“Here’s a carpet of sunshine / Here fell a pink cloud of dawn / Here the fairies spilled their popcorn / My beautiful wild brush garden / Sings color to the sun.” These words, penned by Sarah Bixby-Smith in a poem created almost a 100 years ago, still ring in the wind at Rancho Los Cerritos.
Rancho Los Cerritos is a Long Beach landmark with rich history behind its doors. Although it is famously tied to the Bixby family, the history of the Rancho and the historical gardens began even earlier than 100 years ago.
The earliest people, the Tongva Indians, settled in the area sometime after 500 A.D. The story from there is very familiar to Long Beach history enthusiasts. One of the first land grants of the area was given to the Nieto family, early Spanish settlers, in 1784. One of Nieto’s descendants, a woman named Manuela, received a portion of the original land grant, receiving the area known as Rancho Los Cerritos, or “Ranch of the Little Hills.”
In an effort to preserve its history, the historic landmark recently experienced some maintenance projects through funds received from the passage of Measure A.
One of those projects is repointing the brick walls surrounding the historic gardens of the site. The walls were built in 1930 by then well-known architect Ralph Cornell. He created these walls to match the Monterey-style Adobe home, originally built by early Long Beach settler John Temple. But, time has taken its’ toll on the brick and mortar. According to Rancho Los Cerritos executive director Alison Bruesehoff, they are focused on keeping the site secure, peaceful and historic.
“We are not a public park, but a private institution. Yet, we do a lot of events for the public and we want to help keep that a peaceful, serene and positive experience for our guests,” Bruesehoff said. “The walls help towards that.”
Indeed, there are cracks in the wall and for the Rancho, it’s about getting ahead of any advance deterioration. The trick is preserving the historical integrity of the brick.
“You can’t just brick it,” echoed Jennifer Rice-Epstein, the Rancho’s public relations and marketing specialist. “These are custom,” she said pointing to the brick walls.
The repointing process started in February, with an anticipated completion in June. According to Rice-Epstein, they must ensure contractors use period-correct materials.
Another project taking place within the coming months is replacing a section of the ground’s paved-in, deteriorating soil cement with asphalt — the asphalt being historically accurate.
“We’re committed to keeping these layers of history; as you walk through the museum you’re taking a tour of Long Beach through 150 years,” Rice-Epstein said.
At one time, the Rancho encapsulated 27,000 acres, spanning from the hills to the ocean. It was sold in allotment to various people throughout the years. Originally a cattle farmer, John Temple purchased the land in 1843, subsequently building the adobe house. Jotham Bixby bought it off of Temple in 1866, thus starting the famed Bixby period. In the 1930s, Jotham Bixby’s descendant, Llewellyn Bixby Jr. refurbished the rancho to what it looks like today with the help of architect Ralph Cornell.
“He transformed the gardens with the perimeter wall and landscaped it to look more like the 1930s,” Bruesehoff said.
Yet one thing always remained the same, even dating back to the original concept laid out by John Temple — the Rancho and the surrounding gardens were always intended to be a place of tranquility, a place to spend time with loved ones, and a place to feel safe and free.
Today, it has been a popular Long Beach pastime to take a tour of the Rancho. Docents dressed in 19th-century apparel give history lessons to their guests while showing them around the pristine gardens. Trees planted by John Temple himself still stand tall and proud — one of them, the Italian Cypress tree in the backyard of the Rancho, was once used as a signpost for travelers. Think of it as the big blue pyramid of the day.
Among the many events and programs held throughout the year at the Rancho, a new event is “Yoga in the Garden,” where people can practice yoga in the same gardens that once was an entertaining and reflective space for the Temples and, later, the Bixby family.
“The [Temple] family created a setting in the garden where croquet could be played on the lawn, people would gather and sit and have a glass of lemonade,” said Rancho docent Kim, dressed as Mary Bixby. “Mr. Temple wanted [the gardens] to be a respite and a place to have fun, a place to contemplate life.”
In her 15-stanza poem entitled “Don Juan’s Garden” — Don Juan referring to John Temple — Sarah Bixby Smith, penning the words in the Long Beach Sun on Jan. 20,1934, wrote, “And the old Cerritos garden; That, reborn, is growing still.”
Rancho Los Cerritos is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the Rancho and the many events planned for the spring and summer, visit https://www.rancholoscerritos.org/