Rancho Santa Anita was a 13,319 acre land grant covering modern day Arcadia, Monrovia, Pasadena, San Marino, and Sierra Madre held by Perfecto Hugo Reid in 1845. While Reid sold this land to Henry Dalton in 1847, the secession of California put the ownership of this land in flux until the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo agreed to honor preexisting land ownership. Thus, the land was patented in 1866 to Dalton. The land changed hands several times and eventually was purchased by Elias Jackson (“Lucky”) Baldwin for $200,000.
“Lucky” Baldwin was already a successful business man before he invested in Rancho Santa Anita. Born in Ohio, Baldwin traveled to California to strike it rich with the gold rush. It did not take long, however, for him to find that the gold of the California foothills was more easily collected by the businesses servicing the miners. On arriving in San Francisco in 1853, Baldwin quickly began investing in the city’s real estate market and running a hotel and livery business.
Baldwin was notable for not only his shrewd business acumen but also his surprising luck. One such investment, the Temperance Hotel, he sold after owning for only 30 days at a $5,000 profit. In payment for a debt owed him, Baldwin received 2,000 shares of the Ophir Mine, which, at the time was worth pennies, but exploded in value when it was discovered that the mine was on the northern end of the Comstock Load. If this wasn’t sufficient to warrant “Lucky’s” handle, when he left San Francisco to travel, leaving instructions to sell the shares if they dipped below a certain threshold, he didn’t leave the key to access the shares so that, the were not sold when the fell below Baldwin’s threshold, and so he still had the shares when the rocketed to new highs, making his shares worth millions of dollars.
Baldwin moved to Southern California and purchased Rancho Santa Anita after owning and operating Tallac House, as resort in Lake Tahoe. With his new venture, Baldwin developed portions of the land into a destination resort, creating the The Oakwood Hotel and Santa Anita racetrack. Baldwin incorporated this sprawling land into its own city of Arcadia, becoming its first mayor and allowing him to award liquor licenses independent of Pasadena, which was a dry city. In partnership with Henry Huntington and the Santa Fe Railroad, Baldwin built a railway to access Arcadia so that thirsty tourists from dry counties across California could easily visit and enjoy themselves. The land was also excellent farming and viticultural land, and Baldwin established an award winning wine label that he sold to tourists.
Today, you can still explore a portion of the rancho as “Lucky” developed it at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. There, the Queen Anne Cottage and Coach Barn which Baldwin and his fourth wife built from 1885 to 1886 still stands with period furnishing. It is a is a National Register of Historic Places structure and a California Historical Landmark.