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Arcadia Leases Site for Museum for $66

January 05, 1986|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

ARCADIA — It will take an act of Congress--and a lot more time--for the county to deed the 4.3-acre Rose Garden in Arcadia County Park to the city for a historical museum.

So while they wade through bureaucratic red tape, city officials worked out an agreement with county officials and will lease the land for 66 years at $1 a year.

That will clear the way for impatient members of the Arcadia Historical Society and the Arcadia Historical Commission to start the museum, possibly as early as June.

City and county officials reached agreement on the lease last month after several months of discussions about the site and a 2,400-square-foot building that has been sitting vacant since a savings and loan donated it to the city for the museum nine months ago.

The building has been moved to the Rose Garden without disturbing any of the rectangular rose planter beds.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm about Arcadia's first museum when American Savings & Loan Assn. donated its temporary building," said Herb Goddard, chairman of the Arcadia Historical Commission and former president of the Arcadia Historical Society. The temporary office had been used by the savings and loan until its permanent building was completed.

Needs Paint, Utilities

The Ahmanson Foundation contributed $10,000 for the cost of relocating the building to the park, Goddard said. The foundation was created by Howard Ahmanson, who also founded H. F. Ahmanson & Co., a Los Angeles-based financial company.

"The building is in good shape, with central air conditioning, bathrooms and draperies," Goddard said. "But it needs paint, and light, gas and water hookups. It was in place and we were all set to fix it up and arrange for displays when the county told us to stop."

The stop order was the result of a 1917 act of patriotism involving the entire 185-acre county park.

The park, bounded by Santa Anita Avenue on the east, Campus Drive on the south and Huntington Drive on the west and north, includes the Rose Garden, a senior citizens clubhouse, a lawn bowling green, picnic tables, an 18-hole golf course, baseball fields, a swimming pool, a tennis complex and children's play equipment.

In 1917, the land was owned by Anita Baldwin, daughter of Lucky Baldwin, the wealthy landowner who founded Arcadia. It had been the Baldwins' private race track and had lain unused since 1909 when the Baldwins closed the track after the state banned horse racing. Later, when the state rescinded its ban, a private group bought other land from Anita Baldwin and in 1932 work was begun on what is now Santa Anita Park race track.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the county offered to find a training camp site needed by the War Department. The county bought the land from the Baldwins and deeded it to the federal government, which turned it into Ross Field, a balloon training school for the Army's artillery division.

Restrictions Imposed

After the war, the neglected training site was becoming an eyesore at the same time park land was needed in Arcadia. So in 1935 Congress deeded the land back to the county with the provision that it be used for recreational purposes.

But there was another restriction that has come back to haunt the county and the city 50 years later.

"There is a provision in the deed that if the county transfers title, the property reverts back to the federal government," City Manager George Watts said.

"We are in contact with the federal government to waive the restriction so we can give the property to the city," said a spokesman for the county Facilities Management Department.

"We have no objection to the transfer," said Dave Taylor, chief of the management and disposal branch of the Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction in this case. "But the mechanics involved take time. It takes an act of Congress."

The city's Historical Commission is working with Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-Pasadena) to get Congress to act on the issue.

Maintenance Expense

The city would prefer to own, rather than lease, the Rose Garden because it will cost $25,000 a year to maintain the grounds and city officials would rather own land in which they invest money.

"Initially we only wanted to lease the land the building is on because of the cost of upkeep and because that was the only need we had for land at the time," Watts said. "But the county would like to relieve themselves of the cost of maintaining the entire Rose Garden and we agreed because we feel it is worthwhile to have those acres for other recreational purposes. We are exploring the possibility of building a senior citizens center there."

The proposed senior citizens center would be larger and have more facilities than the current clubhouse in the park.

A walkway from the Rose Garden parking lot on Campus Drive to the museum will be paved with bricks, which Goddard hopes people will buy for $100 each as a way of raising money for the Historical Society and the museum.

"We could raise as much as $30,000 this way," he said. "The Broadway department store will be donating showcases for our artifacts. The museum will be staffed by volunteers."

Starting From Scratch

Until the Historical Society can accumulate enough artifacts to fill the museum, Goddard said it will house only special temporary displays from the Red Cross and Santa Anita race track.

"We are starting from scratch, so we don't have the historical items yet," he said.

The museum will be hampered by the fact that most of Arcadia's historical items from the Lucky Baldwin era already are housed at the State and County Arboretum, which includes most of the Baldwin buildings.

The city initially was interested in putting the museum in the arboretum, Watts said, next to the old train station, but arboretum officials turned the city down.

So the museum will have to focus on artifacts from the post-Baldwin era, and Goddard hopes residents will come forward to donate their treasures.

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