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BEST BET

May 26, 1991|SUSAN PATERNO

It's not often you will find a real anachronism in Southern California. We usually have to settle for such faux representations as Disneyland's Main Street, the ghost town at Knott's Berry Farm or the Getty Museum's Roman villa with reflecting pool.

But not in Long Beach. This city boasts one of the finest examples of an authentic error in chronology anywhere in Southern California: Rancho Los Alamitos. Until 1962, the Bixby family worked the ranch, with barns, horses, cattle, a blacksmith shop, wagons and the old homestead, built originally as an adobe dwelling in 1790. A small part of the original adobe still stands, a reminder that the family first made their home on land belonging to the Gabrieleno Indians.

On June 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the ranch will open to the public for a three-dimensional re-creation of life at the turn of the century. Because it is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, not much has changed on the property since it was a working ranch, although outside the four-acre compound, little has stayed the same. Instead of fields and cows, the ranch is now encircled by homes--the Bixby Hill tract, with a gate and guard.

Next weekend, though, anyone with $4 (for adults, $2 for children) can enter the tract, travel to the hilltop ranch and take a step back in time to see, hear, smell and touch history. The private foundation that runs Rancho Los Alamitos is opening it up for California Ranch Day.

As part of the festivities, Johnny Menchaca, a 16-year-old Mexican cowboy called a charro, will tie mares and (quite literally) grab a bull by the tail in a centuries-old custom called tailing. Experts from throughout Southern California will demonstrate how to make tortillas, rope, quilts, rag dolls, rugs and soap. Haystacks are provided for climbing, horseshoes for tossing, rugs for beating, nails for hammering, butter for churning.

Leather and wood workers will ply their trade for onlookers, as will several blacksmiths. Blacksmith Richard Schrader has no skills when it comes to making horseshoes, he said, but he has a working smith shop in Vista that produces custom iron for homes--beds, tables, chandeliers, doorknobs and window guards. He came to the trade 13 years ago not by way of a family tradition but after careers in the military, aerospace and sales.

Schrader, 51, is one of the few professional blacksmiths in Southern California. At Rancho Los Alamitos, he will make nails and repair farm equipment on the homestead's forge. "People love to see what the old days were like," he said. "Just smelling the smell of coal burning brings back childhood memories for a lot of people."

Because Rancho Los Alamitos is difficult to find, the event's organizers have provided a shuttle bus for the short drive to the ranch from Cal State Long Beach. Exit the San Diego Freeway (405) at Palo Verde Avenue and drive south to the university's Parking Lot C. The ranch is located at 6400 Bixby Hill Road, Long Beach. It is open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday most of the year. For more information, call 431-3541.

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