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Reading 2



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Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The History of Rancho Los Alamitos

Rancho Los Alamitos (Ranch of the Little Cottonwoods) is one of the few sites remaining that represents the growth of Southern California from the time of its first occupation by Europeans. The ranch house itself has grown from a four-room adobe shelter to an 18-room structure and serves today as an outstanding example of the way in which an existing Spanish-Mexican structure gradually developed into an eastern form adapted to the California lifestyle.

Rancho Los Alamitos was carved out of a 300,000-acre land grant called "Los Coyotes" awarded by the king of Spain to Manuel Perez Nieto in 1790. Nieto was a corporal in the Spanish army stationed at the San Diego presidio and had come to Alta California with the Portola-Serra expedition of 1769. He retired in 1795 and settled down on his rancho to raise cattle. The following year, Governor Borica ruled in favor of the San Gabriel mission's petition for more land, and reduced Nieto's holdings to 167,000 acres. Nieto's wife and five children inherited the rancho upon Nieto's death in 1804. His oldest son Juan built an adobe house on the property and acted as manager. In 1834, the land was divided into five ranchos: Santa Gertrudes, Las Bolsas, Los Alamitos, Los Cerritos, and Los Coyotes. By this time, California had become a territory of Mexico. Mexican Governor Jose Figuero purchased the 28,000-acre Los Alamitos rancho that same year and added additional houses. No one is certain whether the surviving adobe dates from the early 1800s or from 1834, but the earlier date is more likely.

Abel Stearns, a New Englander, purchased Rancho Los Alamitos in 1842 for he and his young Spanish-Californian wife, Arcadia Bandini, to use as a summer home. As a trader who settled in Los Angeles, Stearns had become one of the area's wealthiest citizens. He served as the first alcalde (mayor) during the Mexican period and president of Los Angeles under American rule. Stearns was typical of the Americans who came to Southern California during both the Mexican and the American periods. He adopted some of the Californio ways of life, but put his own American stamp on others. Stearns became a large landowner and cattle rancher and helped to change the economic life of Southern California. During his ownership of Rancho Los Alamitos, California was annexed by the United States (1848) and subsequently became the 31st State of the Union (1850). He increased the traditional Spanish-Mexican cattle-raising operation of Rancho Los Alamitos and added to the house by building a north wing of wood-frame construction, positioned at right angles to the original adobe.

In 1861, Stearns mortgaged the rancho to Michael Reese, who purchased it at a sheriff's sale five years later. A Bavarian, Reese settled in San Francisco in 1850 and purchased large tracts of land vacated by the exodus to the gold fields. By 1878, when Reese died while on a trip to his homeland, his estate was worth more than $6 million. He never lived at Rancho Los Alamitos, but leased it for stock grazing.

In 1878, John Bixby leased the ranch from Reese and moved into the deteriorating adobe. Thus began what was to be a 90-year occupation of Rancho Los Alamitos by the Bixby family. By the early 20th century, this family would be one of the largest landowners in the Los Angeles area. John Bixby had traveled from his native state of Maine to California to supervise the sheep-raising operation of his cousin Jotham Bixby's Rancho Los Cerritos. During the Civil War, cotton was replaced by wool, hence the profitability and importance of raising sheep to the newly created state. In 1881, John Bixby purchased Rancho Los Alamitos in partnership with I. W. Hellman and J. Bixby & Co. (which comprised Jotham Bixby & Flint Bixby & Co.). To make the adobe more livable for his wife and young children, John Bixby added many improvements before he died suddenly at age 39 in 1887. The ranch was then divided into three parts; his wife and two children received the middle section, which included the ranch house and gardens, the barns, and the corrals. By 1915, Rancho Los Alamitos was described in the following way:

One of the most beautiful in this section, the buildings being located on the heights overlooking the mountains, the valleys and the sea, an ideal spot for a home, the land extending six miles along the coast and being in itself a small principality. The old adobe house that was built over 100 years ago with walls from three and a half to four feet in thickness, has been improved and modernized, and yet retains the appearance and necessarily its historical interest that clings to the days when the Spanish dons reigned supreme. The other buildings of the ranch are large and in keeping with the progressive spirit of the owner.1

By 1915, Rancho Los Alamitos was commonly referred to as the Bixby Ranch. In 1968, the surviving trustees of the Bixby Home Property Trust granted the furnished ranch house, gardens, and six barns to the city of Long Beach to maintain and develop as a regional historic and educational facility.

Questions for Reading 1

1. Why might the king of Spain have felt free to award large tracts of land in California to his subjects?

2. How does Rancho Los Alamitos reflect the history of Southern California?

3. Who was Abel Stearns? What was his connection to Rancho Los Alamitos?

4. How did Michael Reese make his fortune?

5. Why do you think the Bixby heirs gave Rancho Los Alamitos to the city of Long Beach?

Reading 1 was adapted from Nancy J. Sanquist, "Rancho Los Alamitos" (Los Angeles County, California) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1981).

1A History of California and an Extended History of Los Angeles and Environs, vol. 3 (Los Angeles: Historical Records Co., 1915), 540.


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