If your summer plans include California, take some time to see the little-known and recently refurbished Rancho Los Alamitos, owned by the city of Long Beach.
The site -- striking with its sculptural looking Moreton Bay fig trees -- is opening a new education center and a restored barns area and twenties and thirties-era gardens June 10. The seven and a half acre site is on the National Register of Historic Places twice; once as the traditional birthplace of the native Tongva people of the Los Angeles Basin and once for showing the evolution of the Spanish/Mexican and early American eras through a working ranch of the early to mid-twentieth century. The site includes a handsome adobe core Ranch House. While looking at the photos of the ranch house, I kept thinking of Cormac McCarthy's wonderful horse opera, All The Pretty Horses, set on a Texas ranch in 1949.
Moreton Bay Fig Trees
Along with the fig trees, what caught my eye was the site's four acres of gardens, some of them designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers: John Charles Olmsted and his stepbrother Fred Law Olmsted, Jr., who founded The American Society of Landscape Architects and influenced the creation of the National Park Service. Their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, was the chief architect of Central Park. Their design includes this Oleander Walk.
The site gets its name, Los Alamitos, from the cottonwood trees that grew in groves nourished by springs. The ranch's last private owners were three generations of the Bixby family, who hired workers and tenant farmers from around the globe. Florence Bixby, who wanted to create a refuge for herself and the workers away from the bustle of the working ranch, developed a vision for the four acres of gardens. After a trip to Europe, she commissioned the Olmsted firm to creat the Cypress Steps and Patio below. The cypresses were meant to provide a shield against oil fields and urban development near the property.
Cypress Steps and Patio
Florence Bixby aslo hired Florence Yoch, who helped created the set for Gone With the Wind, to create a geranium walk. You can see some of Yoch's work here, at this Montecito garden we featured in Traditional Home
Ranchos Los Alamitos is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Tours are free, and include four acres of gardens along with the 1800 adobe-core ranch house. Starting June 10, you can also tour the new Rancho Center, an education center, as well as the barns and outbuildings of a working ranch with animals, including draft horses. For a group of ten or more, you can set up a private tour and luncheon in the restored Rancho Garden. For more information, go to rancholosalamitos.com