Is There A Future In The Past?

A Red-Carpet Reputation

In March 1934, a Historic American Building Survey was made of Rancho Los Cerritos. Three years later, it was designated by the Department of the Interior as possessing “Exceptional historic or architectural interest,” being “most worthy of careful preservation for the benefit of future generations.”

In 1943, the city began working to acquire the Rancho as a historic site. The city opened a museum, and completed the purchase in 1956 for use as a historical monument, park and library. Rancho Los Cerritos was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Presently, the city administers the Rancho through the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine. The city holds title to the site and provides the entire funding for its operations. The Friends of Rancho Los Cerritos is a volunteer support group, which assists the site with its programming, and supports the educational and preservation mission. The Rancho Los Cerritos Foundation, a non-profit arm of the organization, was established in 1994, and is tasked with fundraising and development for restoration, capital projects and educational enhancements.

Funding Failures

As the city faces a looming $52-million budget deficit next year, policymakers will be faced with difficult decisions. What public programs and services can be eliminated with the least impact? With public health and safety as a priority, fire, police and health services should take precedence.

Libraries and parks are further down the list. How important are the cultural and historic resources to overall city operations and function? Many say these resources are “optional” and not core services.

In 2007 and 2008, Rancho Los Cerritos raised $37,700 in revenue from programs, donations and gift-shop sales. The operational cost has a $467,000 price tag, subsidized by the city. Can the city afford to keep the site open during a financial crisis?

These are extraordinary times. Numbers on a spreadsheet tell a very different story than the one that is tangible at the Rancho. Translation is lost between profit and loss statements and the general atmosphere of the site.

Bookmarking History

Gazing at the magnificence of the 130-year-old Moreton Bay fig that sits on the back lawn area of the Rancho, one wonders about the Native Americans, the families and visitors who have enjoyed its grandeur and elegance over the centuries. This place, which represents a lifestyle reminiscent of the earlier tranquil days of ranch living. This place, where the owners entertained guests and played bridge after Sunday dinner, lit the large, two-story Christmas tree with real candles, and was the site of the annual Easter-egg hunt.

These were real experiences, of real people. It is the story of many generations from all walks of life–entrepreneurial businessmen, close-knit families, people who helped shape the community and region. Theirs are stories about land and economic development, cultural diversity and the growth of the city. And if there remains no choice but to close down this historic landmark, what is in store for this tree and these buildings that have survived and been a part of so much?

Despite the engaging history of Rancho Los Cerritos, these modern times force us to deal with funding realities.

Rancho Los Cerritos will soon turn a new page in its history book. One can only hope that the vivid memories can be kept alive through continued education about this neighborhood jewel, and a bookmark will steadfastly remain in its place until we are again able to forge ahead in better times.

Sandra Gonzalez, FASLA, is the manager for the Planning & Development Bureau for the city of Long Beach’s Parks, Recreation and Marine Department. She can be reached via e-mail at sandra.gonzalez@longbeach.gov

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