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Bixby Knolls and its rich history

Bixby Knolls and its rich history

Photo by Erika Paz. Taken 5/16/21

Bixby Knolls— the place to go if you’re craving a craft beer and delicious food, or you want to do some shopping at a local business. In recent years, the neighborhood has created a tight-knit community while also attracting visitors from all over. What most visitors don’t know is the rich history of the land that is currently known as Bixby Knolls.

Just a five-minute drive from Duch’s Brewhouse stands the Los Cerritos Ranch House, built in 1844. The structure was built by Jonathan Temple on his 27,000-acre cattle ranch. Over two decades later, Temple was facing financial ruin. The only way to save it all was to sell the ranch. 

In came Flint, Bixby, & Co., a land and cattle company that purchased the land. Jotham Bixby and his family moved into the Temple house and maintained the ranch.  At the time, cattle ranching was profitable, and so was selling the wool from the sheep that resided on the land.

Bixby worked on the ranch and developed the land for over 50 years, but he eventually came across the same problem as Temple. Demand for cattle and wool was changing and it was difficult to keep the ranch afloat. At the same time, Signal Hill and the oil industry were booming, creating a new demand for land and homes. Bixby began selling land to new residents.

Photo Courtesy of UC Regents, UCLA (Creative Commons Attribution). Taken 1931. Even though the Bixby Family sold the ranch to the Virginia Country Club, they remained involved in the area. In 1930, they restored the ranch house so club visitors could take advantage of the structure.

The Virginia Country Club, established in 1902 and still open today, eventually purchased what was left of the ranch in 1920. The ranch house remained intact, but the rest of the land was converted into a golf course. The surrounding neighborhood was since then known as Bixby Knolls.

The golf course and country club set the tone for the area, turning the neighborhood into what was called “uptown.” High-end restaurants, shopping and entertainment began populating the area for the next few decades. Visitors from all over, including the growing Belmont Shore, Zaferia, and downton Long Beach, would make the trip to Bixby Knolls.

Development continued up to the 1950s. Grisinger’s Drive-In at 4290 Atlantic was a teenager magnet when it first opened. Car clubs and independent car owners would come to the drive-in and show off their cars while they waited for their dinner to be brought out to them. The restaurant eventually changed its name to George’s 50’s Diner and you can still grab a burger there today.

Another entertainment staple that garnered visitors were the two theaters built in the late 1940s. Towne Theater (located at 4425 Atlantic) and Crest Theater (4275 Atlantic) were both successful for a while. But like much of the Bixby Knolls history, the theaters had to close because things began to change. By the 1970s, the area was beginning to lose its shine and both theaters closed. 

Photo Courtesy of UC Regents, UCLA (Creative Commons Attribution). Taken 9/7/1947. Harriett Bixby, wife of Llewellyn Bixby (Jotham Bixby’s grandson) stands with writer Roger Sterrett as she accepts the dedication plaque at Rancho Los Cerritos. The home became a historical landmark in 1947, over 100 years after it was initially built.

Shopping patterns also changed, especially with the advent of indoor shopping malls. The Long Beach Plaza in Downtown Long Beach opened in 1982, claiming many of the shoppers in the area. The Lakewood Center Mall was opened in 1952, and it had also been attracting shoppers since its opening. Bixby Knolls slowly lost its reputation for high-end shopping and dining.

Things started picking up again once the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association was established. Events like First Fridays and Concerts in the Park(ing) Lot began bringing the community together on a regular basis, going as far back as 2006. As the community became more energized, more restaurants and bars began to open in the area.

Perhaps the biggest change that led to today’s Knolls was the city’s approval to change the zoning code for craft breweries and wineries in 2015. Today, Bixby Knolls is the proud home for Dutch’s Brewhouse, Ambitious Ales, Liberation Brewing Co., and Smog City Brewing Co. Events like Brewery Knolls, where a free trolley would take participants to all the local breweries, wineries, and charcuterie shops, further cemented its new reputation.

Because of the pandemic, First Fridays went virtual through most of 2020. But the local tradition could not stay virtual for long…it will be back in person on June 4th. As part of the event, many of the businesses stay open later, allowing patrons to explore the shops, listen to live music, and meet local artists. Before you arrive, try to make your way to Rancho Los Cerritos to visit the 177-year-old ranch house— admission to the ranch is free!

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