By Stanley Poe
In 1886 John Bixby subdivided a portion of his land just east of Alamitos Avenue into twenty blocks along Ocean Park Avenue, now Ocean Blvd., and called it Alamitos Beach. He gave the streets lyrical Spanish names. Orange Avenue was first called Descanso, Cherry Avenue was originally Independencia. Kalamazoo became Kennebec, Modjeska is now Molino and Naranjo was renamed Temple. The area was annexed to Long Beach in 1905. The establishment of Bluff Park as a residential
community predated the streetcars from Long Beach. Originally, Broadway was called Railroad because the train tracks went down the center of the street. A streetcar line called the Naples Line was installed on Ocean in order to transport people to the newly developed Alamitos Bay communities of Naples and the Peninsula in 1903. It was a single track, and so many people used it that another track was installed in August of 1910 on First Street in order to get people back to Long Beach. That line existed for only one year. It was removed on September 28, 1911. During a Bluff Park house tour some time ago, an erroneous statement by docents indicated it was a permanent and long-lived line. The streets were wide because that was the accepted pattern of residential development in affluent areas all over the country. The Bluff Park
Historic District has remained one of the most desirable and exclusive neighborhoods since its inception. The area is anchored on the west by the Long Beach Museum of Art, housed in an impressive 1912 Craftsman mansion and two story gallery whose grounds offer an incomparable view of the Pacific Ocean. It was built as a summer home for Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, a New York philanthropist and heiress to the Borden Company. The museum offers events and exhibits throughout the year to appeal to the most discriminating tastes.
The district, which is bounded on the west by Junipero Avenue and on the east by Loma, has a southern boundary, the extensive Bluff Park, which was donated to the city in 1919 by the Bixby family. Second Street comprises the northern boundary. Within this enclave, drawn by the excellent climate and sea breezes, the well-todo from Pasadena and Los Angeles built impressive homes. The wealthiest buyers worked in the medical, financial, and oil industries. The burgeoning movie industry, which was centered at 6th Street and Alamitos Avenue in 1913 at the Balboa Studios, attracted many luminaries of the silent films including Theda Bara and Fatty Arbuckle. The mansion on Ocean Blvd. now called Weathering Heights is where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard began their long affair. Herbert Horkheimer, the president of Balboa Studios, had a large home on Ocean and entertained lavishly. His guests included all of the silent picture actors, and the parties were scandalous. The first child actress, Baby Marie Osborne, who pre-dated Shirley Temple by twenty years, starred in many films shot in the area, as the weather and sumptuous homes provided the perfect settings.
There are no businesses, churches, or public buildings in the district. The variety of architectural styles runs the gamut of Victorian, Colonial Revival, Old English, Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. They each reflect the period of principal development which was from 1903 to 1949. The homes became more ornate after 1920. After the discovery of oil in Signal Hill in 1921 some of the homes resembled castles and Mediterranean villas. The State Historic Resources Inventory has identified sixty-five houses as highly significant examples of their styles in this area. One hundred and nine homes contribute to the historic architectural character of the district. The meticulous landscaping of almost every home creates a continuous visual ambiance which bespeaks of a gracious bygone era.
To ensure the future desirability of the community,the residents requested a historic district to be created. Since 1990 guidelines have existed to ensure that construction preserves and enhances the architectural continuity. These guidelines serve as an aid to property owners who may be formulating plans for new construction, rehabilitation, or alteration of existing structures, and for site development. They provide an excellent protection for property owners who can count on the fact that the fabric of the neighborhood can never be destroyed by over-development, as has been the case in so many of the more desirable historic areas of Southern California.