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Neighborhood Spotlight: Los Alamitos a small town with flag-waving pride

The lowly sugar beet was the unlikely foundation on which the city of Los Alamitos was laid, but World War II supercharged the evolution of the small rural town into one of Orange County’s first true suburbs.

The massive military mobilization made necessary by the war — the production of millions of warplanes and the pilots to fly them — forever changed the agricultural character of the area, leading to a postwar housing boom that would create the template for the walled housing tracts now covering wide swaths of the county.

But before planes rolled off the Douglas assembly line and returning GIs bought wholesale into the California dream, the members of the Bixby family, who bought the Rancho Los Alamitos in the late 1800s, found themselves accidental sugar beet magnates.

Forced by the land bust of the late 19th century to find some economically viable use for their now worthless holdings, the Bixbys ended up in the lucrative sugar beet business. The small town that grew up around their factory was dubbed Los Alamitos, and it endured the eventual demise of the Southern California sugar beet industry, clinging to life long enough for the U.S. military to infuse the region with billions of dollars in business contracts and infrastructure in the run-up to global war.

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Aviation manufacturing boomed in surrounding cities, and the dirt airfield east of town became an air base where carrier pilots were trained in the art of safely putting an airplane down on a short runway bolted to a ship bobbing on a pitching sea. After the war, developers rushed to provide housing for returning vets and their families in the newly booming areas of Orange County.

During this explosion of new housing, developer Ross Cortese bought land south of the city and set Earle G. Kaltenbach, the designer of Tomorrowland, to the task of conceptualizing a planned community of more than 3,000 homes in a single walled tract. Kaltenbach, working with Cliff May associate Chris Choate, designed a neighborhood of well-constructed ranch homes that went for around $20,000 when sales began in 1956.

The neighborhood, which Cortese immodestly dubbed Rossmoor, was a smashing success and was hugely influential on other suburban developers in the region.

Neighborhood highlights

A night at the races: Forget hobnobbing with the swells at Santa Anita and Del Mar racetracks — the crowd in the stands at Los Alamitos Race Course is a Bukowski novella come to life. It doesn’t get any realer than this in Orange County.

Freeway close and centrally located: Located in the L.A., Long Beach, and Anaheim commuting triangle, and close to everyone’s favorite smaller airport in the LBC, Los Alamitos is the definition of a bedroom community.

It’s all academic: The Los Al school district is consistently ranked as one of the best in California. With over 60 Division I scholar athletes and 93 National Merit Scholars in the last five years, the district develops top-notch brains and brawn.

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Neighborhood lowlights

A nice place to live, but: Los Al is safe, clean and has good schools, which is great for families, but for those seeking culture, nightlife or fine dining, it lands on the low end of the spectrum.

Expert insight

An award-winning school district and a throwback to classic neighborhood Americana are Los Alamitos’ biggest selling points, according to Anne Marie Ashley, an agent with Villa Real Estate who specializes in the area.

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“Los Alamitos is the modern Mayberry, and hence why it’s attracting so many families,” she said. “It’s a traditional neighborhood where there is a sense of American pride, homeownership and community; everybody has their red, white and blue flags outside.”

Market snapshot

In July, based on 17 sales, the median sale price for single-family homes in the 90720 ZIP Code was $830,000, a 2.4% decrease from the same month the previous year, according to CoreLogic. The median sale price for condominiums was $408,000, based on four sales.

Report card

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The Los Alamitos School District, among the most desirable in the county, includes Jack L. Weaver Elementary, which scored 993 out of 1,000 in the 2013 Academic Performance Index. Francis Hopkinson Elementary had a score of 965, and Los Alamitos Elementary scored 924. Sharon Christa McAuliffe Middle scored 941, and Los Alamitos High had a score of 886.

hotproperty@latimes.com


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