In 1930, eleven cogged stones were discovered at Rancho Los Cerritos. Dating to 2-5,000 BC, they represent the earliest presence of Native Americans in the area; however, little is known of these first peoples. Between 500 and 1200 AD, another group from the Great Basin of Utah and Nevada displaced the inhabitants of the region. They built 50-100 villages in the greater Los Angeles area; their village of Tibahangna lay near the river on the Cerritos property. Identified today as the Tongva, they lived off the land, gathering acorns, seeds and berries, fishing the rivers and oceans, and hunting for small game. Their highly complex society included extensive trade, technological achievements, a rich oral literature, formalized birth, rite-of-passage and death traditions, and a belief in a supreme being, Chinigchinich.
After Spain began settling California, the Tongva and other Native Americans were forced to move to nearby missions, where they learned new trades and were introduced to Christianity. Thus, the Tongva became known as the Gabrielino, named after the nearby Mission San Gabriel.
In 1784 a Spanish soldier, Manuel Nieto, received a land grant of 300,000 acres as a reward for his military service and to encourage settlement in California. Nieto’s acreage was reduced in 1790 because of a dispute with the Mission San Gabriel, but he still laid claim to 167,000 acres stretching from the hills north of Whittier to the sea, and from today’s Los Angeles River to the Santa Ana River. Upon his death in 1804, his children inherited his property.
After years of joint ownership, Nieto’s lands were formally divided into six parcels in 1834. Daughter Manuela Cota received the area known as Rancho Los Cerritos (“Ranch of the Little Hills”), approximately 27,000 acres bordered on the west by the (now) Los Angeles River and on the south by the Pacific Ocean. She and husband Guillermo built at least two adobes on the land and raised twelve children, as well as cattle and crops. Following her death, her heirs sold the Rancho to Massachusetts-born John Temple in December, 1843.
Temple constructed the present two-story Monterey-style adobe in 1844 as headquarters for his large-scale cattle operation. To supplement his mercantile business in Los Angeles, he pastured as many as 15,000 head and engaged in the lucrative hide and tallow trade. Although Rancho Los Cerritos was only used by Temple as a summer home and he maintained his main residence in Los Angeles, much care and expense was lavished on an elaborate formal garden at the Rancho. Significant trees from this time still exist.
The Gold Rush gave a boost to the Southern California cattle industry at a time when demand for cow hides was decreasing. Ranchers such as Temple drove their cattle north to feed the hungry miners. By the early 1860s, however, successive years of severe flooding and drought helped speed these prosperous years to a close. Tens of thousands of cattle died, and Temple decided to retire. He sold Rancho Los Cerritos in 1866 to the firm Flint, Bixby & Co. for $20,000.
Brothers Thomas and Benjamin Flint and their cousin Lewellyn Bixby founded Flint, Bixby & Co. and began raising sheep in Northern California in 1854. In 1866 the company selected Lewellyn’s brother Jotham to manage their southern ranch, and three years later Jotham bought into the property and formed his own company. From 1866 to 1881, Jotham Bixby and his family resided in the Cerritos adobe. As many as 30,000 sheep were kept at the ranch and sheared twice yearly to provide wool for trade.
Jotham and his wife had seven children, and numerous cousins, aunts and uncles resided at or visited Rancho Los Cerritos, contributing to a lively, undoubtedly hectic atmosphere. Sarah Bixby Smith shared personal moments from this time in her memoir Adobe Days.
Toward the late 1870s when the sheep industry in Southern California was on the decline, Jotham Bixby chose to lease or sell portions of the property. By 1884 the town of Long Beach occupied the southwest corner of the Rancho. Eventually Bellflower, Paramount, Signal Hill and Lakewood were founded as well on Los Cerritos lands. Dairy farms thrived and beans, barley and alfalfa were planted. From 1890 to 1927, the Cerritos adobe housed a succession of tenants and fell into disrepair through general neglect.
The Virginia Country Club was built next door and homes had cropped up in the area when, in 1930, Lewellyn Bixby’s son Llewellyn, Sr. chose to remodel Rancho Los Cerritos for his family. Although the renovation was extensive, the original configuration of Temple’s adobe remained intact. Ralph Cornell redesigned the grounds for the family, incorporating the trees that survived from the Temple era. After Llewellyn, Sr.’s death, the family eventually sold the house and 4.7 acres of land to the City of Long Beach. In 1955 the site opened as a public museum dedicated to the history of the Rancho and the surrounding area.
Important Dates In The History Of Rancho Los Cerritos
Please use your mouse or finger to slide the timeline to the right to see the evolution of Rancho Los Cerritos.
Native Americans live on lands that become Rancho Los Cerritos. Little is known about these peoples, however, eleven cogged stones from this period were discovered at Rancho Los Cerritos in 1930.
Tongva people (Gabrielino Indians) live on lands later known as Rancho Los Cerritos; village of Tibahangna said to be north of present ranch house.
Spanish soldier Manuel Nieto receives land encompassing about 300,000 acres; this is reduced to 167,000 acres
John Temple builds the present two-story Monterey-style adobe as headquarters for his cattle-ranching operations, and stocks the land with as many as 15,000 head of cattle
Benjamin and Thomas Flint, and Lewellyn Bixby, form Flint, Bixby & Co. and bring sheep to California
William Willmore is unsuccessful in promoting his town, but the Long Beach Land and Water Company purchases his option and renames the town Long Beach
Long Beach is incorporated
Rancho Los Cerritos is acquired by the City of Long Beach and opened to the public as a museum
Rancho Los Cerritos is placed on the National Register of Historic Properties and is also designated a National Historic Landmark
Rancho Los Cerritos is designated a City of Long Beach Historical Landmark
Rancho Los Cerritos is designated State Historic Landmark No. 978