California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Arcadia, The San Gabriel Valley’s Community of Homes

California Fool's Gold


Arcadia sign and Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Arcadia, available on art prints and a variety of merchandise

Arcadia is a Los Angeles County community in the northern part of the San Gabriel Valley surrounded by Sierra Madre, Monrovia, Mayflower Village, Irwindale, El Monte, North El Monte, Temple City, East San Gabriel, East Pasadena, and Pasadena.

Nicolas Poussin’s Les Bergers d’Arcadie

The city’s name comes from Arcadia, Greece, which itself took its name from Arcas, son of the nymph Callisto and the mighty Zeus. The area was long known for its isolated and rustic character and the idealized shepherds and landscape of Arcadia became a metaphor for mythical paradise after Latin poet Virgil published The Eclogues (also called The Bucolics).


Arcadia, California, though more suburban than pastoral, does have its share of parks, including Arcadia County Park, Baldwin Stocker Park, Bicentennial Park, Bonita Park, Camino Grove Park, Camino Grove Park, Eisenhower Park, Fairview Avenue Park, Highland Oaks Park, Hugo Reid Park, the Los Angeles County and State Arboretum, Newcastle Park, Orange Grove Park, Tierra Verde Park, Tripolis Park and the simply named Wilderness Park. The best known, however, is Santa Anita Park… home of the racetrack (more on that later).


“The Hugo Reid Family”

Historically, the land now making up Arcadia was part of the Tongva homeland and home to the village of Aleupkingna. During the Spanish and Mexican Rancho era, it was named “Rancho Santa Anita” after Anita Cota. It was presided over by the San Gabriel Mission‘s Claudio Lopez. In 1839, a large tract of the ranch was sold to Scottish-Mexican Hugo Reid. They were honored with a statue in 1938 that first stood in Arcadia Park before it was moved nearer the Arcadia Historical Museum in 2003.


Santa Anita changed hands several times before finding itself in the wandering hands of famed rake Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin in 1875. In 1885, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad arrived and Baldwin’s 35-room Hotel Oakwood was erected just a couple of blocks south of the station. According to one of his opponents, Baldwin sought to create his own “gambling hell and booze pleasure park.” He subdivided the townsite of Arcadia in 1887. By the turn of the century, the approximately 500 citizen town’s economy did in fact center on gambling and saloons.

An Arcadia postcard from 1907

The transition to a fully functioning town continued in the early twentieth century. In 1903, the first school opened in a packing shed at the corner of Santa Anita and Falling Leaf Drive (now Huntington). A proper school, Arcadia Grammar School, opened in 1908 at California and First. 1903 also saw the city’s incorporation, which took place on 5 August. Lucky Baldwin served as Arcadia’s first mayor and his hotel functioned as the city hall.

Santa Anita Racetrack

In 1904, Ben Newman opened the Bonita Hotel and beer garden, hoping to siphon some of the guests from Baldwin’s Oakwood. As a result, in 1905 the Oakwood was remodeled, with a vaudeville stage and a garden of electrical lights added. In 1907, after horse racing ended at Los Angeles‘s Ascot Park, construction began on the Santa Anita Racetrack on the current site of the Santa Anita Golf Course. Baldwin was quoted in The San Francisco Call saying “This is the greatest thing I have ever done. I am satisfied.” It was completed in December 1907. However, California banned horse racing in 1909. Baldwin died the same year of pneumonia. After his death, the people of Arcadia voted to criminalize the sale of alcohol. In 1911, the Oakwood burned down. The racetrack’s grandstand burned down in 1912. After the eleven saloons closed, the town acquired phone service, electric service, water wells, and a public library. On First, a drug store, hardware store, barbershop, and two grocery stores opened. 


After the burning down of the Oakwood, city hall offices had been temporarily moved to the McCoy Building at 233 North First Avenue. They were moved to the Hibbard Building in 1914. The first official Arcadia City Hall was a two-story brick colonial at the intersection of First Avenue and Huntington Drive, dedicated on 13 July 1918. By then the population of Arcadia was roughly 2,000. The second and current City Hall opened in 1940.


Arcadia Woman’s Club

In 1912, the first promotional organization in Arcadia was begun, the Cooperative Arcadians women’s club. In 1914, they transformed into the Woman’s Club of Arcadia. Their clubhouse was dedicated in 1931. The Arcadia Historical Society, founded in 1954, and the First Junior San Gabriel Symphony Association grew out of the Woman’s Club.


In 1914, Baldwin’s daughter, Anita, commissioned the construction of a three story, fifty-room mansion named Anoakia (derived from “Anita,” “oak,” and with “ia” tacked on the end). The nineteen-acre grounds also included an apiary, aviaries, a bathhouse, kennels, a pool, and tennis courts. She later converted it into The Anoakia School for Girls. After going co-ed, it continued to function as a school until 1990, when it was denounced as a fire trap and earthquake danger and abandoned. Efforts were made to preserve it but in 2000 it was bulldozed to make way for 31 new homes (Anokia Estates), although a guardhouse remains.


Ross Field

After America entered the First World War in 1917, Arcadia became home to the U.S. Army’s Ross Field Balloon School in what’s now Los Angeles County Park. Ross Field was established on the former site of the race track and vestiges were still visible. Lt. Cleo J. Ross had died in World War I when his balloon was attacked by a Fokker D. After the war ended in 1918, the population grew and the economy expanded to include many chicken ranches and more agriculture.

Baldwin Avenue Business District

In the 1920s, Baldwin Avenue emerged as another commercial hub in Arcadia West, known as the Baldwin Avenue Business District. Also in the 1920s, old Ross Field was returned to the county and they began working on Arcadia County Park in 1936. It had tennis, golf, lawn bowling, baseball, and pool facilities, most of which were constructed by the Works Progress Administration. From 1938 to 1955, it hosted the Santa Anita Open for golf fans. It was also a site for lawn bowling. The men’s only Santa Anita Bowling Green Club was organized in 1937. Women formed their own club in 1949. It wouldn’t be until 1964 that women and men were allowed to lawn bowl together.


In 1920, the Arcadia Library, first established in 1913, moved to City Hall. In 1924 it moved to a small house followed by a new location at First and Wheeler until 1961 when it moved to the corner of Duarte Road and Santa Anita Avenue.


The small, 450-seat Arcadia Theatre Opened in 1924 on Huntington Drive. The theater’s name was changed to Dean’s Arcadia Theatre before it was sold to Edwards Theatre Circuit. On February 7th, 1942, the Arcadia Theatre burned down.


A new Santa Anita Racetrack opened nearby in 1934 after horseracing was again legal. The Santa Anita Park Racetrack has been a filming location for Seabiscuit, a Claritin commercial, a Lexus commercial, and three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

The Santa Anita Park racetrack became the site of the Santa Anita Assembly Center for the Japanese in April 1942. Under President Franklin Roosevelt‘s Executive Order 9066, Japanese-Americans were forcibly relocated to concentration camps. At one point, the assembly center at the racetrack was the largest in the country, with three families sharing one of 400 compounds and horse stables.


Canada Geese at the Arboretum
Peafowl at the Arboretum
Peafowl at the Arboretum

In 1947, the Tallac Knoll lot, site of the Baldwin home, the Hugo Reid Adobe, the Queen Anne Cottage and Baldwin Lake, became the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum. It is permanently inhabited and patrolled by peacocks, descended from those which were introduced to Baldwin ranch to eat snakes and snails. In 1968, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway depot, built in 1890, was moved to the grounds to make room for the 210.

The house with the bell tower where Tattoo rings the bell and the body of water in which “the plane! the plane!” lands in Fantasy Island are both located on the grounds.

THE 1950s


Between 1940 and 1950, the population of Arcadia more than doubled. After the opening of Hinshaw’s department store in 1951 on Baldwin, the strip became commonly referred to as the West Arcadia Hub. It was the largest department store in the San Gabriel Valley and helped Arcadia emerge as a shopping hub. The biggest shopping area now is the Westfield Santa Anita (which opened in 1975 as Santa Anita Fashion Park), although mall mogul Rick Caruso has set his sights on Arcadia with the hope of opening another Grove/Asian-Americana style outdoor mall to be known, inevitably, as “Shops at Santa Anita.”

Until a Supreme Court ruling in 1965, every property sale contract in Arcadia had to include a provision that the new owner could only sell the property to a white Protestant. Up till that point, diversity in Arcadia was limited to the Lucky Baldwin’s employment of black servants to tend his horses, his Chinese cooks, the Basques who tended his sheep, and the Mexicans who harvested his crops. This hostile climate for non-Northern Europeans earned Arcadia the embarrassing nickname “ArKKKadia.” When Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was published in 1958, it included a vignette about Sal being harassed by preppy teens when he stops for food at an Arcadia drive-in restaurant with a young Mexican woman.


Arcadia made national news in 1970 when on 4 November a feral child was discovered by authorities and nicknamed Genie. She was the fourth (and second surviving) child of her parents, who made her spend most of her first thirteen years strapped to a potty chair, bound in a sleeping bag, and locked in a room. If she vocalized, her father barked and beat her. She was found when her mother left her father and entered a Temple City welfare office. Genie now lives in an undisclosed shelter in Southern California; it is at least her fifth adult foster home. In 1994 a book, Genie, was written about her case by Russ Rymer. The film, Mockingbird Don’t Sing (2001), was based on Genie’s life. Her mother died in 2003.

In the 1980s, Chinese and Taiwanese-Americans began moving to Arcadia in large numbers. In the 1970s, realtor Frederic Hsieh had promoted nearby Monterey Park in Taiwan and Hong Kong as the “Chinese Beverly Hills” and many Chinese had subsequently moved to that city. In the 1980s, Monterey Park became known informally as Little Taipei or, in a play on its name, Mandarin Park. By the end of the decade, however, many Vietnamese and mainland Chinese had moved to the area and many comparatively well-off and established Taiwanese-Americans fanned out to the San Gabriel Valley areas of San Marino, Arcadia, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Diamond Bar, Walnut, and Temple City. Nowadays Arcadia is roughly Asian 45% (mostly Taiwanese and Chinese), White 40%, and Latino of any race, 10% (mostly Mexican), thus its newer nickname, “Arcasia.”

Peacock Fountain

In 2002, the Arcadia Rotary Club dedicated the peacock fountain in recognition of Arcadians who died in combat. In 2003, Arcadia celebrated its centennial, in some ways a very changed town and yet, in some ways, very similar.


Arcadia has been used as a filming location several times. In addition to the aforementioned Santa Anita Park appearances on television and film, the scene in Cloverfield in which the stars enter a Bloomingdale’s was shot at the Robinsons-May at the Westfield Santa Anita. Arcadia was mentioned in an episode of FlashFoward. There was also an X-Files episode titled “Arcadia” about fascist conformity in an upper-middle class town. Several Tarzan films and Bing Crosby‘s “The Road To” films were shot partly in Arcadia. Matilda and the high school scenes of Deal of a Lifetime were filmed in Arcadia as well.

Arcadia is also the birthplace of actors Jeff Dandurand, Lindsay Jaylyn Price, Debbie Turner, and Rena Sherel Sofer.


A creepy portrait of the McDonalds

One of the more noteworthy culinary distinctions of Arcadia is that The McDonald Brothers, before starting McDonald’s, opened their first place in Arcadia in 1937, The Airdrome. In 1940, they relocated it to San Bernardino. Nowadays there are many Taiwanese and Thai restaurants and many tea houses. I stopped in for Taiwanese and tea at SinBaLa. The staff was very courteous and the food was delicious. I’ve also enjoyed Bean Sprouts, Chang’s Garden, Din Tai Fung, and Ten Ren’s TeaTime.

Other Arcadian eateries include A & J Restaurant, A U 79 Tea House, Ace Frozen Yogurt, Alex Di Peppe’s Italian Restaurant, Arcadia Garden Cafe, Arroyo Restaurant, Auntie Anne’s Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels, Basil Thai Cooking, Bento-Ya, Bin Bin Konjac, Cabrera’s Restaurant, Cafe D’Italia, Cafe Fusion, Capital Seafood, Carmine’s Italian Restaurant, Chef’s Coffee Shop, Chiffon De Pastry Art, Claro’s Italian Market, Cloud 9 Station, Coco’s Bakery Restaurant, Cozy Cafe, Cafiore, Desir Bakery, Doe Jon, Donuts To Go, Dumpling House, FrontRunner, Full House Seafood Restaurant, Genki Living, Global Express, Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant, Goldstein’s Bagel Bakery, Great Khan’s Mongolian Festival, Great Steak & Potato Company, HK Gourmet Delight, Han Yang Garden Korean BBQ, Hibachi – San, Hop Li Seafood Restaurant, Hsin Hsin Shau May Deli, Hyper Coffee, In-N-Out Burger, Inaka Seafood Gourmet, J.J. Bakery, JSA Thai Food, Jade Orient Express, Kelly’s Coffee & Fudge, Kernel’s Popcorn, Liang’s Village Cuisine, Little Joes Fresh Mex, Maki & Sushi Arcadia, Mako Sushi, Matt Denny’s Ale House Restaurant, May’s Chinese Restaurant, May Mei Restaurant, Moffett’s Family Restaurant & Chicken Pie Shoppe, Monarch Donuts, Native Restaurant, Natural Selection, Nirvana, Noodle House, Nubi Yogurt, 101 Noodle Express, Orchid Thai Cuisine, Osaka Ya Restaurant, Paco’s Mexican Restaurant, Patio Mediterranean Cuisine, Peacock Cafe, Peacock Donuts, Pho Xpress, Phoenix Food Boutique, Phra Nang, Planet Cookies, Potato Corner, President Square Food Court, Red Door Hot Pot, Restaurant Kiyosuzu, Roaster Family Coffee, Rock Teriyaki and Roll, Rod’s Grill, Roma Pizzeria, Sausage & Fries, Sesame Grill, Shrimp Ahoy, Spices Thai Kitchen, Srisiam Thai Kitchen, Stacked Sandwich, Sunny Yogurt, Surf City Squeeze, Taco Lita No 15, Taco Treat, Taipan Bakery, Tapioca Express, Tasty Garden, Tea Bar Starry, Teavana, Teriyaki House, Thai Classic, Thai Kitchen Noodles, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, The Derby Restaurant, The Noodle Island, The Original Peppers, Todai, Tokyo Wako, Vietnam Kitchen, Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill, Young-Dong Tofu Restaurant, Yun Noodle House, Zapata Vive!! and Zelo.


Although Arcadians voted to ban alcohol after the passing of Lucky Baldwin, the town now hosts some pretty raucous watering holes that seem to attract large numbers of regulars. The Station definitely has its regulars, Drinker’s Hall of Fame was so smoky my contacts fell out within seconds of opening the door, and the 100-To-1 Cocktail Lounge attracts tone-deaf karaoke enthusiasts who like tall, stiff drinks. There’s also Bar Louie, Bar Twist, Cocoon Gentlemen’s ClubEsquire Bar & Lounge, First Cabin Bar, Golden Horse Cocktails, Lounge 1020, Machi, and Sake Grill Lounge.


When one mentions Arcadia and music, one might think of Simon LeBon’s short-lived side project from the mid-‘80s. There’s also the California Philharmonic’s Festival on the Green at the Arboretum concert series in the summer, the Pasadena Jazz Fest (which, despite its name, does, in fact, take place in Arcadia), and The Arcadia Festival of Bands.

For blues or blues-rock fans, there’s the Arcadia Blues Club.



Luckily, I was asked by a couple for directions to Sturtevant Falls which led to my discovery of Hermit Falls and Chantry Flats, all popular hiking destinations.

DreamLab Gaming

There’s also an AMF Bowling Center and the Santa Anita Bowling Green Club. For the even more sedentary there’s a Cue Studio and DreamLab Gaming, the latter a Chinese-style computer arcade where you can use computers and play video games and where wait staff provides snacks and drinks until 4 in the morning.

The Bicentennial Tree

If you like history, check out the Arcadia Historical Museum or contemplate the Bicentennial Tree, planted in 1976 by the Arcadia Republican Women’s Club Federation.

24 Dec 1932, San Marino, California, USA — At Pony Express Museum

There used to be the Parker Lyon Pony Express Museum, but that was dismantled back in 1955 in the name of progress. Until next time, “Et in Arcadia ego.” 

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery.
Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesVICEHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture.
Brightwell has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson Collegeand the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubithe StoryGraphand Twitter.

26 thoughts on “California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Arcadia, The San Gabriel Valley’s Community of Homes

  1. I can 1000% guarantee it was better to live in “ArKKKadia” (btw nobody has ever called Arcadia that, not even those “racist” northern europeans… imagine labelling multiple groups of people as bad… you’ve just discovered committing racism!!) as a non-white than it is to live in “Arcasia” as a white person…


    1. Despite your “1000%” guarantee, I’ve heard “ArKKKadia” from at least three different people who feared Arcadia in the 1980s, so -difficult as it may be to imagine — not everyone’s experience was identical to your own.

      It’s true, I suppose, that I can’t say with certainty that I wouldn’t have found anything about pre-Asianification of Arcadia to like. I suppose even a deed-restricted sundown town dominated by chicken farms had its charms. I love the Los Angeles County Arboretum, for example, which dates from that era.

      When I visit Arcadia now, however, it’s usually for the contributions of Taiwanese Americans: the night market, the pijiu wus, and Taiwanese restaurants.


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