Because I was going back home for a few days during spring break, I decided to visit a city icon in my own backyard. The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden lies in Arcadia, CA across the street from the Santa Anita Race Track and mall. While to many, like myself, it poses as a beautiful gated garden where the ever-present peacocks can roam free. Besides the usual school field trip or family visit, locals don’t tend to frequent this location. I’ve gone a few times now and again, and while I know a bit about the history of the area, I thought it would be neat to dive a bit deeper.
For those of you who have never been, essentially the entire garden is centered around Baldwin Lake (remember that name, it’s a big one). The native village first called Aleupkigna “the place of many waters;” the native residents were later known as Gabrielinos (a reference to the mission responsible for their conversion) after the Spanish arrival to that land. Along with the Spanish, the land upon which they had lived before their removal to the Mission became Rancho Santa Anita, an agricultural outpost of Mission San Gabriel. In 1840, Hugo Reid (another big name in this business), a Scotsman with Mexican citizenship, married to a Gabrielino woman, became the first private owner of Rancho Santa Anita.
Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin purchased Rancho Santa Anita in 1875. What is now known as Baldwin Lake initially served as a holding reservoir for ranch irrigation projects. It was dredged and deepened by Baldwin in the late 1880s, and a retaining wall was constructed at the lakes edge. “Lucky Baldwin supplied residents of the city of Arcadia with… water of such quality that a Los Angeles Herald reporter commented, ‘Why, if this God-given fluid were piped to Los Angeles and distributed to the city, the saloons would lose half their customers, and water drinking would become fashionable.'”
The land that now makes up the Arboretum bought, built upon, and traded for years before it became a city property. Remember those pesky peacocks I mentioned earlier? Baldwin imported them from India in the 1880’s. In fact, almost every tree and animal (except maybe the pigeons) were brought in from somewhere else. While the purpose of an Arboretum is to, in fact, educate visitors on trees and plants; it should be noted that many of the species introduced to the area were brought in before it became a city owned property, making their purpose more decorative more than anything. The Arboretum was first opened to the public on January 9, 1955.
While I’m sure the education is important to many, I feel like that the very early history of the land is glossed over. It’s a story thats been heard at least a hundred times, but seems to never be truly discussed as something that happened: land being taken away, and people being forced to leave their homes for the benefit of pioneers. This is a trend that we’ve talked about in class on multiple occasions, especially in the beginning of the semester. People are honored for the wrong reasons because people don’t know the full story unless they hunt for it, which is rarely the case. In this case, I can only hope that people come to understand the true cost, not just the monetary cost, of creating these sorts of exhibits.