Learning About City History


Robinson Lee, Staff Writer

If you have attended any Arcadia elementary school, then chances are you’ve learned about our city’s history. For me, I remember information relating to Founder of Arcadia, Elias “Lucky Baldwin, the Gabrielino-Tongva Native Americans, Hugo Reid, and the origin of peacocks. But taking another look at Arcadia’s history through the internet and the Gilb Museum of Arcadia Heritage yields a much deeper narrative and provides context for Arcadia as a city and the small world of Arcadia High School.

The legacy of Arcadia is ingrained in the history of the city, yet still, the crucial history of Santa Anita Park is one that many don’t talk about and many don’t know about. It’s an important topic to talk about, especially since we live so close to where it happened. There is an opportunity for dialogue about the racism and justice that plague’s the history of this city. The lack of engagement/investment into local history has prevented progress and discussion from being made. By exploring the history of Arcadia, it becomes clear why citizens have a civic duty to educate themselves on the history of their cities. 

Let’s start with Elias Baldwin, the founder of Arcadia. He has a bronze statue right on Campus Drive which is titled “A Dawn In The West”. Not only that but he also lends his name to many other places and locations in the Greater Los Angeles area through his last name “Baldwin”. Nevertheless, many people know him as an affluent businessman who had pieces of his property scattered through Arcadia today including the Queen Anne Cottage in the Los Angeles Arboretum. 

Baldwin’s wealth was much more extensive than the lands of Arcadia. He purchased 63,000 acres of land throughout his life and divided his land into the contemporary cities of Arcadia, Monrovia, Baldwin Hills, Sierra Madre, and others. Baldwin’s success in founding Arcadia, endorsing horse racing, and being business savvy contrasted his less savory traits. For instance, he was married four times and had incidents concerning affairs with promising to marry women only to let them down. In fact, there were two incidents relating to his affairs, one in 1883 and the other in 1896, where he was shot with him almost and killed the second time around. There were accusations during his time of him pursuing cityhood for the sole purposes of “ribaldry, racing, gambling and gaming” to which end he was accused of illegally inflating population figures. 

All of this information about Baldwin is helpful, but the main point which learning about Baldwin’s past establishes is that he was more than just the guy who founded Arcadia. Baldwin’s business empire and lands are a permanent fixture in the history of California. Understanding Baldwin helps comprehend why Santa Anita Park exists and why this area was divided into the cities it’s in today. It goes even further with being the background evidence in stipulations and tradition in Arcadia. Relatively speaking, it explains the City of Arcadia’s vast historical preservation efforts and possibly adds details to the business-friendly nature of it as well. But there is more ground to cover than just Baldwin.

However, Arcadia’s history extends far past Baldwin’s business empire. Like many cities across the U.S., Arcadia has a darker history of racism that is crucial for its citizens to educate themselves on and stay cognisant of. Between Mar. 27 and Oct. 27 1942, Santa Anita Park became Santa Anita Assembly Center and housed thousands of Japanese-Americans who were being interned under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. The camp was leased by the Wartime Civil Control Administration who was given authority to facilitate the forced migration during the time it oversaw the camp. But the short time the camp was active was certainly eventful and lamentable. The Japanese-Americans imprisoned in the camp had to live in hastily constructed barracks while about 8,500 people had to live in horse stables. The camp was also overcrowded and under-equipped with food rationing being a problem, medical supplies constantly being low, and privacy being scarce. 

That’s where residents of Arcadia come in. Instead of being passive towards the history of this city we can choose to take a stand and invest ourselves into the meaningful history that lies here. Because that is the only way we can catalyze change and analyze how we can make Arcadia a better place.

Photo courtesy of ARCADIAWEEKLY.COM