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The clusters of cottonwood trees Spanish explorers saw more than 200 years ago inspired Los Alamitos' name. But it is the sugar beet that figured most prominently in the area's later history.

In the early days of Spanish colonization, Los Alamitos, or the Little Cottonwoods, was the name given to one of five ranchos that a former sergeant in the king of Spain's army deeded to his children. The sergeant, Manuel Nieto, had been awarded a vast land grant by a Spanish territorial governor.

The 85,000-acre Rancho Los Alamitos originally extended into present-day Long Beach. Its ownership was to change and its boundaries would shrink many times.

In 1896, the sugar-beet processing industry took root in the area, and with it came the roots of a future city. That year, ex-Sen. William Clark of Montana bought more than 8,000 acres of Los Alamitos rancho land and formed the Los Alamitos Sugar Co. The sugar-beet factory complex, with its streets of company houses for workers, became the basis for a Los Alamitos townsite.

Old photos at the museum tell the story of an emerging city. There are pictures of recreational facilities the company started for its workers. And there are pictures from the early 1900s of sugar beets being delivered to the factory by horse and wagon. An insect infestation in 1921 caused sugar-beet crop failure and the eventual demise of the sugar industry in Los Alamitos. But the town that had sprung up continued to grow.

During World War II, the US Naval Air Station moved its aircraft training field from Terminal Island to Los Alamitos. It employed thousands of people, and it spurred growth. In 1973, the base was designated an Armed Forces Reserve Center. Today, it is a reserve support center for units of the Army, Navy, National Guard and Marines.

Many former military personnel chose to stay on in Los Alamitos after the war, maintaining the 1950s style tract housing. One such neighborhood is Carrier Row, where streets are named for World War II aircraft carriers.

The Spanish-ranchos-turned-company-town became an official city in March 1960. The city's population then was about 3,400. Today, the population hovers near the 12,000 mark.

The ambitious sugar-beet processor of today would be hard pressed to set up shop in Los Alamitos. Zoning laws keep out heavy manufacturing or industry, because nearly all the city land is developed. The Armed Forces Reserve Center takes up 48 percent of the city's 4.3 square miles.

The rest of the city is a snug fitting mix of homes, apartments, businesses and open space.


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