Meet College Park East’s first family

This was originally published on June 18, 20111 in the Seal Beach Sun.

As of Wednesday, June 15, Tommy and Keiko Sugihara will have lived in their College Park East home in the city of Seal Beach for 45 years.

While College Park East has quite a large number of “original owners,” Tommy and Keiko are the first of the original owners, and they are still there.

The history of College Park East is tied into the history of the old ranchos.  Abel Sterns purchased land from the Rancho Los Alamitos, and part of that was purchased by John Bixby.  He in turn left the land College Park East now sits on to his son Fred H. Bixby.

The Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base is on land once owned by both Fred H. Bixby and his sister Susanna Bixby Bryant.

The S&S Construction Company purchased the land from the Fred H. Bixby Ranch Company to build College Park East, and on December 31, 1964, the area soon to be known as College Park East was annexed to the City of Seal Beach.

The first building permits were issued on March 4, 1966.  Three houses were constructed and the Sugihara’s moved in on June 15, 1966.

Jim and Helen Clark were the second owners to move in on July 1, 1966.  Both the Sugiharas and Helen Clark still live in College Park East (Jim Clark passed away in 2007).

At the time the Sugihara’s moved in, only three houses had been constructed.  Then S&S built six more, and then six more.

After that, construction was in earnest.  Only a few of the roads were in.  Lampson Avenue went only as far as Tulip Street;  it was not yet cut through to Seal Beach Blvd.

When asked what it was like to be the first to move into the tract, Keiko Sugihara said it was lonely, as there weren’t any neighbors, as for the first two weeks they were the only ones there.  She didn’t speak English well in those days and didn’t have a car, so she didn’t get out.

In addition, her daughter Lisa was only two years old and she was pregnant with her second child, Thomas, who was born several months later (daughter Joann came along four years later).

At the time she didn’t think about being the only one here as she was very busy with her small children.

When asked about the changes in the area, she said that all the old stores in Rossmoor Center are now gone.  The golf course was not yet built in 1966.

Of course, the traffic has increased quite a bit.  The neighborhood is now very diverse; for the first couple of years, they were the only Asian family in College Park East.

Keiko Sugihara said she is very happy here in College Park East:  she has learned everything here  —  the culture, the language and she obtained her citizenship.  She said that College Park East is her home and has no regrets.

She said what has stayed the same is that the people here are all very nice.  She and her family are very proud to be the first family of College Park East.

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NOTES: Abel Stearns purchased the entire Rancho Los Alamitos in 1844 — it was the first of many land purchases prior to 1860 which made him the largest landowner in California. He basically went bankrupt after the severe drought of the mid-1860s and the property defaulted to his lender, Michael Reese, of San Francisco.

After Reese’s death in 1881, the property was purchased by John W. Bixby with the financial backing of his cousins, Jotham and Llewellyn Bixby (who owned the adjacent Rancho Los Cerritos, and banker I.W. Hellman. J.W. developed a thriving operation, renovated the old shepherd’s adobe into the present Rancho house, and was just starting the development of Alamitos Beach when he met an untimely death in 1887, assumed to be appendicitis.

After J.W. death, the undeveloped Alamitos land was divided equally between his heirs (the middle section, about half in LA County and half in Orange County), his cousins (the northern third), and Hellman (the southern third in Orange County). The sugar factory town of Los Alamitos was originally developed by Lewellyn Bixby in their northern third, but many of the beets were grown on the other Alamitos lands. In the early 1900s, John W.’s children, Fred & Susannah Bixby Bryant divided their land with Fred keeping the southern parcel with the Rancho adobe and was basically the land between Bixby Road (think Mainway in Rossmoor and an extended line east to Stanton) and the 7th Street-Garden Grove Boulevard line.

While S&S formally purchased the land in 1965, they had secured options on the land from the Bixby Ranch Co. long before that, and had already developed College Park, University Park Estates in Long Beach, and Garden Park in Garden Grove. The latter was built first because the final route of the freeways had not yet been decided.

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