Stretching between the Bixby Knolls neighborhood and the present-day course of the Los Angeles River, the lush, green Rancho Los Cerritos is an urban oasis. Grown on soil rich with Long Beach history, the rancho offers respite from the daily stresses of urban life, and has become a popular destination among tourists and residents alike.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, the property was home to one of the 50 to 100 villages in the Los Angeles area built by a Native American tribe, known today as the Tongva people. In the late 18th century, it constituted one of the first land grants in California. The rancho’s adobe home, built in 1844, celebrates its 175th Anniversary this year.
The rancho’s staff has made it their mission to share its history. “We want everyone to share the passion for how great Long Beach is and how much Long Beach has contributed to California’s history, and how special the rancho really is,” Executive Director Alison Bruesehoff told the Business Journal. “This is where it started, this is where it continues.”
Today, the rancho hosts a permanent historical collection as well as rotating exhibits, and has become a popular venue for weddings. Tours of the garden invite visitors to learn about California’s indigenous flora and fauna. “There’s something for everyone when they get here,” Bruesehoff said. “It’s the hub of our city’s history, of our city’s culture.”
Across town, visitors can dive into the city’s rich history or simply find shade under the canopy of the massive Moreton Bay fig trees that have dug their roots into the soil of Rancho Los Alamitos. The historic property, which was part of the same land grant as the Rancho Los Cerritos, offers a number of cultural events, from soap-making to chamber music concerts.
There’s no shortage of culture in Long Beach. The city is home to a variety of musical and theatrical ensembles that serve as a magnet for visitors from all over Southern California. Among them is the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, located on the campus of California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), which hosts close to 30 performances per season. Events include speaking series, dance, live music and theater.
“It’s comfortable, there’s not a bad seat in the house, the acoustics are beautiful. You get a totally professional experience at an affordable price,” Megan Kline Crockett, the center’s executive director, told the Business Journal. “Arts are for everyone and everyone should have the opportunity to have that exposure.”
Founded in Whittier in 1952, Musical Theatre West moved its regular performances to Long Beach in 1997. Now, the group performs four annual shows and one Christmas production at the Carpenter Center, attracting audiences from across the Southwest. “In analyzing our ticket base, we find that we have people coming from 100 Southern California communities, and we also draw people from Arizona, from Las Vegas,” the theater’s executive director and producer, Paul Garman, told the Business Journal.
The group performs Broadway musicals with a full orchestra and often purchases original costumes and sets. This year, Musical Theatre West is producing the West Coast premiere of Irving Berlin’s “Holiday Inn: The Broadway Musical.”
International City Theatre’s (ICT) artistic director and producer, caryn desai, said her company is driven by sense of a responsibility towards the city’s residents. “Because we are the resident professional theater company, we have a commitment to serving our community, and we take that very seriously,” desai said. “You don’t have scientists or researchers, entrepreneurs, inventors, if they haven’t been taught to think outside the box.”
Named the city’s resident theater company in 1999, desai said the ICT also plays a crucial role in supporting professional performers in the area. “We have a reputation for producing quality work,” desai said. This year, the company will stage “Beast on the Moon,” a play about the Armenian genocide, the world premiere of Peter Quilter’s “Bestseller,” “The Price” by Arthur Miller and more. “We have a diverse community in which we reside, so we try to provide something for everyone,” desai noted. “If it touches me, if it makes me laugh or makes me think, I think it would do the same for my audience.”
ICT is based at the Beverly O’Neill Theater at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center. In addition to ICT’s full season of performances, the venue also often hosts special performances by Musical Theatre West and the Long Beach Camerata Singers. The center also houses the Terrace Theater, which is home to the Long Beach Symphony. The Terrace offers a full year’s worth of entertainment with performances by groups such as Long Beach Ballet, Shen Yun Performing Arts, Disney On Ice and a variety of comedic and musical acts.
There are a variety of smaller theatrical venues and organizations throughout the city, including the historic Long Beach Playhouse on Anaheim Street, Found Theatre and The Garage Theatre – which both often perform original works – and the Long Beach Shakespeare Company in Bixby Knolls.
Another cultural institution committed to showcasing a diversity of experiences is the Long Beach Opera. In recent years, the opera – which has no fixed venue – has staged performances at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool (which has since been demolished), the Museum of Latin American Art and the Seventh Street Armory. “We don’t have a home where we perform all our operas; we choose our location based on the actual opera we present,” Executive Director and CEO Jennifer Rivera said. “So, it’s not only discovering new repertoire, but it’s also discovering new locations.”
Founded as the Long Beach Civic Light Opera in 1979, Rivera said the Long Beach Opera is the oldest continuously operating opera company in the Los Angeles and Orange County area. Despite this legacy, Rivera emphasized her company’s commitment to discovering and showcasing new, unusual work. “We do operas that no one else is doing,” Rivera said. “We choose operas that are relevant to today, that tell stories that may not otherwise be heard.”
The Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra also offers a unique and rare experience to visitors. The orchestra is committed to recreating the original sound of classical and baroque compositions by performing them on period instruments. “It’s an additional part of a musician’s repertoire to be able to perform on those types of instruments. Not every musician can do it and do it well,” Christina Mancebo, Musica Angelica’s executive director, said. “It’s a specialty, so that elevates the type of programming that we’re able to offer.”
The different institutions that form the city’s cultural scene often promote one another, Mancebo said. “In doing so, we feel that it not only fosters a greater artistic community amongst the performing groups, but it also helps to generate wider awareness,” she explained. Musica Angelica also performs in Los Angeles and Mancebo said the board of directors is eyeing further expansion towards Orange County. Still, Mancebo said, “we take pride in saying: Long Beach is our hometown.”