Early Long Beach Subdivisions

From Farms To Subdivisions

RAILROADS Real estate development in Long Beach started when a sandy, curly haired Englishman with a high broad forehead and blue eyes, William Erwin Willmore, conceived of the idea of founding a colony.  In 1880 Willmore’s plan for his American Colony began to take shape when he met with Jotham Bixby to discuss the subdivision of the Rancho Los Cerritos. Willmore hired Charles Healey to prepare a map of the project which Willmore called the American Colony. Though he originally hoped to purchase 10,000 acres, Willmore scaled down his dream upon the recommendations of Healey to 4,000 acres, 350 of which would form his townsite of Willmore City.  Judge Robert M. Widney, a Los Angeles attorney, was the money man behind William Willmore in his early endeavors. It was Widney who built the infamous “Get Out and Push” railway, the first transportation link connecting Willmore City with the outside world.   A Faithful dray horse pulled the railcar along uneven terrain, often forcing passengers to “get out and push” to keep the railcar moving. Willmore City was not as popular as its promoters had hoped.  In the fall of 1882 there were nine dwellings either completed or under construction.  Only about a half-dozen families remained in the town site during the winter.   Mail and produce had to be brought from Wilmington by Widney’s railroad.  The horse cars made two trips each day to the rail juncture in Wilmington, but many times they were empty on both trips.  During the winter improvements were made to the railway.  The route was straightened, the number of ties doubled, the pine rails overlaid with strip iron, and two new passenger cars built. Despite all its advantages Willmore City and […]

Willmore City and American Colony subdivisions

Willmore City District  William Willmore founded Willmore City which later became Long Beach Today the Willmore District of Long Beach extends from the Los Angeles River to Pacific Avenue, and from 4th Street to Anaheim Street.  It encompasses parts of the original town of Willmore City, organized by city founder William Willmore.  Willmore had started his American Colony in 1882 when he purchased 4000 acres of the Cerritos Rancho.  Since every colony needed to have a townsite where people could go to shop and socialize, Willmore set aside 350 acres for his city. The town site was on a mesa about twenty feet above the beach, encompassing an area from the ocean to 10th street and from the river to Alamitos Avenue.  American Avenue, 124 feet wide, extended through the town in a north-south direction.  Lots on this avenue were 250 feet deep, and all buildings were required to be 100 feet back from the street, allowing ample space for lawns and gardens.  It was a double avenue, with shade trees on both sides as well as down the center.  The other north-south streets were 80 feet wide, and the lots 150 feet in depth. A space 175 feet wide was reserved along the bluff for a double driveway, bridle path and promenade.  Houses along the bluff were required to be built at least thirty feet from the street.  All of the streets were lined with shade trees, and blocks reserved for parks, churches, schools, and a public library.   Description of Willmore City An auction was held October 31, 1882, to sell land in Willmore’s new city.  An article from the Los Angeles Times of October 28, 1882 gives a shining picture of “Willmore, […]

Alamitos Subdivisions

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). 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.  In his March 28, 1939, Did You Know That? column Walter Case told of […]

Alamitos Peninsula, Naples and Alamitos Heights Subdivisions

Alamitos Bay Peninsula The idea of a harbor at Alamitos Bay appealed to many investors in the land boom days of the 1880s.  Southern California was in the middle of tremendous real estate development, this, along with plans to bring in a railroad, stirred hope that a major harbor could be developed at Alamitos Bay. The Alamitos Land Company planned to give the Los Angeles and Ocean Railroad, competitors to the South Pacific, a right of way through land around Signal Hill.  Alamitos Bay would be the terminus of the new railroad and the bay developed into a major harbor.  By the end of January 1888 the Los Angeles and Ocean Railroad acquired the last link of land from Los Angeles.  The proposed rail line was to enter the Alamitos Company’s land just north of present day Pacific Coast Highway and just east of Termino and proceed in a southeasterly direction to Alamitos Bay, crossing Anaheim Street at Ximeno.  It would continue toward the ocean at a point east of Nieto.  Several grades were actually established along the route and can still be traced today in the vicinity of Recreation Park. Rumors of great things to come continued. One indicated that six railroads, three of them transcontinental, planned to make Alamitos Bay their terminus. Bathhouse at Alamitos Bay, c1903. On February 5, 1888, on the heels of all these rumors, the Alamitos Land Company began selling 200 lots at Alamitos Bay.  A business lot sold for $300, and prospective buyers were told the same lot was expected to be worth $1000 to $3000 in one year.  In March 1888, the first ship put into Alamitos Bay to test the depth of water; in April plans […]

The City of Belmont Heights

The area we now call “Belmont Heights” started as the Mira Mar tract in 1901 by real estate agents Frank Shaw and H. S. Gundry.  Promoters advertised the tract as being on a high bluff overlooking the ocean just north of Devil’s Gate and one and one-half miles east of Long Beach. Before the arrival of the Pacific Electric you couldn’t have given the land away. Why? It was too far from Pine Avenue. But by 1905, with the electric rail line, and service every half hour, you could be in downtown Long Beach in eight minutes. Sales in Mira Mar really took off. In January 1905, 120 lots (none smaller than 50 feet) were placed on the market with prices ranging from $500 to $1250 per lot. No shacks were allowed and homes had to be priced from at least $1000. By May 1905, some of the lots had been downsized which allowed for 383 lots. In 1906 another tract was set up adjacent to “Mira Mar;” it was called “Belmont Heights.” Frank Strong of the F. W. Sterns real estate company was in charge of sales, but employed Mira Mar’s developer Frank Shaw as an agent.  Prices had risen and the minimum price for a bluff lot was $675, one-third in cash and the balance within one or two years. The name “Belmont Heights” would stick and by 1908 the entire area was known as Belmont Heights. With the arrival of  Long Beach’s first mass transit system the Pacific Electric Red Car, real estate sales skyrocketed. Farms turned into subdivisions and by 1908 the new residents were clamoring for city services. They had two choices: either incorporate and form their own city or […]

The “Willows” and Wrigley District

The Willows Early development in the Willows/Wrigley area The Wrigley District of today is part of what was once known as “Willows.”  In 1887, on the flat west of the American Colony (Long Beach was the city portion of the American Colony), was an area known by three names:  The Willows, the Wilmington Colony Tract, and Lucerne.   All three names were given the area which was situated 18 miles south of Los Angeles, 2  1/2 miles northwest of downtown Long Beach and 4 miles north of Wilmington.  The settlement which became known as Lucerne in the late 1890s started as the Wilmington Colony Tract.  Then, when a school district was formed the name of the district was designated “Cerritos.”  This was exceedingly confusing since there was already a settlement known as Cerritos three miles northwest. The area was much different than today.  There was no river next to the 710 Freeway, or 710 Freeway.  In later years Pico Avenue and Julia Street became the course of the river and the 710 Freeway.  In these earlier times the river entered the marshy area above San Pedro Bay where the 103 Freeway is today, around Anaheim Street. There was also the Cerritos Slough which ran from Anaheim Street to what would be known as Channel Number 3 of the Long Beach harbor area. Street names changed, Humphries becoming DeForest Avenue, Perris Avenue becoming Santa Fe,  State Street changing its name to Pacific Coast Highway.  There were 4 major roads connecting the colony, State Street which ended at the river near present day San Gabriel Boulevard, Hill Street and Willow Street which also ended at the river, and Anaheim Road which connected the area to Wilmington. Colonization began […]

Signal Hill

Signal Hill One of the first to settle on Signal Hill was Henry Clay Dillon.  Dillon brought his family to Long Beach from Denver in the spring of 1887 because of insomnia, the Los Angeles Herald of December 4, 1892 reported.  There he purchased 160 acres from Jotham Bixby on what was then called “Cerritos Hill” for $150 an acre.   The land was covered entirely with sage brush and mustard plants, but in the spring there were wild flowers.  The Dillon’s first built a barn, in which the family lived until the house was finished.  Reservoirs had to be built and windmills installed and orchards planted — oranges and lemons, walnuts, olives and lots of guavas and figs. Dillon named  it Colorado Orchards.   By 1892 he had divided his land into five 20 acre lots and one 40 acre home tract and sold several to prominent Denver business men.  Dillon retained, however, the 40 acre tract and one 20 acre lot. On it there were seven orchards, segregated into various fruit varieties.  There were 2000 fig trees, 2000 olive trees, 1250 Eureka lemons, 120 navel orange trees, 300 walnut trees, 200 apple trees, 500 plum, 500 peach and apricot, 3500 guavas.  All in all there were over 30,000 plants fertilized with sewerage from the house and stable. Josephine Dillon once married to Clark Gable, grew up on Signal Hill Lemon growing was an extensive, though unprofitable, industry in the Signal Hill area in the 1890s.  Judge Dillon’s lemon grove was between Vine and Cherry Avenues, south of Catalina Street.  Thomas Wall and W. Patton Wilson each owned a ten-acre lemon orchard in the triangular block which came to a point at Pacific Coast Highway and […]

Los Cerritos

Today the Los Cerritos District of Long Beach extends from 48th Street on the North to the 405 Freeway on the South, to the Los Angeles River on the West and Long Beach Blvd. on the east. It was formed from land that belonged to the Bixby family of Rancho Los Cerritos. Los Cerritos District today Rafaela Cota Temple 1850 The Rancho Los Cerritos, which would give birth to the city of Long Beach, has a long history going back to 1784 when it was part of the much larger Rancho Los Nietos owned by Manuel Nieto. Nieto died and his survivors divided their inheritance. What would become the Rancho Los Cerritos passed to the hands of Dona Manuela Nieto de Cota in 1804. It was later sold by her heirs to Rafaela Cota, a niece of Manuel Nieto, and her husband John Temple on December 16, 1843, for $3,200. Burdened with debt because of a devastating drought, harassed by increased taxes, Juan Temple had to sell the Rancho Los Cerritos. On February 23, 1866, the Flints and the Bixbys purchased the 27,000 acres for $20,000, or 80 cents an acre. The firm made Jotham Bixby manager of the huge estate and in 1869 Jotham acquired a half interest in the rancho, for which he paid $10,000. In 1880 when William Willmore approached Jotham Bixby about buying land to form a colony, Bixby considered Willmore’s offer. With the additional money the Flint-Bixby Company could purchase neighboring Rancho Los Alamitos, which the Flint-Bixby Company had been leasing from the Michael Reese estate since 1878. The extra capital would allow for the purchase. As mentioned in my blog on Willmore City subdivisions, William Willmore could not pay […]

North Long Beach

Many of the housing tracts which would form North Long Beach weren’t built until the 1930s or later. I’ve written about these in my book Fighting Fear, which I will not repeat here, but let me tell of the area’s early development in the 1880s through the 1920s. California Cooperative Colony Ad 4/27/1887 There were other colonies forming around Long Beach’s American Colony, parts of which would eventually become North Long Beach. On the proposed narrow-gauge railroad from Long Beach to Pasadena, the California Cooperative Colony was created on 7000 acres of Rancho Los Cerritos territory on land lying east of the Los Angeles River and north of present 56th Street. It was about six miles inland from Long Beach. On May 2, 1887, stock in the colony was offered for sale. It operated on the subscription basis: 200 shareholders, to be known as “founders,” would each buy a $140 share of stock at a fifty per cent discount. Each share would entitle the holder to a business or residence lot in the projected town, and the privilege of purchasing not more than four ten acre plots of surrounding farmland at a discount. For subsequent investors the farm tracts were offered at $100 per acre, one-third down. The town, called Clearwater for the crystal clear water found in the area, was one mile square. It extended from Downey Road on the east to Cherry Avenue (now Garfield) on the west and from Washington (now Compton Blvd.) on the north to Flower Street on the south. In July 1887, the following ad appeared: “The California Cooperative Colony offers for sale at $100 an acre a portion of its valuable lands in the Cerritos ranch, to those […]