The following article was originally published in the June 1956 issue of Westways Magazine.  At the time Los Alamitos was still an unincorporated area of 600 residents, mainly residing in the Old Town areas just north of Katella Avenue and Los Alamitos Boulevard, the Garden Park Acres (now Apartment Row) between Katella and Farquhar and the expanding subdivision of Los Alamitos Park (now called Carrier Row).  On the north and east side of the town were a number of dairy farms, most owned by Dutch farmers who had been forced to move east from Gardena, Compton, Paramount and Lynwood.  Just beyond that, another group of dairy farmers, in an effort to protect themselves from suburban sprawl, had just incorporated as Dairy City (now Cypress) — and used promises of tax reductions to convince race track owner Frank Vessels to join in their effort. To the west and south the often overflowing Coyote Creek and San Gabriel River had only recently been tamed with the construction of concrete channels, and because of this, Ross Cortese had optioned much of the formerly flooded land and was beginning construction of his new community of Rossmoor. Within a year, its first residents would move in, forever changing the community depicted in this article.

by TED KREC

There’s a great brick ghost with a fabulous past haunting the north side of Los Alamitos.

Every day hundreds of persons speed by it bound for the quarter-horse race track or the Naval Air Station without even a second glance — today’s it just a landmark, the “old sugar beet mill.”

The old mill has a background bordering on the fantastic; it spawned an entire community around it, laid the foundations for the world’s most phenomenal residential development, and brought to the fore an Imperial Valley industry.

Big, genial Gus Strodthof of Seal Beach knows the whole story of the Los Alamitos Sugar Co. He should, for he was there when the factory was born — and when it died.

In 1896 the area we know today as Los Alamitos and Lakewood was a vast wasteland, a monotonous wastelend broken only by tules and willows. In that year the famed Bixby interests donated 1,000 acres of their vast holdings in this wilderness to the Clarks — J. Ross Clark, head of the Union Pacific Railroad [sorry, very incorrect. It was the much smaller San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad which was bought out by the Union Pacific] and his brother, Senator William A. Clark, Montana copper magnate and railroad builder— in order to bring an industry to this area. [Partially correct, William wasn’t a senator yet.]

Prior to this, sugar beets had been grown, but the closest factory was in Chino.

Construction began immediately and the plant which cost a million dollars and was the seventh in the United States processed its first sugar in 1897. Also, in 1897, Senator Clark purchased from the Bixby interests, 8,1139 acres of the famous Rancho Los Cerritos for $405,000—just to make sure that the company would have adequate land for the growing of sugar beets! This acreages was known thereafter as the Montana Ranch or the Montana Land Company. [For the most part this was the Rancho Los Cerritos land in present North Long Beach and Lakewood — roughly north of  Wardlow, south of Alondra, west of the San Gabriel River  and east of Cherry,  The southern portion of this was actually Rancho Los Alamitos land which had been distributed to the J. Bixby Company (Jotham & Lewellyn Bixby) after the death of their cousin, John W. Bixby  in the late 1880s. ]

Strodthoff, a native of Anaheim, was secretary to J. Ross Clark, and in 1897 he came to the new factory for the first production.

No small operators, the Clarks built a home for the plant manager across the road from the mill gate. South of this, factory homes were raised for the workers, and nearby, a luxurious 22-room clubhouse was constructed.

Furthermore the Clarks bought right-of-way and gave it to the Southern Pacific railroad so that trains could come into the new factory from West Anahein.

When the plant got going, an average year saw production of 300,000 hundred pound sacks of sugar plus the beet pulp which was used for stock feeding. This brought in about $2,000,000 a year!

Each November the sugar beet seeds were planted and each July the crop was harvested, The work of course was seasonal and occupied about 75 persons full time. However, during the “campaign,” — sugar-making time— the work force swelled to 200.

Strodthoff grew up with the Los Alamitos Sugar Company., and by 1924 he had worked his way up to general manager. Then in 1926, the Clarks made arrangements to operate at the Dyer plant in Santa Ana with Holly Sugar, and the Los Alamitos plant was emptied of its machinery and closed down. Everythng went over to Holly, and Gus Strodthoff went along too—as the man in charge.

He operated the plant until the 30s, when a new challenge presented itself. For years experts had said sugar beets could not be grown in the Imperial Valley because of the heat. Strodthoff accepted the challenge and began experiments. In 1937 he produced the first crop of beets in the valley’s history, thus giving birth to a new enterprise. Today the valley grows 60,000 acres of beets annually—more than a million tons— and it is one of the region’s mainstay crops. At least, two other firms besides Holly have interests in the valley now.

Meanwhile, Strodthoff had also been busy with Montana Land Co. operations on the old Rancho Los Cerritos tract. In 1933, the Lakewood Country Club was built and in 1934 the first subdivision was begun—Lakewood Village. In 1947, Strodthoff became President of the Montana Land Co.—a company which is now “all sold out, disincorporated and out of existence,” as Gus himself phrases it. It is interesting to note that Strodthoff prepared the check that paid for the Montana Ranch Land and then, years later, accepted the check which transferred the acreage to Lakewood developers. “I bought and sold Lakewood!” he says.

And what happened to the magnificent factory in Los Alamitos? Well, for years after the sugar beet operations closed down the plant was operated by a pet food manufacturer; and Henry Lucas, who has worked at the factory for 50 years, was head engineer.

Then during the war, Douglas leased the plant and in 1945 it was acquired by a Pasadena man.

How does it look today? Not much different from the old days. The big silos in which the beet pulp was stored have been torn down and the original warehouse burned down and was replaced. And that warehouse is another point of interest. It is made entirely of poured cement—no timbers were used in its construction.

Henry Lucas is still around—he’s caretaker of the huge place now. And he still has plenty to do. Most of the factory is used as a warehouse for cotton—thousands of bales of it—and the cement warehouse is occupied by Douglas Aircraft. The old garage and machine shop is a lumber mill now, and there are several other small business on the property.

Somebody is living in the manager’s house, and the old row of factory houses is till occupied. Trains use the track yet today and that fancy clubhouse has been converted into a sanitarium.

Then, too, there are a couple of newcomers on part of the original land. Los Alamitos Naval Air Station and the quarter-horse race track.

The old place is easy to find—it’s about a mile north of the Naval Air Station and just east of Los Alamitos Boulevard (State Highway 35), right inside the Orange County line. No matter how it is approached—Los Alamitos Boulevard or on Cerritos Avenue (Spring Street in Long Beach)—one can’t miss it. A huge dilapidated smokestack, tallest in the area, towers 104 feet above the plant.

It’s worthwhile making a short detour to drive by and see the old mill. It’s a perfect example of traditional Nineteenth Century Factory construction—but those endless rows of blank staring windows create a lonely effect where there should be activity. One can see where the 1933 earthquake knocked the back off the main building and cracked the giant smokestack completely around. The building was cemented in and the stack was repaired with a heavy boss of iron and cement.

The visitor will probably see Henry Lucas patrolling the grounds. He loves the old place and will tell one with great chagrin that times might have changed but small boys haven’t—they still like to wing stones at factory windows.

But by far the most impressive thing about the old mill is the silence. As one walks between the buildings and peers into the windows there isn’t a sound—it’s almost as if life has passed it by.

Take a ride by and try to picture it as it was in 1897; all alone on the prairie—a million dollar gamble on the future of California; a gamble that has paid off in billions.

The sweet old days are gone; they died with the sugar mill. But the mill’s three offspring—Los Alamitos, Lakewood and the Imperial Valley sugar industry—are doing very well, thanks!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gustav (Gus) J. Strodthoff was indeed one of the very first employees hired by the Clarks for their brand new sugar factory which began construction in 1896. Strodthoff grew up in Anaheim.
While manager of the sugar factory, he and his wife Una lived in Seal Beach. In 1926, Una was the President of the Los Alamitos chapter of the Women’s Improvement Association.
When Clark Bonner died, Strodthoff assumed the Presidency of the Montana Land Company as well. But by then, Bonner’s widow Violet had decided to sell off the remaining land to a group of builders, Mark Taper, Louis Boyar, and Ben Weinberg. They would build the new community of Lakewood.  In 1952, an obituary for his brother Hugo stated that Gus Strodthoff lived on Ocean Ave in Long Beach.

The following article was originally published in the June 1956 issue of Westways Magazine.  At the time Los Alamitos was still an unincorporated area of 600 residents, mainly residing in the Old Town areas just north of Katella Avenue and Los Alamitos Boulevard, the Garden Park Acres (now Apartment Row) between Katella and Farquhar and the expanding subdivision of Los Alamitos Park (now called Carrier Row).  On the north and east side of the town were a number of dairy farms, most owned by Dutch farmers who had been forced to move east from Gardena, Compton, Paramount and Lynwood.  Just beyond that, another group of dairy farmers, in an effort to protect themselves from suburban sprawl, had just incorporated as Dairy City (now Cypress) — and used promises of tax reductions to convince race track owner Frank Vessels to join in their effort. To the west and south the often overflowing Coyote Creek and San Gabriel River had only recently been tamed with the construction of concrete channels, and because of this, Ross Cortese had optioned much of the formerly flooded land and was beginning construction of his new community of Rossmoor. Within a year, its first residents would move in, forever changing the community depicted in this article.

by TED KREC

There’s a great brick ghost with a fabulous past haunting the north side of Los Alamitos.

Every day hundreds of persons speed by it bound for the quarter-horse race track or the Naval Air Station without even a second glance — today’s it just a landmark, the “old sugar beet mill.”

The old mill has a background bordering on the fantastic; it spawned an entire community around it, laid the foundations for the world’s most phenomenal residential development, and brought to the fore an Imperial Valley industry.

Big, genial Gus Strodthof of Seal Beach knows the whole story of the Los Alamitos Sugar Co. He should, for he was there when the factory was born — and when it died.

In 1896 the area we know today as Los Alamitos and Lakewood was a vast wasteland, a monotonous wastelend broken only by tules and willows. In that year the famed Bixby interests donated 1,000 acres of their vast holdings in this wilderness to the Clarks — J. Ross Clark, head of the Union Pacific Railroad [sorry, very incorrect. It was the much smaller San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad which was bought out by the Union Pacific] and his brother, Senator William A. Clark, Montana copper magnate and railroad builder— in order to bring an industry to this area. [Partially correct, William wasn’t a senator yet.]

Prior to this, sugar beets had been grown, but the closest factory was in Chino.

Construction began immediately and the plant which cost a million dollars and was the seventh in the United States processed its first sugar in 1897. Also, in 1897, Senator Clark purchased from the Bixby interests, 8,1139 acres of the famous Rancho Los Cerritos for $405,000—just to make sure that the company would have adequate land for the growing of sugar beets! This acreages was known thereafter as the Montana Ranch or the Montana Land Company. [For the most part this was the Rancho Los Cerritos land in present North Long Beach and Lakewood — roughly north of  Wardlow, south of Alondra, west of the San Gabriel River  and east of Cherry,  The southern portion of this was actually Rancho Los Alamitos land which had been distributed to the J. Bixby Company (Jotham & Lewellyn Bixby) after the death of their cousin, John W. Bixby  in the late 1880s. ]

Strodthoff, a native of Anaheim, was secretary to J. Ross Clark, and in 1897 he came to the new factory for the first production.

No small operators, the Clarks built a home for the plant manager across the road from the mill gate. South of this, factory homes were raised for the workers, and nearby, a luxurious 22-room clubhouse was constructed.

Furthermore the Clarks bought right-of-way and gave it to the Southern Pacific railroad so that trains could come into the new factory from West Anahein.

When the plant got going, an average year saw production of 300,000 hundred pound sacks of sugar plus the beet pulp which was used for stock feeding. This brought in about $2,000,000 a year!

Each November the sugar beet seeds were planted and each July the crop was harvested, The work of course was seasonal and occupied about 75 persons full time. However, during the “campaign,” — sugar-making time— the work force swelled to 200.

Strodthoff grew up with the Los Alamitos Sugar Company., and by 1924 he had worked his way up to general manager. Then in 1926, the Clarks made arrangements to operate at the Dyer plant in Santa Ana with Holly Sugar, and the Los Alamitos plant was emptied of its machinery and closed down. Everythng went over to Holly, and Gus Strodthoff went along too—as the man in charge.

He operated the plant until the 30s, when a new challenge presented itself. For years experts had said sugar beets could not be grown in the Imperial Valley because of the heat. Strodthoff accepted the challenge and began experiments. In 1937 he produced the first crop of beets in the valley’s history, thus giving birth to a new enterprise. Today the valley grows 60,000 acres of beets annually—more than a million tons— and it is one of the region’s mainstay crops. At least, two other firms besides Holly have interests in the valley now.

Meanwhile, Strodthoff had also been busy with Montana Land Co. operations on the old Rancho Los Cerritos tract. In 1933, the Lakewood Country Club was built and in 1934 the first subdivision was begun—Lakewood Village. In 1947, Strodthoff became President of the Montana Land Co.—a company which is now “all sold out, disincorporated and out of existence,” as Gus himself phrases it. It is interesting to note that Strodthoff prepared the check that paid for the Montana Ranch Land and then, years later, accepted the check which transferred the acreage to Lakewood developers. “I bought and sold Lakewood!” he says.

And what happened to the magnificent factory in Los Alamitos? Well, for years after the sugar beet operations closed down the plant was operated by a pet food manufacturer; and Henry Lucas, who has worked at the factory for 50 years, was head engineer.

Then during the war, Douglas leased the plant and in 1945 it was acquired by a Pasadena man.

How does it look today? Not much different from the old days. The big silos in which the beet pulp was stored have been torn down and the original warehouse burned down and was replaced. And that warehouse is another point of interest. It is made entirely of poured cement—no timbers were used in its construction.

Henry Lucas is still around—he’s caretaker of the huge place now. And he still has plenty to do. Most of the factory is used as a warehouse for cotton—thousands of bales of it—and the cement warehouse is occupied by Douglas Aircraft. The old garage and machine shop is a lumber mill now, and there are several other small business on the property.

Somebody is living in the manager’s house, and the old row of factory houses is till occupied. Trains use the track yet today and that fancy clubhouse has been converted into a sanitarium.

Then, too, there are a couple of newcomers on part of the original land. Los Alamitos Naval Air Station and the quarter-horse race track.

The old place is easy to find—it’s about a mile north of the Naval Air Station and just east of Los Alamitos Boulevard (State Highway 35), right inside the Orange County line. No matter how it is approached—Los Alamitos Boulevard or on Cerritos Avenue (Spring Street in Long Beach)—one can’t miss it. A huge dilapidated smokestack, tallest in the area, towers 104 feet above the plant.

It’s worthwhile making a short detour to drive by and see the old mill. It’s a perfect example of traditional Nineteenth Century Factory construction—but those endless rows of blank staring windows create a lonely effect where there should be activity. One can see where the 1933 earthquake knocked the back off the main building and cracked the giant smokestack completely around. The building was cemented in and the stack was repaired with a heavy boss of iron and cement.

The visitor will probably see Henry Lucas patrolling the grounds. He loves the old place and will tell one with great chagrin that times might have changed but small boys haven’t—they still like to wing stones at factory windows.

But by far the most impressive thing about the old mill is the silence. As one walks between the buildings and peers into the windows there isn’t a sound—it’s almost as if life has passed it by.

Take a ride by and try to picture it as it was in 1897; all alone on the prairie—a million dollar gamble on the future of California; a gamble that has paid off in billions.

The sweet old days are gone; they died with the sugar mill. But the mill’s three offspring—Los Alamitos, Lakewood and the Imperial Valley sugar industry—are doing very well, thanks!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gustav (Gus) J. Strodthoff was indeed one of the very first employees hired by the Clarks for their brand new sugar factory which began construction in 1896. Strodthoff grew up in Anaheim.
While manager of the sugar factory, he and his wife Una lived in Seal Beach. In 1926, Una was the President of the Los Alamitos chapter of the Women’s Improvement Association.
When Clark Bonner died, Strodthoff assumed the Presidency of the Montana Land Company as well. But by then, Bonner’s widow Violet had decided to sell off the remaining land to a group of builders, Mark Taper, Louis Boyar, and Ben Weinberg. They would build the new community of Lakewood.  In 1952, an obituary for his brother Hugo stated that Gus Strodthoff lived on Ocean Ave in Long Beach.

2 thoughts on “Sweet Old Days in Los Alamitos”
  1. I found this article quite by accident as I was searching for information about Diedrich Strodthoff who was the father of Gus Strodthoff. If you have any information or even the obituary on Diedrich or Gus or any of the family, please let me know. I am currently do family research on the Strodthoff family. Diedrich had a brother named Henry Strodthoff who was a cheesemaker in Wisconsin. Thanks! Cheryl Bauer

    1. cheryl- I am doing an article on the Farmer’s Gun Club. Gus Strodthoff was a founding member. Did you come across any information in your research on the family about the Gun Club which was on the lands of Rancho Los Alamitos.

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