Bixby Knolls: More Than Meets the Eye

STORY AND PHOTOS
BY ELIZABETH ORTIZ

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Bixby Knolls’ reputation of being snooty began a long time ago with the idea that there were a lot of fuddy duddies (traditionalist, fussy and old-fashioned) walking around town in their golf apparel. But if you take the time to explore the district today, it’s not hard to notice how well people are knitted together.  

Sure, there is the well-known exclusive Virginia Country Club that costs $100,000 a year, with members such as long-term resident Brenda Randall Turnbow, who said, “New members have to be inducted and have six sponsors in order to join.” 

She can testify to her husband’s 30-year golfing expenditure, but admits she has enjoyed marvelous Christmas dinners with her family every year. As she and her sisters were having afternoon tea down the street from the club, they said, “The halibut is fantastic and chocolate cake comes with a sparkler.” Perhaps only the 400 members who are rapidly dying off and those grandfathered in will get the chance to experience the country club life after all. 

Despite being known as snooty, this business district close to the Cal State Long Beach campus is worth visiting. It is fun and young and revitalizing itself constantly. The district’s people focus their pride on being one of the major business improvement districts since the post-war era.

Many still desire to hang their hats in this section of Long Beach. In 1929, the Long Beach Press Telegram printed Bixby Knolls’ proclamation of building a residential area that would mimic the Wilshire section of Los Angeles. It was to be built on top of a lima bean farm. Most of the land was rented out to farmers and dairies during that time. The idea to make way for small businesses built around residential properties with manicured lawns was appealing from the start. Holding it together after the depression was a little more challenging. But the district was well on its way to developing its pioneering spirit, which persists today. 

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“Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate” is the name of the game and what Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, suggests people do for the betterment of their city. He is passionate about promoting business by creating meet-up groups. 

“Residents should join clubs and attend events that will connect them back to the community,”  Cohn said. “These things help.”

The Supper Club, Walking Club and Literary Club are held at places where Cohn can be found during each month, at every meeting place. He thinks in groups, sort of like LinkedIn does for social media.

Cohn explains that the longevity of these meet-up groups has been one of the district’s greatest aspects. His biggest challenge is with the local online shoppers. Not only are mom-and-pop shops closing in many areas around the nation, but individual tax dollars are being dispersed elsewhere. He said, “If you do not shop in your city, you do not help contribute to your own city’s funding.” 

Next summer the big man around town mentioned that two new breweries will be built and a free trolley will help move people around from brewery to brewery.  
Maybe people will start calling it “Brewery Knolls.”

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The House Movies Made Famous

The “Ferris Bueller house” was made famous by the beloved movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but is just one of the places along Bixby Knolls’ Country Club Drive that’s been used in TV and movies. Many tourists come to see the famous movie houses on the tree-lined street, including ones from Criminal Minds, Donnie Darko and American Pie.  

Ever wonder who actually lives in the Ferris Bueller house? Alex Lombardo, the youngest of three under two parents practicing medicine, said his fondest memory growing up in Ferris Bueller’s house was witnessing many different film productions. 

Scenes from Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Not Another King were also filmed in the Ferris Bueller house. Lombardo chuckled and said it was a trip to see and meet Anthony Hopkins sitting in the yard. “It was just famous people in their workplace and the film crew would invite anyone to come by during lunch time.”

He remembers the film crew’s busy activity before and after the shooting. “It was amazing to see how quickly and efficiently everything was moved in and out of the house.”

 Lombardo called this a “name drop kind of deal” during high school. He said filming in Bixby Knolls is more friendly than Hollywood because it provides the space along the Los Cerritos Park and L.A. River for actors and their wardrobe trucks, on top of avoiding Hollywood’s premium taxes.  

Lombardo said the worst part about living in the house was the mess left from the lower-budgeted film shoots because clean up was not done properly. In some cases nails would be left all over the floor. Also, neighbors were not always in favor of filming either. Blocking the street once created “childish behavior like honking a horn in the middle of the night.”

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It's All Right Around the Corner

Here are a few of the fun things you can do in Bixby Knolls:

Kidical Mass: During this monthly event, kids and adults on bikes take over the streets for the purpose of teaching bike safety. It works well for local businesses because it goes through the district. The next one is on November 19.

First Fridays: The marquee event takes place on the first Friday of each month. Families come out to look at art and hear live music. Residents also take advantage of the monthly club meetings. 

Willmore Wine Bar: Here is a place to play trivia and dominos throughout the week. Go by yourself and meet some locals in town. Owner Ernie Henson knows his customers like he knows his wine. It is always a lot of fun and he will even tell you how wine is paired with food.

Go to bixbyknollsinfo.com for more information.