A sweet Bixby Knolls home with a sour history in the pickle business

The house for sale at 3810 Elm Ave. in Bixby Knolls, has, like everything else, changed over the years.

I’m not sure what it looked like when it was built in 1923, when John D. Robertson and his wife Marguerite moved in, but today it’s a Knolls showcase, with gleaming highly polished porcelain floors throughout the house’s open floor plan and sparkling new kitchen appliances and fixtures. According to its listing, the home has been entirely renovated and immaculately remodeled inside and out. So, no, it’s not the same house as the Robertsons’ 1923 home.

Polished porcelain flooring for maximum Cruise-style slideability. Listing photo.

The Robertsons got married in 1919 by George Primrose Taubman, a Scottish preacher born in the Isle of Man before moving to America where he brought Jesus to the hill country around Ohio and Kentucky before he rolled into Long Beach in 1915.

Taubman’s charismatic sermons and Bible discussion drew as many as 3,500, though generally a bit more than 2,000 men to his Men’s Bible group outside First Christian Church, and by 1921 it was the largest such group in the United States.

At the time of their marriage, Robertson worked in sales for the Curtis Corporation in Long Beach. The company was known for its olives and olive oil when it was called the Curtis Olive Corporation, but then it grew fancy and began offering pimentos, upscale tuna products and other canned goods—and went all-in on the then-deluxe suffix of -ola, selling Garnishola, a pimento-based garnish; Sandwichola, an olive/tuna/pimento spread; and the flagship Curtisola, an antipasto.

It wasn’t much of a leap for Robertson to leave Curtis Corp. and jump with both feet into the pickle business, and for the next 47 years, he devoted his life to pickles (though presumably his devotion expanded to include his wife and their son and daughter—but also pickles) as president of the John D. Robertson, Inc., with a large plant on Loma Avenue at Anaheim Street, where he sold Big Boy dill pickles and, later, olives, by the ton.

The Curtis Corporation exhibit at the Pacific Southwest Exhibition in 1928. The display shows jars and cans of Curtis products and a sign that reads, ‘The Curtis Corporation, Unusual Things to Eat.’ Photo courtesy of the Long Beach Public Library.

By Nov. 26, 1969, when he and Marie (as Marguerite preferred to be known) celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Robertson had retired. For nearly half a century, they had enjoyed life in their home at 3810 Elm Ave. The anniversary would be their last. Marie died the following June.

Now this home, with its various points of historical interest, is on the market for a price that would’ve floored Mr. and Mrs. Robertson, who likely bought it somewhere in the four-figure range: $1.575 million, which isn’t untoward for a revitalized four-bedroom, three-bath home in Bixby Knolls.

The expansive backyard at 3810 Elm Ave. Listing photo.

Listed by Realtor Marcos Ramirez of Keller Williams Pacific Estate, the home’s improvements, besides the striking porcelain flooring (perfect if you’re into sliding around in your socks like Tom Cruise), includes new electrical and plumbing, newly installed roof and new windows. The spacious home, at 2,270 square feet, is on an appropriately large 7,890-square-foot lot with its hardscape of large concrete squares set in the lawn.

And it’s hard to beat the location. The home is within an easy stroll of Jongewaard’s Bake n Broil, SteelCraft and all the offerings of the Bixby Knolls businesses on Atlantic Avenue.

‘Affordable’ Rancho homes (under $1 million)

Is this a sign of the impending collapse of the real estate market in Long Beach? Is the bubble bursting? Have we finally reached the pinnacle of runaway home prices?

Probably not. I’m not sure we’ll soon look back on November 2021 as the day when the wheels fell off on housing prices began to plummet, but it’s a dire indicator when there are two mid-century modern homes for sale in the Ranchos for under a million dollars, when they regularly have been going for well above that mark, with one going for nearly $2 million.

OK, maybe I’m being a tad alarmist (or perhaps even sarcastic).

Slap a million-dollar bill on the Cliff May at 3350 Kallin Ave., and you get 10 bucks in change (that is if you snag it at the listing price of $999,990.

The living room at the Cliff May home on Kallin Ave. Listing photo.

If you’re looking to spend a little less, you can pick up a Cliff May at 3046 Roxanne Ave. for $989,900.

The houses are fairly similar—both constructed in the 1950s building spree, both three-bedroom, three-bath. The pricier of the two has about 200 square feet more living space, which probably warrants its additional $10,000 price.

The $989,900 Cliff May Rancho on Roxanne Ave. Listing photo.

Either way, both properties will likely end up going for something north of a million dollars, so, no cause for alarm: The end is not near.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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