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City Smart | Community Profile / Arcadia

May 03, 1996

Two of turn-of-the-century Los Angeles' best-known figures lent their names and influence to the San Gabriel Valley development that ultimately became the city of Arcadia. One of those figures bore a name that since has become synonymous with fertilizer; the other was deeply involved in other sorts of well-known enterprises.

Though it is usually assumed that Arcadia derived its name from its original rustic simplicity, the town was actually named for one of Los Angeles' most celebrated beauties--Arcadia Bandini Stearns de Baker, heiress to a land empire that later would transform itself into a successful fertilizer company.

Arcadia's founder, Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin, called "the most flamboyant, forceful and unconventional character in California's history," already had made his millions in the Comstock Mine in Nevada's silver fields, money he used to hone his considerable tastes for fine music, wine, racehorses and women. Many of his employees shared those interests, and one of them--a particular admirer of the beautiful Ms. Bandini--suggested her name for the boss' latest land development.

It was an immediate success. Once a potential buyer protested that the $200-an-acre asking price for parcels in Arcadia was too much. Baldwin answered indignantly: "Hell! We're giving away the land. We're selling the climate."

Baldwin was married four times, acknowledged at least one child born to a mistress and was sued at least three times by jilted lovers. Once during a court hearing, a woman sitting in the audience pulled out a pistol and fired a bullet through the hat he was wearing.

Baldwin incorporated the town in 1903, despite residents' protests that he intended to turn Arcadia into "a gambling hell and booze pleasure park."

Although he assured them he had no such plans, one of the new city's first orders of business was to issue a liquor license to Baldwin's daughter, Clara Baldwin Stocker, for her saloon, Clara Villa. It soon was joined by 13 thriving saloons and hotels and the original Santa Anita racetrack, which opened on the grounds of what is now Arcadia County Park.

Baldwin continued to juggle bank investments with horse breeding and stretched his real estate to the edge of bankruptcy, but he died a rich man in 1909, the year a reform movement began to clean up the town.

Soon, Arcadia was the self-proclaimed "community of homes," picturesquely nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains against the chaparral of the Angeles National Forest. It is also home to a racetrack, an arboretum, a wilderness preserve and the descendants of some of Baldwin's prized peafowl.

The city remains a tightknit community with multimillion-dollar homes and top-scoring schools, which have helped Arcadia become a highly sought-after address.

Like other San Gabriel Valley communities, Arcadia also is in the process of transformation from a conservative suburban small town to a multicultural city.

In the mid-1980s, an influx of Asian home buyers discovered Arcadia's prized school system, and Asians now make up one-quarter of the city's residents. In 1994, minority enrollment in the schools hit 60%.

To help draw attention to Arcadia's downtown, city officials undertook an $8-million face-lift of Huntington Drive and 1st Avenue, complete with antique-style street lamps, pastel sidewalks and stone planters. The central library also has been renovated to the tune of $4.5 million, and a new, state-of-the-art fire station was constructed. But community opposition and financial exposure recently caused officials to withdraw their plan to build a $300-million entertainment complex at Santa Anita Park.

* GOING HOLLYWOOD: A feature of what is now the Arboretum of Los Angeles County is the 111-year-old Queen Anne Cottage, originally supposed to be a wedding gift for Baldwin's fourth bride, 16-year-old Lillie Bennett. But the house wasn't completed until after the pair had been married and--shortly thereafter--separated. Since the 1940s, the arboretum has been a popular film site, where Tarzan swung through the trees, Dorothy Lamour walked the "Road to Singapore" and Herve Villechaize called out "The plane! The plane!" from the cottage's steeple in "Fantasy Island."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

By The Numbers

City Business

Incorporated: Aug. 5,1903

Area in square miles: 11.4

Number of parks: 12

City employees: 320

1995-96 budget: $26 million

*

People

Population: 48,290

Households: 18,336

Average household size: 3

Median age: 39

*

Ethnic Breakdown

Asian: 23%

Black: 1%

Latino: 11%

White: 65%

Other: 1%

*

Money and Work Median household income: $47,347

Median household income / L.A. County: $34,965

Median home value: $438,800

Employed workers (16 and older): 24,467

Percentage of women employed: 52%

Percentage of men employed: 74%

Self-employed: 2,423

Car- poolers: 2,585

*

Retail Stores

Number of stores: 452

Number of employees: 5,506

Annual sales: $357 million

*

Families:

Married couples with children: 26%

Married couples with no children: 33%

Non-family households: 29%

Other types of families: 13%

Source: Claritas Inc. Household expenses are averages for 1994. All other figures are for 1990. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

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