Rancho Los Alamitos was named after a Mexican split of the 1784 Rancho Los Nietos, a Spanish concession that covered an area in southwestern Los Angeles County and northeastern Orange County in modern-day California. Los Alamitos means “Little Cottonwoods” or “Poplars” in Spanish, referring to the area’s native Fremont Cottonwood trees.
Rancho Los Alamitos formerly encompassed all of present-day eastern Long Beach, including all of Los Alamitos and Rossmoor, as well as the majority of Seal Beach, Cypress, Stanton, and Garden Grove. It is also known as Bixby Ranch, after its previous private owners. The early-nineteenth-century adobe ranch house still survives today, holding a museum on the area’s history.
The history of the 28,000-acre (110 km2) Rancho Los Alamitos is nearly a microcosm of the history of expansion in Southern California, from Native Americana cultures to the present. The area was once home to the large Tongva — Gabrielio holy ceremonial and trading hamlet of Povuu’nga, which is now an archeological site. Following the Spanish occupation, ownership would change and limits would shrink numerous times. The rancho’s coastal plain landscape is essentially flat rich soil and was prone to regular floods since it is located in the floodplain between the mouths of the ever-shifting Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and Santa Ana Rivers. The rancho structure is situated near the Puvunga springs, alongside one of the few minor hills in the area, Alamitos Mesa.
In an attempt to profit on the Southern California land boom of the 1880s, John Bixby established the townsite of Alamitos Beach, which was subsequently absorbed by Long Beach. Bixby died unexpectedly in 1888, possibly from an appendicitis attack, before he could accomplish much more, and Rancho Los Alamitos was divided into three significant parties. The developed Alamitos Beach properties were divided equally, while John Bixby’s heirs retained control of the remaining rancho’s central section, the Bixby cousins from Rancho Los Cerritos took control of the northern section, and Hellman took control of the southern lands around present-day Seal Beach. Unfortunately, the various partners were unable to pursue John Bixby’s plan of constructing Alamitos Beach due to a financial problem.
The Bixbys had dabbled in sugar beet growing on land they owned in Northern California. In the 1890s, Jotham Bixby arranged for land on the rancho to be used for sugar beet production and enlisted the capital of William Clark, one of the wealthiest men in America, to build a sugar beet refinery plant on a portion of the Bixby Ranch property. Later oil finds from the Long Beach Oil Field helped to keep the rancho afloat.
Rancho Los Alamitos’ historic ranch house, surrounding ranching facilities, and some open landscape can still be found adjacent to Cal State Long Beach. In 1967, descendants of the Bixby family donated the property to the City of Long Beach.
Next Point of Interest: Coyote Creek