Although popular coastal neighborhoods such as Belmont Shore and Alamitos Beach are probably Long Beach’s best-known residential districts, the north end of town has its own hidden gem: Bixby Knolls.
Like much of Southern California, the land that became Bixby Knolls was once part of a Spanish land grant.
Originally 300,000 acres given to the former Spanish soldier Manuel Nieto in 1784, the rancho was nearly halved as a result of a legal contretemps with the friars of the Mission San Gabriel.
Thirty years after Nieto’s death in 1804, the rancho was once again reduced in size, this time by the old soldier’s heirs. They divided it into six portions, one of which became the Rancho Los Cerritos.
Cattle rancher John Temple purchased that piece of land in 1843 and built an adobe ranch house that still stands today. His cattle business was not nearly as long lived, done in by the drought of the 1860s.
After Temple’s business went belly-up, the family-owned sheep ranching concern of Flint, Bixby & Co. swooped in to take the rancho off his hands for $20,000. In 1866 the company, which was based in Northern California, dispatched the founder’s younger brother, Jotham Bixby, to run the place.
He moved his family into the adobe that same year.
The ranch was a spectacular success for the first 15 years, but as demand for wool decreased and more and more pasture land across the region was plowed under for bean fields, Bixby saw the writing on the wall.
He began to sell his land to keep the ranch afloat. Even the old adobe was put up for rent.
In the world just outside the ranch’s split-rail fence, though, things were looking rosier. Southern California was growing wealthier, as a real estate boom and an influx of new industries — such as the oil fields of neighboring Signal Hill — were creating a bumper crop of well-to-do residents.
In response, the Virginia Country Club acquired the land surrounding the rancho in 1920 to build a clubhouse and golf course. As part of the deal, the rancho itself would be left intact, just a chip shot away from the club’s putting greens and sand traps.
The neighborhood that developed outside the Virginia Country Club gates took the name Bixby Knolls, after the pioneering family. True to its reputation as the upscale district of Long Beach, its homes are big and its streets are tree-lined.
Take a stroll: A long-term revitalization effort on Atlantic Avenue, the neighborhood’s shopping and dining strip, has paid off by creating a vibrant, walkable main drag for Bixby Knolls.
California history: The Bixby Knolls-adjacent Virginia Country Club may be exclusive, but anybody can drive through its gates to visit the old Rancho Los Cerritos adobe, with the home and grounds maintained to look as they did during the 1870s. The country club sits just steps away from Bixby Knolls’ west border, according to the Los Angeles Times Mapping Project.
Travel options: Area real estate agents may not mention it, but Bixby Knolls’ proximity to two freeways and the Long Beach Airport makes commuting and traveling more convenient.
Sticker shock: As befits its reputation, Bixby Knolls is not an easily affordable address, with many homes topping $1 million.
Leslie Miller of Boardwalk Properties has nine years of experience in Bixby Knolls. She said residents often refer to the neighborhood as uptown because of its wide streets, mature trees and larger-than-average homes and lots.
“Most of the homes were custom-built between 1920 and 1950, and the general style is a mix of traditional, Tudor, Midcentury, Spanish and Craftsman,” she said. “When remodeling, respect is usually paid to the architectural integrity of the exterior.”
Recent positives include the replacement of stop signs with roundabouts — which are designed to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists— as well as a handful of new restaurants and gastropubs.
In addition, she expects the neighborhood to continue to benefit from Long Beach’s Capital Improvement Program, which designates hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure and community needs.
In the 90807 ZIP Code — which also includes adjacent neighborhoods such as California Heights and Los Cerritos — the median price for single-family homes in December was $635,000, based on 15 sales. That’s up 1.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.
Standout schools in the Bixby Knolls boundaries include Longfellow Elementary and Los Cerritos Elementary, which scored 876 and 873, respectively, in the 2013 state Academic Performance Index.
Hughes Middle also topped 800 with a score of 846. Polytechnic High, which serves Bixby Knolls, scored 764.
Times staff writer Jack Flemming contributed to this report.