Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin was one of the greatest and most colorful pioneers of California business in the second half of the nineteenth century. He made his mark on the development of Southern California, starting with the Santa Anita Rancho.
Passing through the San Gabriel Valley on a business trip in the 1870s, Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin was amazed by Santa Anita Rancho’s rich land, rolling contours, and great oaks. He gasped, “By Gad, this is paradise!” and he simply had to have it, even though its price was high and only increased every time he spoke to its owner. Once he purchased the Santa Anita, he planted orchards and vineyards in the lowlands and grazed livestock on the oak-dotted hillsides. On the western edge of his land were the Baldwin Stables with Lucky’s championship racehorses.
During the land boom of the 1880s, Baldwin sold 845 acres of the Santa Anita Rancho to Nathaniel Carter who formed the town of Sierra Madre, and 240 acres to William Monroe who created the town of Monrovia. When Baldwin saw how Carter and Monroe profited by selling plots to easterners arriving on the newly completed railroad, Baldwin decided he would not be left out.
Baldwin set up his own town site with beautiful tree-lined streets, including a double-drive he called Santa Anita Avenue. Lucky named his town Arcadia, or “serene countryside”. When told the prices he was charging for homesites were too high, he argued, “We’re giving the land away. We’re only selling the climate!” Baldwin put his profits into improving his home ranch with driveways, lawns and shade trees. He built a Queen Anne Style cottage by his lake for entertaining.
When he passed away in 1909, Arcadia mourned the death of its founder. The city praised his “great charity for the deserving and helpless, his great eye for the beautiful in nature, his great love for the things that grow, his adoration for our native trees, and his faculty for beautifying the land, all of which during his life, tended to the upbuilding and planting of this little city, in the midst of the most beautiful valley of the State.”