Elias J. (Lucky) Baldwin
Throughout his eighty years, Elias Jackson Baldwin was a man of many roles. He was an entrepreneur, breeder, owner of land, Thoroughbreds, and a racetrack, a town founder, and an American success story.
By the time of his passing in 1909, Baldwin had also ensured himself a place in the San Gabriel Valley's history, and that has not changed after more than one hundred years.
Baldwin's life began in Ohio in 1828, but his destiny would be in the West. When it came to travel, Baldwin had no problem packing up and moving to another area. He traveled through the Midwest before arriving in San Francisco in his twenties. Perhaps sensing the size of the population due to the Gold Rush, Baldwin intended to make his way to California to sell provisions and lodging. At the end of the 1850s, he moved on to Nevada. It was in the latter state where he invested in some mines, and found out later that his investment had grown substantially, making him millions of dollars. That event gave him the nickname of "Lucky," but Baldwin was admittedly not a big fan of the moniker.
A pivotal moment in Baldwin's life came in the 1870s. He came across the Rancho Santa Anita in 1875, buying the property (which would exceed 60,000 acres). The purchase would change the landscape of the San Gabriel Valley in multiple ways.
While Baldwin did well for himself in business, he would also prove to be a winner at horse racing, namely the owning and breeding aspects of the sport. Horses campaigned by Baldwin won multiple stakes, with some of the notable equines being Rey el Santa Anita and Emperor of Norfolk. Both horses won the American Derby, which was the biggest race in the sport before the 20th century. In all, Baldwin won four editions of the American Derby, and enjoyed great success with his stable.
Baldwin continued to be involved in California racing for the rest of his life, culminating with the opening of a new racetrack in Arcadia in 1907, and it would be on his land. Called Santa Anita Park, the new venture was met with enthusiasm by fans. The track itself proved popular and business was good, but the original Santa Anita would only be open until 1909 due to legislation banning gambling on horse racing being passed in California. Baldwin himself would live to see the track's handful of seasons before passing away in 1909.
Although Baldwin has been gone for more than a century, he is anything but forgotten.
For those who have gone to the Arboretum, which is across the street from Santa Anita, you likely have seen Baldwin's Queen Anne Cottage, and the lake that is named for him.
He was the founder of the City of Arcadia, and Santa Anita is on part of the land that Baldwin owned.
Race fans can enter the track through Baldwin Ave, and there is more than one restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley carrying Baldwin's name.
Inside Santa Anita, near Clockers' Corner, you can find the Baldwin Terrace going up the grandstand, with the likeness of its namesake painted above the doors.
The California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association inducted Baldwin into its Hall of Fame in 1988, and thirty years later the National Racing Hall of Fame made him one of its Pillars of the Turf.
In 2013, across the street from one of the entrances to Santa Anita, a statue of Baldwin was placed at an intersection. It was fitting; the town founder overseeing the city he started more than one hundred years ago, with the racetrack on his right, playing host to one of his favorite sports.
Baldwin's life can be described as grand, successful, and eventful, to use just a couple.
He was also brave. To be an entrepreneur requires that trait, and Baldwin had no problem exercising bravery. Whether he was operating an establishment of some sort (Baldwin ran various businesses during his lifetime), moving across the country, or making a foray into racing, Baldwin met those ventures with bravery. One must have strength to be successful in each of them.
One could also see Baldwin as a story of inspiration. He made something of himself, transforming from a boy in the Midwest to a wealthy businessman, and, it could be said, a legend. Many have wished to achieve success in their careers. Lucky Baldwin did just that, and it is amazing to see what he did throughout his life.
However, when it comes to horse racing in California, Baldwin can be described in one word.