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By Marina Hernández

Photo (top) by Monique Kuhlman

California Heights is celebrating its centennial birthday this year with its revived home tour which took place on May 19th and a neighborhood block party set for mid-summer! The celebration recognizes nearly 80 homes built in 1924.  

The homes were developed as modest single family homes in the Colonial Revival style, intermixed with some Craftsman bungalow and Mission Revival homes. The charm of Cal Heights resides in the historical preservation of these homes and the streetscapes which feature a beautifully cozy canopy of tree-lined streets. Resident and Cal Heights Neighborhood Association member, Hugh Little, recalls falling in love with the peaceful neighborhood as he strolled along its sidewalks. He clearly remembers thinking, “We moved to Mayberry!” an Andy Griffith Show reference for those not brought up on the wholesome 1960s sitcom.  


With history dating back as far as the Tongva tribes, what is now Rancho Los Cerritos was rich in resources from land and sea. In the mid-1540s, as explorer Juan Cabrillo arrived, so did permanent settlements of this vast territory. In 1784, the land that would eventually be called California Heights became part of an expansive Spanish land grant gifted to a soldier and successful cattle rancher by the name of Manuel Nieto. After Nieto’s death in 1804, the land was divided amongst his descendants and ultimately sold to Massachusetts businessman John Temple. The area became a lucrative grazing land for cattle operations. However, as the years progressed, Temple’s business declined, leading him to sell the land in 1866 to the Flint Bixby Co. Jotham Bixby soon formed his own company, ran a sheep ranch and leased parts of the land to developers and farmers.  

In 1922, Cal Heights was a thriving bean field, that is until the discovery of oil on Signal Hill. Seeing an opportunity to unload some land and make good money, the Jotham Bixby Co. offered an initial 830 lots in California Heights tract on sale. With an aggressive marketing strategy, buyers were granted rights to oil on the land they purchased. However, as developers and landowners soon discovered, there was very little oil under the Cal Heights tract itself and residential development soon began.  

In 1936, land was still being sold as a “Real Estate Investment that should return BIG, QUICK, CERTAIN PROFITS!” Full size lots were sold for as low as $725 (equivalent to $16,115.28 in 2024) which promised city improvements like sewer, sidewalks, curbs, alleys, water, gas, electric and telephones. Residential and commercial development continued to flourish and red tile roofs, leaded windows and arches became the architectural style of homes in California Heights.  


A contentious zoning issue in 1989 led community leaders Mike Donelon and Ruthanne Lehrer to aggressively petition for California Heights to become a historic district. The district would stretch from Atlantic to Walnut, and from Wardlow to Bixby. The residents of Cal Heights submitted ballots which revealed that the majority of residents were in favor of preserving the style of the original homes that made the neighborhood so unique. On December 15th, 1989, a California Heights newsletter read, “Press-Telegram, December 15, 1989. Planning Commission unanimously supports CALIFORNIA HEIGHTS HISTORIC DISTRICT. Merry Christmas, Cal Heights!!!”

Today, longtime residents of the historic neighborhood value its extensive lineage and reminisce fondly over its most recent past including the Lakewood Drive-In (opened 1948), Ernie Glaser’s Chandelier (built in 1955), and Mario’s Pizza Deli (opened 1978).  

Neighborhood realtor and Cal Heights native, Trina Rufo, enjoys sharing her admiration for the unique community she calls home, “I love that people appreciate the rich history of our neighborhood. Those that live here seek out and respect the original features of our unique homes. The quality of the craftsmanship that was put into these homes over the last century is an art that is fading away.”


To learn more about the California Heights Neighborhood and updates about the next Home and Garden Tour, visit their website at



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