Alamitos Townsite History

There was a tremendous land boom in Southern California when the new transcontinental Santa Fe railroad was completed in 1885.  A price war developed between the Santa Fe and the older Southern Pacific with tickets falling from $52.50 in 1883 to $4 in 1886. Thousands moved to the Southland, many of them to Willmore City (which would become Long Beach).

Alamitos Land Sales 1905 edited

Alamitos Land Sales 1905

Captain Charles T. Healey, who surveyed the original Willmore City townsite in 1882, also laid out the new Alamitos townsite (also referred to as Alamitos Beach townsite) in 1886.  The dividing line between Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Alamitos was present day Alamitos Boulevard, and on the other side of the boundary with Long Beach John Bixby and his associates began selling land.  Their townsite was 20 blocks in length, from west to east.  From Ocean Avenue, it extended two blocks toward the north, and 39 blocks only four lots wide, were laid out on the south side of the avenue.  Between these little blocks the streets were designated as “places.”  Spanish names were given to the cross streets, in alphabetical order, though George Bixby, son of Jotham Bixby, named some of the new east and west streets after several of his college friends.  Water for Alamitos Beach came from a lake and reservoir in what is now Recreation Park.  Earlier, John W. Bixby had built a dam across the canyon north of Seventh Street enlarging the lake and making it better as a place for watering large flocks of sheep. A brick pump house at the edge of the lake pumped the water into the new town.

Corner Nevada and Park Boulevard Temple and First edited

Corner Temple and First – 1905

 In his March 28, 1939, Did You Know That? column Walter Case told of an interview with Martha Hathaway in which she shared memories about Alamitos Beach.   Martha remembered her young brother-in-law, John W. Bixby, inviting her to drive with him to his new Alamitos Beach subdivision.  Along the way from the Rancho Los Alamitos they encountered one lone sheepherder who, with the assistance of his dogs, was moving his 1000 sheep from one camp to another. She also recalled that there was not a single tree between the ranch house and the sea.  Eventually John Bixby stopped at the present site of Bixby Park and whistled shrilly.  All at once a shadowy outline of a man’s figure appeared through the fog and a man emerged who was introduced to Miss Hathaway as Mr. Messick, superintendent of the new park.  The two men drew spades, other garden tools and canvas covered green plants from the wagon. They disappeared into the silent, barren spaces to plant cypress and eucalyptus trees to transform the bleak terrain into a more hospitable environment.

In 1888 the real estate boom in Southern California, brought on by competitive fares between two rival railroads, ended. Things would change with the arrival of the Pacific Electric Railroad in 1902 (see my blog From Farms to Subdivisions)

Carroll Park

Laying out Carroll Park

Laying out Carroll Park

In June 1902 John Carroll and his wife returned to Long Beach after spending two years at Singapore,  looking after  John Carroll’s tin mine. During their absence the Carroll’s left their young daughter with Long Beach residents Mr. and Mrs. Horace Green.  They Carroll’s liked the area, and their daughter had already made lots of friends,  so they decided  to purchase a  tract of land on Fourth Street, between Alamitos Park and Quality Heights, and  build a handsome residence.  The rest of the land they planned on subdividing.

First, Carroll hired Hervey Shaw, who later became city engineer, to lay out the subdivision.  Shaw, who had farmed the Carroll Park area since 1897, laid out the center of the tract in an ellipse entirely surrounded by a driveway.  These driveways swung out to surrounding streets in such a way as to preserve the curves and at the same time divide the outside sections.

On Monday, January 19, 1903, the Carroll Park tract was placed on the market.  There were fifteen lots, each 50 x 200 feet, with cement curbs and sidewalks, and graded streets.  Lots were priced between $300- $1100.  In order to protect the property from cheap buildings, Carroll placed a $1500 building restriction on each lot.  Carroll Park was advertised as having every convenience: pure water under pressure, electric lights, gas, telephones, and a streetcar line within one block.

John Carroll home

John Carroll home

Carroll reserved the corner of 4th and Junipero for his own home, an imposing three-story New England style structure.   In 1902 it was built under the direction of his friend H. W. Green.  Verandas extended around three sides of the first two floors, and a widow’s walk around the smaller third story that held the ballroom.  From the walk the Carroll family could see the ocean and a few houses set among farms, orchards, and eucalyptus groves. Today a church and parking lot occupy the site.  Still intact, however, is the maze of streets, but the names have changed.  Gone is Huerta, Spanish for orchard, named because there was an olive orchard on his house site; Hechezur has also been replaced, it means enchanted or bewitched, an apt description of his tract.  Carrollton was named for the developer himself and swung up to the wide veranda of his home.   Another was Tingling, named for Madame Katherine Tingley, leader and head of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society at Point Loma, who may have inspired the elliptical streets.  (For more on Carroll Park, the legends behind its shape, and much more read my March 2014 blog at www.historiclongbeach.blogspot.com)

Alamitos Land Sales Skyrocket

Iowa tract

Location: Between 4th & 5th Streets, Cherry & St. Louis. (Eve. Tribune 12/3/1902)

John Carroll had come back to Long Beach just in time to take part in the land boom, but there were many more who were turning their acreage into housing sites.   On Fourth Street there were the Downs, Johnson and Iowa tracts. Formerly covered with shrubbery and berries, the Downs tract advertised that it had the cheapest and closest in lots of the Fourth street subdivisions.  There was also the Iowa tract , three blocks from the ocean, close to Alamitos Park (now Bixby Park), and only two and a half blocks from the electric line.

Location: 3rd & Ocean Park Avenue. (LB Press 6/30/1902)

The Johnson tract was at west 3rd and Ocean; it was purchased from an estate by former Mayor C.F.A. Johnson shortly before his death.

 

Location: Between 4th and 5th Street, on both sides of Nebraska. (Eve. Tribune 12/10/1902)

Location: Between 4th and 5th Street, on both sides of Nebraska. (Eve. Tribune 12/10/1902)

 In March 1903, the Kenyon tract (now part of Bluff Heights Historic District), lying east of Alamitos Park  advertised ocean view lots from $125 to $450.  At its northern border was Eliot Street (now 3rd St.)*, to the south the Pacific Electric Railway, and to the east and west Temple and Obispo.  Major Brewster Kenyon and Mary Greble had purchased the wild mustard covered land for $160 an acre in 1901.

Location:2nd & Eliot (now 3rd St.); Temple & Obispo. (Eve. Tribune 3/20/1903)

Location:2nd & Eliot (now 3rd St.); Temple & Obispo. (Eve. Tribune 3/20/1903)

Friends thought they were crazy for investing in land “so far out.”  East Broadway at that time was Railway Street, so named after a right of way that had been acquired for a proposed steam railroad from Los Angeles which was to enter Long Beach via that street.  Eliot Street was the name of what is now 3rd Street. George Bixby had given the street that name in honor of President Eliot of Yale, his alma mater.  When Kenyon and Greble subdivided the tract they opened two east and west streets through the property from Temple to Obispo.  The partners decided to give the streets Spanish names.  Mrs. Greble’s first name was Mary, and from her childhood until she was a young woman she was called “Little Mary” by close friends and relatives.  When Major Kenyon suggested naming one of their streets “Mariquita,” meaning “Little Mary,” she was delighted.  The other street which they opened through the tract they named “Fortuna,” the Spanish word meaning fortune.  That’s exactly what they were hoping for.  Later the street was renamed Vista, to conform to its continuation, via a little jog, east from Obispo.  The tract was cut into twenty-five-foot lots and advertised as having no city taxes and water piped to lots without extra charge.  Since there were no buildings then between the tract and the sea, they also advertised “good view of ocean.”

Tichenor tract

Location: Between Broadway & 3rd St. on both sides of Molino. (Eve. Tribune 3/30/1903)

Nearby was the Tichenor tract (also part of the present day Bluff Heights Historic District), near Eliot (now 3rd), with 50 foot lots fronting on the electric railway.  Lots were priced from $300 to $400.

The Tichenor tract was named for Adelaide Tichenor, one of the most prominent women in early Long Beach

The Tichenor tract was named for Adelaide Tichenor, one of the most prominent women in early Long Beach

In November 1903, the Densmore Villa subdivision (now in the Rose Park South Historic District) advertised “being on high ground, well above grade, level as a billiard table.”  All lots were 50 x 135 feet, had frontages on Fourth, Densmore*, and Helena* and were bound by Garfield* and Obispo on the east and west.  Prices started at $185 and sales went fairly well, but on February 28, 1904, the F. E. Shaw Realty Company decided to auction off the remaining lots.  To lure prospective bidders to the auction, two lots were given to whoever came closest to guessing the number of beans contained in a glass jar.  J. D. Billingsley (who also bought five lots), and Miss Marian Burkhard (who bought three lots) were the winners.  Mr. Billingsley told reporters he was going back east to dispose of his home and other property.  He could hardly wait to return to Long Beach where he planned on putting a cottage on every lot.  It was a successful day; twenty-¬four lots were sold (5 acres in all) at about $255 per lot.

Densmore

Location: Between 4th & 7th Streets; Temple & Obispo. (Eve. Tribune 11/28/1903)

The June 20, 1904 Los Angeles Herald had this to say:

 ” Visitors to Alamitos are surprised at the prosperity of that place, which adjoins Long Beach on the east. The ground is perfectly level for miles and fruits and vegetables thrive there. In this unincorporated little town, which boasts two school houses and a church or two, in addition to stores, cottages and bungalows, there is much to be seen that bespeaks the general prosperity of the place. Last year Dr. Emmet Densmore, who owned a forty-acre tract at Alamitos, went east. He afterwards wrote to Hazelwood-Smith Bros., real estate brokers of Long Beach, to subdivide the tract and sell. In September the new subdivision was placed on the market, and since that time approximately 240 lots have been sold, aggregating about $54,000. The tract is called Densmore Villa. Already there are several two-story residences and cottages built and others are being erected. All lots are 50 by 125 feet and streets are sixty feet wide. The principal streets of the tract have been oiled and are now nearly as firm as asphalt pavements. The tract is bounded by Temple Avenue on the west, which runs in a straight line from the ocean to the summit of Signal Hill, where report has it that Henry E. Huntington contemplates the erection of a $250,000 tourist hotel. The bounding street on the north is Seventh, on the east Obispo Avenue and Fourth Street on the south. On this street are both gas and electricity and the Home Telephone Company is now stringing wires to Densmore Villa. There are daily free rural deliveries of mail. The new Alamitos school house, a fine structure of two stories and in the mission style of architecture was recently completed at a cost of $18,000. The Redondo Avenue cars of the Long Beach line now run to the northeast corner of Densmore Villa, over an 80 foot boulevard. Building restrictions of $1000 have insured the erection of substantial homes. Lots range in price from $225 to $400.”

In May of 1904 the Seavor tract advertised $1 down, $1 per week. It was located at Seventh and Temple Streets, 2 blocks to the electric railway line.  In September 1904, the Alpha tract, located on Anaheim Street, Obispo and Coronado Avenues advertised that they were on three car lines.  Prices were $100 and $125 per lot, terms were $10 cash and $5 per month; no interest; no taxes.   There was also the Sparks tract, on Seventh Street between Walnut and Cherry which began selling lots in July 1904.  The property included gas, water, electric lights and oiled roads.  All you needed was $5 cash and weekly payments, without interest or taxes until paid, could be worked out.

Alamitos Park

Eve. Tribune 11/23/1904

Opening on November 21, 1904, the  55 parcel Alamitos Park tract between Bonita, Alamitos Park, Ocean Park Avenue and Bishop (later to become 3rd St.), was traversed by First, Second and Appleton Streets.  Lots were 50 x 150 feet, included cement curbs and cement walks.  Prices started at $1000; terms were one-third cash, the balance due in 6 and 12 months. Additional acreage was added to this subdivision in 1905. Boundaries were Florida & 3rd; Cherry (then Independencia) & Junipero.

In April 1905, the Long Beach Park tract, just east of Alamitos Park, was placed on the market. It was here that the beautiful homes we find today along Ocean Boulevard, First Street and Second Street would be built.  One of the first residences was a two story frame structure, 46 x 50 feet, at the corner of Ocean and Orizaba.  The home, with twelve rooms and alcoves, was designed for Dr. T. G. Harriman by architects Train & Williams of Los Angeles.  Besides the grand drawing room and adjoining dining room on the lower floor there was a den, with a great open fireplace.  A flood of electric light was also installed throughout the house. It was considered a “high class” tract — no home could be built on the ocean front for under $3,000.  Prices for homes on First Street had to be at least $1,500 and $1,000 on Second. Also, none could be built nearer to the front property line than 30 feet.

My favorite name of all the subdivisions springing up in the area was the “See-Der Rabbit” tract (in the Bluff  Heights area), bounded by Fourth and Obispo and Colorado and Rose Park Avenues (now Orizaba).  Ten foot rabbits were put up in different sections of the city advertising the new residential district.  J. H. Munholland had come up with the original name when he attended a corn carnival at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, twelve years previously.  In October 1905 he began using this expression to sell the twenty-­four lots in his new tract.  Prices ranged from $350 to $600 for the 50 x 130 foot lots.

In 1910, as these subdivisions were annexed by Long Beach, street names changed. Railway became Broadway; Eliot Street and Bishop became 3rd Street.  In March 1917 many in Long Beach were up in arms over the “outrageous” labeling of street names at corner curbsides.  Though old-timers were prone to commit the unpardonable offense of speaking and writing “Pine street” and even the Pacific Electric street cars had been stenciled “Pine street”, there was no such thoroughfare in Long Beach.  It was Pine avenue, and had always been Pine avenue. Whoever heard of Broadway street?  Broadway was complete in itself.  Yet Public Works Department staff was painting curbs “Broadway St.”  Any school child in Long Beach knew that Carroll Park was spelled just that, “Caroll Park,” but city employees were painting it all sorts of ways including “Caroll. Prk N.” “Carrol Park”.  Yes indeed, a period after the Caroll and none after the Prk and two varieties of the spelling of Carroll, with neither of them correct! The most outlandish example was what was being done on East Fourth street curbings: E.4.th.St Note the periods after the E. and the 4 and the th but none after the St.  A Los Angeles newspaperman was heard to say “If outside people, suspecting that Long Beach is a rube town, inhabited by illiterates, should drive or stroll along East Fourth street and note those official signs, nothing could ever dissuade them.”

Many believed that labeling the curbs should be done away with, unless the person doing the stenciling was correct and consistent.  One person wrote: “In my own opinion, the harm done by this display of ignorance and carlessness will offset hundreds of dollars’ worth of publicity energy put forth by the newspapers and the Chamber of Commerce.” (LBP 3/8/1917 14:5)

More about these early subdivisions, including maps and a complete list of street name changes, can be found in the Long Beach Collection at Long Beach Public Library, 101 Pacific Avenue.  You can also find a list of the 209 early Alamitos subdivisions (1901-1906) in the Long Beach History Index on the library’s website: www.lbpl.org under subject—Subdivisions – 1900s.