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Los Alamitos and Rossmoor: a look at their history

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Larry Strawther can talk history. Ask him a question but don't expect a short answer.

A self-described history buff, the Rossmoor resident has been studying, reviewing and compiling local history for years.

This month, he's released "A Brief History of Los Alamitos & Rossmoor," a 160-page book that takes a look at the evolution of the two Orange County communities.

"The more I got into it, the more I learned this place has a really interesting history," Strawther said.

"Orange County history tends to be Irvine and Santa Ana-centric," he said. "This area gets overlooked."

Here are some facts Strawthers wants people to know:

•The first sugar beet factory in the county was in Los Alamitos. And sugar beets were huge in Orange County, dubbed at one point "the sugar bowl of the country."

•The first military base in the county was the Naval Air Station, now the Joint Forces Training Base, although a base in Santa Ana was commissioned first and is recorded as the first one.

•Ross Cortese, who built the unincorporated community of Rossmoor and the retirement community of Leisure World in Seal Beach, was a pioneer in many ways, including how homes were marketed: He took out full page newspaper ads, targeted upscale buyers and opened fully furnished model homes.

Strawther, 60, started doing research over a decade ago, when he ran a newspaper called Local Sports, now localsports.biz. A Rossmoor resident since 1997, Strawther helped pull together history on the unincorporated community's 50th anniversary in 2007. More recently, he started the online Los Alamitos Rossmoor History Project, losalhistory.com.

But his interest in history probably started when he was a kid and pored over books on the Revolutionary War. The San Francisco native went on to become a writer, script consultant and executive producer for several television shows, including Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. He was a head writer for Jeopardy in the late 70s and worked with comedians such as Bob Hope and Rich Little.

As a younger man, while working as a runner on the old Merv Griffin talk show, Strawther picked up a book by guest author James Michener. It was "Centennial."

"And that piqued my interest in history again," he said. "I like history in general. The history of this area is a microcosm of all Western United States."

In his book, Strawther traces the area's history from its early days to the present. Well-known names like the Bixbys and James Irvine played a role in the development of Los Alamitos and Rossmoor, he writes. He touches on the links to neighboring cities, including Seal Beach and Long Beach. And he addresses some interesting questions, like why the Los Alamitos Race Course is in Cypress. (Leaders of the future Cypress agreed to help finance and delay taxes for the race course when Alamitos leaders would not.)

He also touches on the relationship – at times volatile – between Los Alamitos and Rossmoor.

In the past couple of years, the idea of combining Los Alamitos, with its 11,000 residents, and the unincorporated Rossmoor, with its 10,000 residents, has created tension between the two. Some proponents, particularly Orange County Board of Supervisor John Moorlach, would like to see the two join Seal Beach as one city.

In his book, Strawther writes about earlier attempts to incorporate Rossmoor. In 1959, for example, one Rossmoor homeowners meeting deteriorated into a "series of accusations and threats..." One Rossmoor resident called for boycotts of Los Al merchants--"I wouldn't even use his restroom," he shouted.

But Strawther notes that the three communities share a lot: a school district, the same fire authority, library system, sewer district. Its residents belong to the same churches. Their kids participate in the same sports leagues and recreation programs. Strawther is involved in some of those activities. He taught video production at Los Alamitos High and began Taste of Los Al, an annual fundraiser to benefit activities at the high school.

"We've very unique. We have three areas – Los Alamitos, Rossmoor and Seal Beach – that are each different from one another, yet intertwined," Strawther said.

Next up for Strawther: a book about Seal Beach.

His Los Alamitos-Rossmoor book is available on the big online sites: Barnes & Noble and Amazon. But what do you do when you write a book about local history and there are no bookstores in town to sell it? Strawther turned to some neighborhood hubs: Charlie's Barber Shop, So-Low Drugs pharmacy, Ganahl Lumber and Play it Again Sports.

His first book signing this month drew dozens of friends and neighbors.

"Larry is a wealth of information," said Rossmoor resident Cynthia Sells. "The only history I know of Rossmoor is when I talk to Larry, so I'm looking forward to reading it."

Lori Pinkerton bought six of the books at the book reception: "It'll make for a great gift."

A Rossmoor resident for over 20 years, Pinkerton said she was excited someone had written about her town.

"This is such a neat place to live," she said. "I want other people to realize it and know what a great place it is.

"I think it's fun too," Pinkerton said. "How many cities have books written about them."

Interesting facts

• Around 1895, George Bixby introduced "coursing": weekend parties that attracted finely dressed spectators to watch greyhounds chase down jackrabbits. Los Angeles eventually shut down the races because of complaints by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But Alamitos continued them "without legal interference" until 1905.

•In1897, the Los Angeles Times labeled Los Alamitos one of the top three towns in Orange County.

•Bob Hope frequently performed his weekly radio shows in the theater of the Naval Reserve Air Base Los Alamitos – now the Joint Forces Training Base. But he didn't always want to say he was performing from Los Alamitos, so he would give the theater made up names, like the "Seal Beach Refueling Depot."

•On July 16, 1957, pilot John Glenn – who would later become the first American to orbit the Earth – flew an F8U-1 Crusader from Los Alamitos to New York in three hours, 23 minutes and 8.4 seconds, setting a new transcontinental speed record.

•Earlier this year, Rossmoor was named the No. 1 suburban community in California and number nine in the nation by Coldwell Banker, following their study of more than 11,000 communities that looked at traffic conditions, local school quality, proximity to amenities and other factors.

Source: A Brief History of Los Alamitos & Rossmoor by Larry Strawther

Contact the writer: 714-796-7829 or rkopetman@ocregister.com


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