History Lives Here
The City of Arcadia was founded by Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin from part of his large landholdings (Santa Anita Rancho) in the San Gabriel Valley. Baldwin was responsible for incorporating Arcadia as a City and became Arcadia's first mayor.
When Ascot Racetrack in Los Angeles closed, Baldwin wasted no time in constructing his own track in Arcadia. The new track was built in record time on more than 150 acres of his ranch land near his home. The San Francisco Call quoted Baldwin as saying, "This is the greatest thing I have ever done. I am satisfied." The track opened for business in December 1907. Unfortunately, the State banned horse racing in 1909 and the track was forced to close. Baldwin died of pneumonia that same year. The track's grandstand burned in 1912.
In 1918 Baldwin's daughter, Anita, sold the old racetrack to Los Angeles County, which, in turn, deeded it to the War Department. Work quickly began on converting the old track into the U. S. Army Balloon Training School which was called Ross Field.
Lt. Cleo J. Ross of the 8th Balloon Company was the only death in the Balloon Corps due to aerial activity. When his balloon burst into flames after being attacked by a Fokker D.VII, Lt. Ross made sure that his observer, Lt. Herbert Hudnut, got over the side safely before
he jumped. Burning fragments of the balloon fell on his parachute, sending Lt. Ross to his death from several thousand feet.
At Ross Field, hangars were completed, stables converted into barracks, and other buildings constructed for the 3,500 soldiers at the school. The balloon school trained men to map and photograph enemy positions as well as direct artillery fire during World War I.
After the war the Army gradually vacated Ross Field and the War Department returned the land to Los Angeles County, with the proviso the land be used for recreational purposes. In 1936, groundbreaking for the Arcadia County Park began. The park was officially dedicated on July 4, 1938.
Lucky Baldwin's Santa Anita Racetrack, c. 1907. One of Elias J. Baldwin's greatest ambitions was to build a horse racetrack. He sold 151 acres of his Santa Anita Rancho to the Los Angeles Racing Association and the track's construction began in 1907. The design was almost identical to the then-closed Ascot Racetrack in Los Angeles, and was located on the site of today's Santa Anita Golf Course. The track opened in 1907. Arcadia's current Santa Anita Park racetrack (on the north side of Huntington Drive) was opened in 1934.
Bottom photo, left:
Aerial view of Ross Balloon School, c. 1918. You can see the remains of Arcadia's original
Santa Anita racetrack to the right of the two large balloon hangars. The wash in the lower left runs just west of the present Arcadia High School. Pacific Electric tracks run on the left side of the photograph.
Bottom photo, right:
Ross Field Balloon School trainees preparing to launch one of their eight balloons, c. 1918. Each of the hydrogen-filled balloons had its own crew, observers and equipment. These were captive balloons attached by a cable to heavy military vehicles known as Cunningham trucks.
All photographs courtesy of Arcadia Public Library, Arcadia, CA