Most of the first merchants in Los Alamitos were saloon keepers. And many not of the best reputation.  These men catered to the hard-working railroad track layers and the teamsters who helped haul equipment around.   Immediately after the construction of the sugar factory and a railroad to the site were first announced, the citizens of Orange happily announced the departure of some unsavory saloon-keepers who left to try their luck in the fast-growing town of Los Alamitos.

One of the first merchants to buy a lot in the new town was F. Coonrad who owned a brewery and saloon in Anaheim. [ref] Anaheim Gazette 1896; [/ref]  His attempt to expand his business to the Alamitos was refuted in July 1897, according to the LA Times which note:

The application of F. Conrod of Anaheim for a license was backed up by a petition favoring the granting of the same, but it was met by a formidable remonstrance, signed by the factory promoters and the good people of the town, protesting against the attempt to plant a saloon in their midst.

W.W. Holabird spoke before the board pleaded eloquently for the cause of temperance, proving more than a match for the driver of a beer wagon who put in his plea for a petition.The board refused to grant the license, Chairman Nickey, Armor, Smith and Hawkings so voted. The application by Gondolfor & Company for a license at the same location was also denied. [ref] Goldolfor & Lagarmarsino bought the hotel from Frank Capitain — whether this was after he got on the outs with Bixby Land Co is not known.  Before this they show up in the Ventura County area, and after their Los Alamitos experience, they would return their when the Oxnard sugar factory was being constructed.[/ref]

The first non-liquor business was probably the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot.   The papers announced the finish of its construction in late 1896, and George Badgely, who had moved from Idaho, would be the express manager.  He soon moved his family to town and his wife became a leading figure in the new Congregational Church.

But as more and more workers brought their families, more merchants who were in it for the long haul established businesses in the new town.  Architect Frank Capitain, who was in charge of the construction of the town and the sugar factory helped build a hotel where he set up his shop as secretary of the Bixby Land Company.  In early 1897, Capitain sold his interest n the hotel to Langomarsino and Gondolfor.  They tried to get a liquor license from the OC Supervisors but were twice refused.

By June 1897 Capitain resigned and his position as the Secretary of the Bixby Land Company.  That job was assumed by George Morenstrecher.  Why Capitain resigned is unclear — perhaps his energy and passion, so vital in securing the sugar factory for the townsite, became too much to deal with for the Bixbys or the Clarks.  The latter especially were used to people who didn’t question anything, but just did it.

The 1899 directory of Los Alamitos lists the following businesses:

  • Bakery and confectionery —  E Schroder prop
  • Barber Shop, News Stand & Billiard Hall — J.W. Watt, prop.
  • Blacksmiths —  Gilbert, W H, Gilbert, Chas
  • Butcher Shop —  Isaac McGinnis, prop
  • Post Office — George Badely, postmaster; Miss Nellie Badgley, asst. postmaster
  • Telegraph operator — George Badgley,
  • Railroad Station agent, Wells Fargo agent — J.H. Badgley
  • Hardware & Crockery — H Lawson, prop
  • Harness Shop, shoemaker — C M (or C.H.) Haworth, prop
  • City Hotel — W H Whatson, prop
  • Dewey Hotel — Mrs. E Smith, prop
  • Ramona Hotel — Mike Rogers, prop
  • Pioneer Saloon — Daniel Dhodster?, prop
  • Merchants — W.M Black, W C.H. Beige, F.K. Edwards, H.P. Larsen, D.J. Parker, P. Tarride,
  • Physicians — H.H. Bartlett, A.H. Mansur
  • San Pedro Lumber Company — Parker & Black, agents
  • Sugar Loaf Drug Store — G.H. Shaw, prop
  • Sugar Factory employees — G S Dyer, Supt; A.W. Jones, sec.;  D.E. Noggle, foreman; F.L. Norton, sugar boiler; Bert Bell, engineer; G.M. Bradrick, engineer;
  • Ranchers — Prosper De Gelas, O.P. Bunyard, J.C. Burke, W.T. Butterfield, C.C. Carpenter, H.E. Gale, E. Gooden, J.O. Goodloe, A. Gillison, J. Gustaffson, L. Gustaffson, H. Hammond, J.H. Jackson, J.A. Lee, J.D. Shutt, Jas. Rife, J.L. Elam (foreman Bixby Ranch — part owned by Clarks)

The directory lists one of the merchants as Peter Tarride.  He ran a winery just south of Cerritos and west of Coyote Creek.   (Deeds list this property as being co-owned with Peter Tisnerat, a merchant who had a less than sterling reputation and some run-ins with the Clarks.)  As Coyote Creek was somewhat straightened and a levy built, Tarride found part of his property on the Los Alamitos side of the river but actually in Los Angeles County.  This became very convenient as the application of liquor laws were different in Los Angeles county then they were in the tightly controlled company town of Los Alamitos.  In 1899, the same year as the directory, Tarride, being somewhat elderly, chose to return to France, selling his Los Alamitos property to another Frenchman, John Pierce Labourdette.  Labourdette and his wife had come to California from New Orleans in 1898.  They moved to the new town sooon afterwards and Labourdette found work as an employee of Tiride.  When the Frenchman chose to sell, they bought the winery and the surrounding five acres of land, which included a few cabins.

Upon Laboudette’s death, the property passed on to his children.  August J. Labourdette started a plumbing store which grew into a larger operation called A.J. Supply Company, which his sister Louise ran for many years.

Michael F. Reagan first came to Los Alamitos in 1896 to work on the construction of the Sugar Factory.   In the fall of 1904, when the town was enduring another drouth and when many of the existing artesian wells were going dry because so many wells had been sunk for irrigation purposes,  Reagan saw the necessity of supplying the residents of Los Alamitos with water for domestic purposes.  He sank four wells with a six-inch bore from 300 to 400 feet deep.  With pumps operated by electricity, Reagan furnished water for 140  families in the area about this time.   The original wells were the property of the Bixby Land Company until he purchased their interest.    [ref] Amor, Samuel, History of Orange County, p.489 [/ref]  Because of his prominence in the community, Main Street was renamed Reagan Street.  By some reports Reagan built the house which still exists on the southwest corner of Reagan and Florista.  It was later owned by the Otte family, then Paul and Gerri Erskine bought it to house their News-Enterprise operations.  For the last ten years it has housed the Precious Life thrift shop.

One of the first stores in Los Alamitos was Felts Department Store.  It was here as late as 1910, when the photo to the left was taken.   This was located on the northeast corner of Reagan and Florista and within it were a Post Ofice, Butcher Shop, Grocery, Dry Goods, and Feed and Hardware.   The store was later operated by brothers George and Jim Watts.  As noted in the directory, one J.W. Watts was in Los Alamitos as early as 1899 as the operator of the barber shop, news stand, and billiard hall.  Snce there is no Felts listed in the directory, it is possible Watts was already fully operating this store by this time.

When Los Alamitos Boulevard was paved and became the main road in town, the Watts moved their operation to the west side of Los Alamitos Boulevard, just north of Katella.  Part of this became DeBruyn’s Cafe.

George Watts had two daughters, Nina and Eunice.  Eunice (Una) [ref]One source says Eunice but Una seems to be the more commonly used.  Her nephew Don Watts (phone conversation, Dec. 9, 2012)  says she insisted on it being pronounced “Yoo-na” so its possible it was both.   Social Security Records: Una STRODTHOFF, Birth Date: 7 Feb 1892; Death Date:23 Jan 1990, SS card issued: California; [ref] married Gus Strodthof[ref]Sweet Old Days in Los Alamitos[/ref], one of the first employees of the J. Ross Clark at the Los Alamitos Sugar Factory and the Clarks’ Montana Land Company (also called the Montana Ranch) which supplied the majority of the Sugar Beets for the factory.   Strodthof stayed with the factory and ranch operation until the very end as the General Manager.  Eunice/Una became one of the leading ladies in Los Alamitos.  Her nephew and heir Don Watts says Una once told him that prior to her marriage to Strothof she was in love with a man who went off to Europe in 1912.  Ater a while he wrote her, saying he was going to return to America on this amazing new ship — The Titanic.  The interesting thing about this story was that the sugar factory manager at this time was Walter Clark, son of J.Ross Clark.  Walter Clark was one of those who died on the Titanic.  Was Walter Clark Una’s love? It explains many things that happened over subsequent years.

Nina married Karl Vucassovich Bennis, who also had a long history with the Sugar Factory.  Before coming to Los Alamitos he had picked up “sugar boiling” in Ogden, Utah.  He was at Los Alamitos as early as 1903 as an “extra man,” and over the next four years he progressed to a sugar boiler,  a chemist and a shift foreman. In 1913 he was an assistant superintendent, and by 1921 he was the superintendent while his brother-in-law Gus was the Sales manager.  Bennis was obviously a born tinkerer and man of many interests.  In 1907 he successfully won a lawsuit over a patent on a shock absorber he had invented (he filed for an improved shock absorber in Jan. 17, 1914), and in 1910 he motored to the Anza-Borrego Desert. discovered the beauty of that area that he would promote and protect for much of the rest of his life.  By one report, in the mid-1920s, there was an accident at the sugar factory, and Bennis had to rescue another worker out a room filled with caustic gas. His lungs were permanently damaged. Now the desert’s dry climate also became an attraction for his more frequent visits and he soon moved out there.  By this time his wife Nina, had become one of the founding owners of the Glide’er Inn (along with Jim Arnerich) across from Crawford Field, the Seal Beach airport.  It was originally at the corner of Bay (Seal Beach) Blvd and PCH, but when the Navy bought the property to build a weapons and net station, Nina Bennis and Arnerich later moved it to PCH and 14th — where Mahe is now located.  Although they seem to have never officially divorced, Karl Bennis lived the rest of his life in the Temecula area and Nina Benis and Arnerich lived in little house they built behind the Glide’er Inn.  Arnerich was also a partner of the colorful William L. Robertson who opened The Airport Club in Seal Beach in 1949 and became known as The Poker King during the club’s run up until May 1953 when the town voted to close it down.

Up through the mid 1920’s the sugar factory was still the city’s main business.  During the late summer campaign, it would employ up to 400 people, many of whom lived in nearby tent cities which would spring up when work became available.

A new real estate development opened around 1924, with the arrival of Isaac Green and his partner ___ Howard.  Funded by J. Sterns and Sons, they opened a new development of half-acre lots they called City Garden Acres, south of Katella and north of Fahrquhar.    Obviously, Green and Howard streets are named after the two developers.  One report says that Farquhar was the man who graded the streets.  But the Clarks’ architect was also named Farquhar.  Howard Farquhar was a noted architect of the time and would design the houses for J. Ross Clark and William Andrews Clark, Jr in the West Adams area of Los Angeles.  The latter is now the home of UCLA’s Clark Library.  Farhquhar also designed the Clark mausoleum in the Hollywood Forever cemetery.   Green’s son Perry Green was also very active in the sale of the the City Garden Acres lots.

As the factory stopped production and moved its operations to Santa Ana, the building was vacant for a few years until the William A. Ross Company moved its pet food production operations there from Norwalk in 1932.

In July 1924 ___ and ___ Campbell bought one of the first lots in the new tract called City Garden Acres.  In April 1937, the Campbells opened a store on the east side of Los Alamitos Boulevard near DeBruyn’s.  [ref] The Nickelodeon, April 12, 1951., p. 1 & 5 “Campbells Celebrates 14th Anniversary.  “Campbell’s Market was started in April 1938—the building now occupied by Keelings Second Hand Store.  It was started just after the big flood of 1938 when we were all taken to the school house in boats. When Bobby and Harlan were overseas [during WW II] the plans were made for the new store and building started the year after the war ended, 1945.  The move into the present building were made in April 1946 and the boys took over the store at that  time.”  [/ref]  In 1946 Campbell’s moved across the street and the business was taken over by their son Bobby Campbell and son-in-law Harlan Hubert, who both returned to Los Alamitos after being overseas during World War II.   (The new Campbell’s was located on the southwest corner of Florista and Los Alamitos Blvd., the site now occupied by Sunrise Glass & Window).

In 1938 Pathfinder Petroleum opened up a refinery in Los Alamitos.

The next merchant who made his mark in Los Alamitos was Coy L. Long.  Long  had been manager of the Crystal Ice Co. in Fullerton and ran an ice route out to Los Alamitos.  In 1940 he moved from Fullerton to Los Alamitos and purchased the Watts Brothers’ general store.  He operated the store with his two sons, Vernon and Charles, and he also installed a trailer park on the rest of his property which is now the  — where Preveza, and the Radio Shack currently located.

When the Navy opened the air station at Los Alamitos, there was no significant increase in local businesses at first, although in April 1940, with word of the new Navy base just being announced, Mr. and Mrs. Fritz Gossen (“formerly of Anaheim”) did buy the Wander Inn (located at Los Alamitos Blvd and Howard Street, where the Boondocks is now located).  Gossen was the former secretary of the Flemish-American Society of Orange County so maybe he got the inside word from the many Belgians who farmed the area south of town. [ref]Press-Telegram, April 12, 1941, page B4[/ref]

The naval station opened as a training base for new naval reserve pilots who had little opportunity to get off base during their initial stay at Los Alamitos.  Later as trained units were assigned to the base, the now fully-qualified pilots usually went into Long Beach, most often to the skytop room of the Breakers Hotel, for entertainment and diversion.  When the status of the base changed towards the end of the war, a more permanent cadre of military and civilian employees began to grow,  many of whom brought their families with them to live in the town.  Some engineers and workers from the Douglas and North American aircraft plants also started to move into town.  Some men also worked at the Navy shipyards near downtown Long Beach and made the trip back and forth every day, usually along Spring Ave. (which Jim Bell Jr. remembers as having a very narrow and rickety bridge at the time.)

Sometime before 1950, the Wander Inn underwent a name change to The Airport Cafe.  In 1950 the Longs built a new building on Los Alamitos Boulevard  to house what at that time was considered a “supermarket.”  At the time it was the only “super-market” around for miles.  Chuck Long would become very active in the community, serving on the chamber, and the early city council, even serving as mayor.

We plan to add to this article as we uncover information.  Some fragments of information are:

 

  • Dick Fulford and his wife operated the Los Alamitos Beverage Store.
  • Bud Cook ran Cook’s Hobby Shop at 3591 Green.  Phone No. HEmlock 9-9881.
  • Marie’s Coffee Shop – Enterprise, Oct 21, 1955 – Marie’s Coffee Shop is Open in New Building.  After weeks of preparation, Marie’s Coffee Shop has opened in the new builing at 10841 Los Alamitos Blvd.  Miss Louise Slette, owner, reports the new location will eventually cntain more seating capacity than the old location at Green and Los Alamitos Blvd.  have more  of the
  • Cecil’s Meats was at the corner of Green and Los Alamitos, across from the present Imperial Jewelers.  “I remember everybody coming into my dad’s store,” said Jane Euge whose dad was Cecil.   “I also remember ‘midnight rides.’  The police would all come in for a coffee break and a real long shift change, and while they were in a group of the town insiders would go out and put up election signs all over the place.”
  • Los Alamitos Automotive center had their grand opening in early August, 1955
  • With the expectation of plenty residential growth in the area, businessmen positioned themselves to take advantage of the opportunity.  In early November 1955, Jay and Lil Westlake, owners of the Airport Cafe at 11142 Los Alamitos Blvd. , purchased the building housing their business, and announced plan to do an extensive remodeling job in the near future.  [ref]  4 NOV 1955 — (Enterprise, p2) —[/ref]
  • A few weeks later the Enterprise reported that “Jay Wisdom of Torrance has opened the Los Alamitos TV Service at 10781 Los Alamitos Blvd., taking over the building recently vacated by the Community Bakery.  And on Dec. 9, the Enterprise touted the opening of Ethel’s Coffee Shop at 11080 Los Alamitos Boulevard. It was operated by Ethel and George Gobelman who had recently moved to the area from Santa Ana where they operated the G&E Cafe for 11 years.  The dinery featured “dinners as well as snacks and drinks.”
  • Within the Chamber of Commerce was a sub-group — the Los Alamitos Business Association.
One thought on “Business in early Los Alamitos – 1896 to 1956”
  1. My parents were Bill and Ruth Conner. They owned Conner’s Cafe (also known as Ruth’s Malt Shop) in the 1950’s. The Malt Shop was located almost on the corner of Los Alamitos Blvd. and Katella next to the Hardware Store. Long’s Grocery was right across a driveway from the Hardware Store.

    The Malt Shop had a soda counter and booths. There were framed pictures of Indians on the walls due to my Dad’s Cherokee heritage. There was a hitching post in the back and groups of horse riders would ride down the river from their stables and tie their horses up out back. This happened at least once a week.

    When the races were in town, we were very busy and the place was full of all the trainers and their families. My Mom would make extra money by making fitted western pants for some of the women that travelled with the races.

    I remember that we had a volunteer fire department and when the alarm would sound, Mr. Long would go racing up the street tearing off his apron.

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