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Horse Lovers Head for the Shrine

History: The stable that W.K. Kellogg built to showcase his beloved Arabians is still in business 75 years later.

July 13, 2001|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is the house that cornflakes built. Kellogg's Cornflakes.

Back in the days when Pomona was a sprawling rancho of citrus groves, when Americans were becoming accustomed to a breakfast of crispy cereal grains and milk, W.K. Kellogg became rich enough to indulge his passion for Arabian horses.

In 1925, the cereal magnate paid $250,000 for 377 acres way out in the Southern California sticks, where he built a magnificent horse stable.

Today, the internationally known W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library and its Horse Center will celebrate, with the help of horse lovers from throughout the region, the 75th anniversary of the original stable.

"This ranch is at the heart of virtually everyone in the country who either owns an Arabian horse or breeds Arabian horses," said Melissa Paul, curator of the library at Cal Poly Pomona.

Those gathering this morning at the Kellogg center--the grandsons of the first trainers, former grooms, Arabian horse owners whose prized animals are descended from the original Kellogg herd, students of equine science--see the stable as a shrine of sorts, a revered place were their love of the breed finds nourishment.

"There is more history here than any other place in the country as far as the Arabian breed is concerned," said Mary Ann Hughes, president of the Southern California Arabian Horse Assn.

To understand what makes these stables famous is to glimpse back at Southern California in the Roaring '20s. The area was the heart of a great food-producing belt, the rich were building winter mansions on land with commanding views and the famous of new Hollywood were in search of photo ops.

Horses had only recently been supplanted by the automobile. And exotic horses, like exotic cars, were status symbols. To own an Arabian was as "with it" as owning a Hispano-Suiza--the kind of car Rudolph Valentino drove.

Valentino was a regular at the Kellogg ranch, his visits stirring the kind of newsreel publicity that Kellogg wanted to promote these horses. The silent movie star selected a Kellogg horse named Jadaan to ride in the film "Son of the Sheik."

Soon other Hollywood types made the trek to Pomona to have their photos snapped next to a horse with big brown eyes. Pictures of Mary Pickford, Gary Cooper, Olivia de Havilland and Loretta Young hang on the center's wall of fame.

And not just movie stars were drawn to the place.

Charles A. Lindbergh christened the ranch's airport in 1927 with a flyover in his Spirit of St. Louis. Architect Myron Hunt, who designed the Rose Bowl and the Huntington Library, was commissioned to design Kellogg's stables and home.

Actor Ronald Reagan posed for publicity photos at the ranch. He later wrote to a Kellogg historian: "I knew of the ranch, of course, like everyone in Southern California in those days."

John Williamson, 85, a grandson of Kellogg's, grew up on the ranch and remembers how famous people always came to see the famous animals. But for a boy more interested in shooting jack rabbits in the hills, "it wasn't any big deal. They came, took their pictures. Most of them were nice."

Williamson became intrigued not so much with the celebrities, but the cameras that followed them. He went on to become a noted equine photographer.

The Hollywood attention helped make the Kellogg ranch into a major tourist attraction, curator Paul said. At the same time, Kellogg started a tradition that continues today: the Sunday horse show. In the early days, spectators were given hand-tinted horse postcards and samples of Kellogg's Cornflakes.

Both Paul and Hughes, of the Arabian horse group, said their love of the breed was fueled by those Sunday shows--seeing the graceful jumping, riding and funny tricks. That's just the way Kellogg wanted it.

Nearing 70, Kellogg wanted to make sure his investment would live on. Though the movie stars brought attention, it was the shows that introduced the Arabians to future owners such as Eldona Reasoner Arns of Chino Hills.

Arns has operated her Arabian ranch for 31 years and attended Kellogg shows over the years. Her prized stallion, Saud Ebin Azefa, was sired by one of Kellogg's great horses, Abu Farwa.

Arns can speak of every fine detail of a classic Arabian beauty. This is a comparatively small horse with big eyes and an "exquisitely formed head," she says.

The ranch had grown to nearly 800 acres by 1932, when Kellogg donated it and his 87 Arabians to the University of California. Kellogg's three children, Paul said, did not share his passion for the breed.

The aging Kellogg tied the UC gift to strict instructions: His Arabian stable would continue operating through the university, the horse shows would continue forever and students would receive equine training there.

During World War II, the ranch was taken over by the War Department for use as the Pomona Quartermaster Depot. Later, in 1949, it was turned over to the state of California and later became Cal Poly Pomona. Kellogg's Horse Center still breeds and sells prize-winning Arabians.

The movie stars, like the verdant landscape, are long gone, but that didn't keep East Coast horse trainer Mark Stinson from joining the Kellogg staff a few years ago.

"These are fine horses," he says of his charges, "perfect little dolls."

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