September 06, 2012

Photo Essay: A Day at the Rancho, A Step Back in Time

There are these little pockets in LA where you can catch a glimpse into the past, where time has almost stood still despite the huge, encroaching, surrounding metropolis that has become the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. Sometimes, you can get away from freeways, concrete and industry to find a spot of quietude in the wilderness of an urban park, or at an urban farm, at a cemetery or inside some old, preserved home.

Near Long Beach, there remains the last of one of five ranchos that was partitioned out from an original Spanish Land Grant of 300,000 acres: Rancho Los Alamitos, which now provides modern day access to a tiny sliver of LA's ranching history, tucked away in a tremendously developed, populated area (unlike the ranches of, say, the Santa Monica Mountains, which are still pretty much out in the wild). Named after the area's native cottonwood trees, Rancho Los Alamitos used to be quite huge - extending across 25,000 acres into present-day Orange County - but over time its perimeter has shrunken, now occupying a mere 7.5 acres.

The sprawling rancho - comprised of  multiple buildings of the working ranch, housing for the workers, and school for their children - has contracted, and although many of the buildings were relocated as the city crowded in, and were placed into historically inaccurate locations, they've recently been restored and put back into functionally appropriate places, though now much closer together than they ever were before.

Only five of the original barns - which have been restored and repainted - remain, including a feed barn which is still in use.

In fact, the ranch retains a bit of its original feel, with a couple of adult horses (and a napping baby horse)...

...and chickens.

There are lots of vestiges of the old ranch, including some rusty old equipment for shoeing horses...

...and lampposts...

...but one of the two main attractions to the property is the original 19th Century adobe house, which the Bixby family renovated extensively and built major additions upon. You can still witness its incredibly thick walls, and amazingly, 90% of its decor and furnishings are original...

...including Mrs. Bixby's prized apple cider lamp.

The other highlight of the property is its historic gardens, whose landscape architecture was designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers firm (whose other famed projects included such civic designs as Central Park), but the vision of the showplace gardens was clearly that of Florence Bixby herself.

Somewhat anachronistic on a 19th century ranch whose most plentiful crop was sugar beets, these European-style gardens were so sophisticated, they could compete on the same level as those of Greystone Mansion, or even Hearst Castle.

And for Florence Bixby, the rising greenery obscured the oil derricks cropping up along the Long Beach shore, which totally destroyed her view of the ocean as the oil industry boomed in the 1930s.

Today, it's still easy to lose yourself amidst the Native, Cactus, and Rose Gardens, the Cypress Steps, and the Geranium, Oleander and Jacaranda Walks....

...forgetting all sense of time and place...

...with one path leading to another in a circuitous wander with no exit or entry in sight... times, surrounded by succulents, and at others, bamboo.

And yet, as a reminder of civilization, elegance, and society beyond the gardens, all paths somehow lead back to a central tennis court, net hanging, ready for a serve.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Before Malibu Was Malibu

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