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 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)
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.
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
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.
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.