Castillo de San Marcos National Monument; View of the library in Randall House Rare Books in the Gonzalez Adobe, California.
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Los Cerritos Ranch House


Juan Temple built Los Cerritos Ranch House on his cattle ranch in 1844.

Juan Temple built Los Cerritos Ranch House on his cattle ranch in 1844.
Courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey

Spanish colonists settled in California in the 18th century and ran large ranches on land given to them by the Spanish crown. In southern California, a Spanish soldier received a large land grant in 1774 that stretched across present-day Los Angeles and Orange counties. A large portion of this grant became Los Cerritos Ranch, now the City of Long Beach. In the mid-19th century, an American who became a Mexican citizen acquired the ranch and built the Los Cerritos Ranch House, a National Historic Landmark. Constructed in 1844, the restored Los Cerritos Ranch House is a grand example of mixed Monterey Colonial and hacienda styles of architecture applied to a traditional Spanish-Mexican colonial ranch house.

Corporal Jose Manuel Nieto received a royal grant in 1784 of 300,000 acres between the Santa Ana and San Gabriel rivers. Nieto, a Spaniard of African and European descent, served Spain in the years the empire pushed to colonize California, and Spain rewarded him for his work with the grant. After Nieto passed away in 1804, his wife and children inherited the large Nieto ranch and divided it amongst themselves. The eldest Nieto daughter, Manuela Nieto de Cota, received the 27,000-acre Rancho Los Cerritos. She was one of the few women who owned property in California during the Spanish colonial period. Until Manuela’s death, she and her husband, Guillermo Cota, lived in an adobe building on the ranch where they raised cattle.

In 1843, John “Don Juan” Temple acquired Rancho Los Cerritos from the Cota family. Temple was a prominent Los Angeles businessman who moved to California from Massachusetts in 1827, became a Mexican citizen, and married Rafaela Cota, Guillermo Cota’s cousin. A year after he took over the ranch, Temple built the Los Cerritos Ranch House to serve as his family’s summer home and ranch headquarters. During the politically and culturally tumultuous years of the late 1840s, the era of the U.S.-Mexican War and California’s Bear Flag Revolt, the Temple family remained politically neutral. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the close of the U.S.-Mexican War ceded California to the United States, Temple retained his rights to Rancho Los Cerritos and continued to raise cattle on the land.

In the early 1860s, a severe drought devastated California’s cattle population. After losing most of his herd, Temple sold Rancho Los Cerritos to the American firm, Flint, Bixby, & Co., in 1866. Jotham Bixby, who started his life in California as a miner, took over management of the ranch and moved his family into the Los Cerritos Ranch House. The Bixby family purchased the land from the firm in 1869 and used the ranch primarily for raising sheep. In the late 19th century, Americans flooded into the Long Beach area. The Bixbys began to sell off small parcels of Rancho Los Cerritos and rented out the main house.

The design of Los Cerritos Ranch House blends Southwestern and New England architecture.

The design of Los Cerritos Ranch House blends Southwestern and New England architecture.
Courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey

In 1930, Jotham Bixby’s nephew, Llewellyn Bixby, purchased the 86-year-old Monterey Colonial ranch house from his family. The aged house was in poor condition at the time and Llewellyn took it upon himself to replace the roof, expand rooms, restore the crumbling façade, and install electricity and modern plumbing. In 1956, Llewellyn Bixby’s heirs sold the house and 4.5 surrounding acres to the City of Long Beach, which turned the property into a research library and history museum.

Associated with prominent early Californios and Americans, the Los Cerritos Ranch House is a nationally significant example of the Monterey Colonial and hacienda styles of architecture that were popular during California’s Spanish and Mexican eras. The Monterey Colonial Style originated in Monterey, California, with Thomas Larkin, a Massachusetts native who moved to California in the 1830s. Monterey Colonial houses blend New England and Spanish Colonial adobe building techniques.

In houses like Los Cerritos, a wooden frame supports adobe bricks and allows for a sturdy second story. The strength of the wooden frame also shrinks the width of traditional adobe walls. Placed on red brick foundations, the walls of the Los Cerritos Ranch House are three feet thick in the central section of the house and two feet thick in the wings. The brick came in ships that sailed around the Horn. A long, two-story veranda wraps around the front and both sides of the house, which is a common Monterey Colonial feature. The shingle roof extends over the second-story porch and protects the adobe materials from water damage. Los Cerritos Ranch House also incorporates elements of hacienda architectural design. The house is U-shaped and hugs a large courtyard garden that is enclosed by an adobe wall on the western end.

The Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site today is a museum dedicated to local history. Managed by the City of Long Beach’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Marine, the historic site hosts public programs and events year-round, including its award-winning Adobe Days Revisited elementary school program. The on-site library and archive houses a public collection of books and artifacts that provide researchers with information about the history of the house and the region. The docent-led tours and the visitor center provide guests with information about California’s Spanish, Mexican, and early American eras and about American Indian history. The house also has gardens that visitors can enjoy.
Plan your visit

Los Cerritos Ranch House, a National Historic Landmark, is located inside the Virginia Country Club at 4600 Virginia Rd. in the City of Long Beach, CA. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. Los Cerritos Ranch House is open Wednesday-Sunday from 1:00pm to 5:00pm, except on major holidays. General admission and weekend guided tours are free, but special programs and events may require a small fee. For more information, visit the Rancho Los Cerritos website or call 562-570-1755.

The Nieto family’s Rancho Los Alamitos is the subject of an online lesson plan, Californio to American: A Study in Cultural Change. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. Los Cerritos Ranch House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. Los Cerritos Ranch House is featured in the National Park Service Early History of the California Coast Itinerary.

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