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THE 'BEAST' OF SANTA ANITA
Dolly Connelly
February 19, 1962
There just isn't much point in people taking me to Santa Anita Race Track. Before the races are over I'm going to make somebody hopping mad by asking, "What horse? Where?" The horses I see are the descendants of Volante, Silver Cloud, Rey el Santa Anita, Gano, Emperor of Norfolk, Verano, Lucky B and Cruzados. And they're not running around a manicured turf course set on the perimeter of velvet lawns and floral infield in the well-mannered city of Arcadia, Calif. They're slaloming around widespread live oaks in a field of wild oats, and on the back of one is my brother Frank, clinging to its flowing mane for dear life, his bare brown heels dug into heaving flanks. And well behind him, bouncing erratically in a Model T in pursuit over the neglected pasturelands of Rancho Santa Anita, comes the wicked witch of the great ranch, its gatekeeper, Mr. Stover.
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February 19, 1962

The 'beast' Of Santa Anita

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There just isn't much point in people taking me to Santa Anita Race Track. Before the races are over I'm going to make somebody hopping mad by asking, "What horse? Where?" The horses I see are the descendants of Volante, Silver Cloud, Rey el Santa Anita, Gano, Emperor of Norfolk, Verano, Lucky B and Cruzados. And they're not running around a manicured turf course set on the perimeter of velvet lawns and floral infield in the well-mannered city of Arcadia, Calif. They're slaloming around widespread live oaks in a field of wild oats, and on the back of one is my brother Frank, clinging to its flowing mane for dear life, his bare brown heels dug into heaving flanks. And well behind him, bouncing erratically in a Model T in pursuit over the neglected pasturelands of Rancho Santa Anita, comes the wicked witch of the great ranch, its gatekeeper, Mr. Stover.

The outcome of this race is a thriller far more exciting than the San Juan Capistrano Handicap. It is watched not from a clubhouse terrace but from a crotch in the upper reaches of a tree. Frank will make it to the jungle of singing eucalyptus trees well ahead of Mr. Stover, and there he'll slide in one slick motion from the back of his splendid Thoroughbred mount and, with hardly a break in pace, streak across an irrigation moat to the fence.

That's the trouble with me at Santa Anita Race Track. I'm not with it. I retrogress 40 years or more to a time when the vast estate of Elias Jackson (Lucky) Baldwin lay moldering gently in a tangle of exotic growth gone wild—as fine a setting for the untrammeled play of childhood as the imagination can encompass. All the swimming-pool suburban living, the handsome new ranch-style homes and winding drives, the bustling subdivisions and massive traffic, the parking lot of 30,000 cars disappear. Left are only the sunbaked Sierra Madres, herringboned by long stringers of firebreaks. And in the verdant bowl at their base at the end of a dusty, mile-long palm drive, an enchanted castle, rich with sylvan beauty and the aroma of old sin, its ghosts so newly laid that you can hear their cries in the night.

Away with you, mink coats and pari-mutuel tickets! I'm flat on my stomach in a field of yellow mustard, listening to the gurgle of water in an irrigation weir, watching for the flash of a fan-tailed goldfish escaped from Lucky's lake!

I'm not sure how it is that children always know all about things that are hidden carefully from them. When we were very young in the somnolent town pressed up against the blue-brown hills of the Sierra Madres, the 600-odd residents spoke the name of E. J. Baldwin in whispers, behind the palm of the hand, with eyebrows twitching. In really nice company he wasn't mentioned at all. Matter of fact, neither was Arcadia, which was synonymous with sin. Even as late as the 1920s, Arcadia's realtors invented all sorts of dodges to keep from sounding the name of the community in their advertisements. It still was split in a way between the rigid moral attitudes of transplanted Iowa chicken farmers and the lusty, libidinous precedent of founding father Lucky Baldwin. Arcadia was the nameless "heart of San Gabriel Valley" for a good 20 years after Baldwin's death in 1909—a tribute to the most flamboyant, forceful, unconventional character in southern California's history.

By grace of that occult osmosis—or whatever it is— with which children are equipped, we knew all about Lucky Baldwin, spectacular libertine, long-gone patr�n of Rancho Santa Anita, our private black knight on a white horse. We liked to lie in bed in the dim twilight of a summer night and listen to the insistent cries for help of hundreds of peafowl, descendants of three pair that Baldwin brought back from a big-game hunt in India. "Help, help!" they beseeched hopelessly, while we snugged down deeper in our beds. In our fantasy their cries were supplications of the ghosts of young maidens held against their will in the magnificence of the curiously named Queen Anne Cottage, Lucky's pleasure pavilion. The howl of coyotes, abundant on the neglected rancho a decade after Lucky's death, was a ghostly return of "Beast" Baldwin (we knew what newspapers of his day had called him), forever in pursuit.

Now, the reason that Lucky Baldwin had so strong a hold on our imaginations was simple. We sinned when we played in the estate, and thus somehow entered into the Baldwin legend. We lived directly across Huntington Drive from "the home place," the musty heart of Baldwin's land holdings, on a tract that our father had purchased from Lucky's heiress daughter, Anita, for subdivision into one-acre plots.

The center of the great empire, which once reached a total of nearly 80,000 acres, was a lily-covered lake, forever fed by underground springs, surrounded by magnificent trees. The lake, its outlines lost in swampy overgrowth, was backdrop for the red-and-white Queen Anne Cottage, a belfried gem straight out of the Victorian Age. The Cottage was in so sad a state of disrepair that its paint powdered at a touch. Its wide encircling verandas were scary vine-darkened tunnels, its stained-glass windows blind with the dust of a decade. You could just trace the portrait of Baldwin's big-eyed child wife, Jennie Dexter, in the peeling door panel. Near by were Lucky's wonderful Coach Barn, in which matched carriage horses once fed on choicest grains in stalls of mahogany, hand-carved cedar and redwood; a one-room cabin of eucalyptus logs built by Lucky as a memorial to his birthplace in Hamilton, Ohio; a boathouse; and a complex of kitchen and quarters for Chinese servants ranging outward from the Hugo Reid adobe built in 1841 by Indian friends of the bride of the first patron of Rancho Santa Anita.

The home place lay secret and hushed, except for pigeons and peafowl, an aging queen in tarnished coronation robes, in the remnants of vast orchards and vineyards and pastures that once stretched as far as the eye could see across all the deep fertile soils of San Gabriel Valley, from the Sierra Madres to the Puente Hills at Whittier and from a line just west of the present community of East Pasadena to the Merced Hills.

Of course, we were forbidden absolutely to set foot onto the rancho, but nobody really expected us to resist its fabulous allure. Mother was a realist. When she stepped from our house to summon us all home at dusk with her long, sweet whistle, she turned and faced in the direction of the home place. We maintained a curious relationship with Mr. Stover, who lived in a cottage just inside the wrought-iron gates at the proper entrance to the estate. When we visited his daughter Alice, a solemn, straight-haired little girl with whom we went to school, we were allowed to walk partway up the long drive in the shadow of massive, rustling palms and might even pick pomegranates, persimmons and apricots, sweet as honey, from meshed branches of gnarled old trees. When Mr. Stover was mounted in the Model T and we were within the ranch unbidden, he metamorphosed into wicked witch. As there were eight of us children and we were subdued by the mysteries of the place, making far less noise than the broken muffler of the Ford, we weren't caught often and came to think of Mr. Stover's convulsed, red-faced threats as mere formula necessitated by his responsibilities.

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