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