Founded in 1921 as the St. Isidore Catholic Parish, the building and grounds are now known as the St. Isidore Historical Plaza – a community center that promotes local California tradition and culture by serving as a gathering place for community activities and services.
The history of Los Alamitos begins with the purchase of the Rancho Los Alamitos by John Bixby. To fund the purchase of the Los Alamitos, John formed a consortium with his cousins Lewellyn and Jotham (owners of Rancho Los Cerritos) and banker I.W. Hellman. When John died unexpectedly in 1888, the ranch was divided among the three owners’ families.
The northern third, roughly north of present-day Orangewood Avenue, was given to the Lewellyn-Jotham group (which later became the Bixby Land Company). This group was comparatively cash-poor and land-rich by the mid-1890s, following the slump that followed the land boom of the 1880s. After experimenting with sugar beets in Northern California, the Bixbys agreed to offer the property, negotiated with Montana silver baron William A. Clark for the capital, and persuaded E.A. Dyer to provide the expertise to establish a new sugar beet mill on the Bixby’s farm.
Los Alamitos was the name given to the village that sprang up around the new sugar beet mill complex, with its streets of company housing for workers and neighboring farmland. William Clark and his brother H. Ross, who really controlled the Los Alamitos operation, negotiated to purchase a considerable tract east of the factory as well as 8,000 acres of land north of the sugar plant as part of their agreement to build and operate the sugar beet mill. The majority of the later half was within Rancho Los Cerritos, which would eventually become Lakewood.
Clark and Hellman were deeply involved in the machinations and business transactions of railroad magnates E. H. Harriman and Henry Edwards Huntington, as well as the fate of the Southern Pacific in Southern California. In addition, not long after establishing Los Alamitos, the Clarks finished their railroad from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, establishing Las Vegas as a desert stop along the way.
Sugar beets were supplied to a factory by horse and cart in the early 1900s. Economics, combined with an insect infestation in 1921, caused the sugar-beet yield to plummet, eventually leading to the end of the Los Alamitos sugar beet business. The town, on the other hand, grew.
Fred Bixby, son of John Bixby and future Cowboy Hall of Fame member, used the sugar beet lands south of the plant (and current Orangewood Avenue) as a finishing ranch to fatten cattle before sending them off to slaughter; he also oversaw Hellman’s lands in present Seal Beach. Bixby, a progressive rancher of his time, permitted European, Mexican, and Japanese farmers to rent property and grow crops. At the start of World War II, Japanese farmers were picked up and transferred to internment camps such as Manzanar.
Prior to and during World War II, the Los Alamitos area became a major center for the aviation manufacturing. The Clark heirs arranged for Donald Douglas to construct a large facility near the airports in Lakewood and Long Beach. Soon after, the Navy chose to relocate its training area from Terminal Island to the level plain just south of Los Alamitos. The new base created many jobs and stimulated moderate growth. The installation was designated as an Armed Forces Reserve Center in 1973. It is now a reserve support facility for Army, Navy, National Guard, and Marine Corps forces.
Many ex-military people elected to stay in Los Alamitos after the war, settling in areas like Carrier Row, where streets are named after World War II aircraft carriers. Except for “the base,” the region remained untouched until 1956, when builder Ross Cortese purchased land to establish the walled community of Rossmoor immediately southwest of the Los Alamitos townsite. Rossmoor, Orange County’s largest single development, was the first walled community in the country and quickly became home to over 10,000 upper middle class professionals. Earle G. Kaltenbach, who designed Disneyland’s original Tomorrowland, and Chris Choate, who rose to prominence as Cliff May’s frequent partner, designed Rossmoor’s residences. Together, the two men were instrumental in creating and popularizing the ranch-style homes that dominated the 1950s suburban boom.
Although Rossmoor was never legally incorporated into Los Alamitos, it has become closely linked to the city. When Los Alamitos incorporated in 1960, its population was barely around 3,400, whereas Rossmoor was approaching 10,000. Los Alamitos has risen dramatically in comparison to its neighbor, which has had little net growth; today, Los Alamitos has a population of slightly more than 11,000, whereas Rossmoor has a somewhat lower population. Rossmoor, which is still an unincorporated section of Orange County, does not pay taxes to Los Alamitos, but the city treats Rossmoor residents in many ways as if they were its own.
Many notable athletes have called Los Alamitos home, including Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby and many major league baseball players like Andy Messersmith, who challenged baseball’s reserve clause and helped establish free agency in professional sports. In the late 1980s, six Rossmoor and Los Alamitos residents were playing in the major leagues: Robb Nen, J.T. Snow, Greg Harris, Dennis Lamp, Greg Pirkl, and Mike Kelly. Lynne Cox, a world-record-holding long-distance swimmer, also lives in the region. While in the California Supreme Court, Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas lived in Los Alamitos, and award-winning mystery writer Jan Burke has also lived there.
Next Point of Interest: El Dorado Nature Center