The Arboretum is sited on a remaining portion of the Rancho Santa Anita, one of the Mexican land grants of Southern California. Rancho Santa Anita was unusual in that it was located above a large part of the Raymond Basin aquifer. Three sag ponds and numerous springs were found in the area and the only remaining one is now called Baldwin Lake. Lacy Park in the city of San Marino once was another sag pond and the precise location of the third is not known but may have been on the grounds of the Huntington Library and Botanic Garden. As a consequence of the relative abundance of water, it was important area in prehistory as a year round source of water, the body of water known as Baldwin Lake and the other sag ponds attracted both waterfowl and other animals as well as Native Americans. Not surprisingly the presence of water and game created a permanent Native American habitation in the area and is believed to have been the location of the Tongva village of Aleupkigna. The exact location of the village is unknown. The close proximity to the nearby San Gabriel Mission may have led to the construction of a small seasonal dwelling at the Arboretum site for shepherds or hunters which ultimately led to the construction of a modest adobe structure.

In 1839, the grant to Rancho Santa Anita was awarded to Hugo Reid (1809–1852) and his Tongva wife, Victoria. Reid built a adobe home by the lake in 1839, now a California Historic Landmark. Reid was an educated Scotsman known for a series of letters describing Tongva culture. Otherwise Reid was probably best known for his role in the 1849 California Constitutional Convention. Afflicted with tuberculosis, he died at the age of 43. A series of short term owners of the property, Rancho Santa Anita, followed. Subsequent owners of Rancho Santa Anita were; in sequence, Henry Dalton, Joseph A. Rowe, Albert Dibblee in partnership with William Corbett and a Mr. Barker, Leonard Rose and William Wolfskill, Alfred Chapman with Harris Newmark until finally the property was sold to Elias Jackson Baldwin. With each transition, beginning with the sale to Rose and Wolfskill, a portion of the ranch was sold off. Every owner in some ways typifies the history of southern California during the period. Agricultural innovation is a feature which persisted taking advantage of the climate and the new crops that it made possible as well as a growing body of consumers and new markets opened by transportation innovations.

The site’s modern history began in 1875 when Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin purchased Rancho Santa Anita and constructed its buildings and grounds. Baldwin’s influence was a strong presence on the site. A certain flamboyance was evident in the creation of a showcase at Santa Anita. Baldwin in some ways anticipated the development of Las Vegas creating Arcadia as a kind of prototype destination resort. The Oakwood Hotel, the Santa Anita racetrack and the creation of Arcadia as an independent city made it possible for Baldwin to become its first Mayor. The first liquor license was issued to his oldest daughter Clara Baldwin. This becomes more significant when one understands that Pasadena, which borders Arcadia, was dry from its founding in 1886. A major motivation for incorporation being the banning of liquor in the city. Although many towns in southern California were dry, commercial viticulture flourished around the San Gabriel Mission since mission days. Baldwin started an award winning winery to supply the thirsty tourists, sold land to settlers as well as running a private water company and brick works.

A partnership with Henry E. Huntington and the Santa Fe Railroad insured that passengers could arrive by rail from Los Angeles and other locations as well as bringing freight, such as building supplies and taking away ranch produce for sale.

The arboretum itself began in 1947 with California and Los Angeles jointly purchasing 111 acres to create an arboretum around the Baldwin site. By 1949, the first greenhouse had been constructed and the site’s plants inventoried. In 1951, the first 1,000 trees were planted, and in 1956 the arboretum was opened to the public. Ongoing construction of gardens and greenhouses took place during the 1950s and 1960s, and in 1975-1976 the Tropical Greenhouse was opened and the Prehistoric and Jungle Garden completed. Construction and renovation of both greenhouses and gardens has continued to this day.

Related Site(s): Tallac

• Point of Interest
Visited: 01/03/2015

See: Tallac National Historic Site



In 1970, an abandoned train station was moved from its original location a quarter mile north of the Arboretum and restored to look as it was first constructed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in 1890. A typical half-passenger, half- freight depot with living quarters upstairs for the agent and family, the Santa Anita Depot was an active local station stop for both Baldwin Ranch and nearby Sierra Madre residents. Described in the local Sierra Madre newspaper in August, 1890, as “an elaborate two-story depot built with one hundred thousand bricks from the nearby E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin brick yard”, the Santa Anita Depot cost an estimated $5,000 to construct.