This unique 127-acre botanical garden and historical site in Arcadia, CA includes plants from all over the world, including many rare and endangered species.
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, 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 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 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. In 1970, the Santa Fe Railway depot was moved to the Arboretum during the construction of the 210 Foothill Freeway. It was built in 1890 at today’s Colorado Boulevard and Old Ranch Rd. to serve Lucky Baldwin, and the people of Rancho Santa Anita.
The arboretum’s plants are grouped by geography with gardens for South American, Mediterranean, South African, Australian and Asiatic-North American plants.
In addition, the arboretum is home to a flock of some 200 peafowl, which are descendants of original birds imported by Baldwin from India.
The peafowl is also a symbol of the city of Arcadia.
The first record of peafowl in what is now the United States was the introduction by Frances Sinclair on Kaua’i I., Hawai‘i, in 1860. However the first reported introduction into the continental United States occurred in 1879, when Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin brought 3 pairs to his vast ranch in the San Gabriel Valley of California.
Today, semidomestic or feral populations persist mostly in California and Florida. Peafowl can also be found throughout neighborhoods surrounding the arboretum.
Coach Barn & Dog House
Generous stall space was provided for carriage horses, and convenient hay and grain chutes were fed directly from the loft above.
Bauer Lawn & Fountain
The arboretum is widely reported to be haunted, particularly the Queen Anne Cottage. Some have claimed to see the ghost of Lucky Baldwin or one of his wives. Visitors have claimed hearing moaning coming from the house, where Lucky Baldwin’s wife also died of cancer, odd cooking smells, and seeing various strange anomalies walk the gardens at night. The Queen Anne Cottage is best known for being used in the opening credits of the TV show Fantasy Island. It was also seen in an episode of Murder, She Wrote and Roots: The Next Generations.