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October 8th, 2009 by Bill Peters
One of the most important structures in all of Arcadia, the first on the Rancho Santa Anita, is the Hugo Reid Adobe. But research has uncovered an ugly truth. The structure, called the Hugo Reid Adobe since the Historical Committee met in 1949 under the direction of Dr. Samuel Ayres, not only is not the Reid adobe, it isn’t even in the right location. The Reid place was located nearby, but not on the footprint of the adobe building currently located in the historic section of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens. It turns out the Hugo Reid Adobe was west and next to the lagoon, or lake.
What arises out of this shadowy story is something more fascinating—and ultimately more important.
It is now believed that the original Hugo Reid Adobe structure, constructed in a simple manner in 1840, likely collapsed or was demolished by Joseph Rowe in 1854 according to research by Foundation Trustee William Ellinger III, who is also an historical restoration architect, and Sandy Snider, retired Curator of the Historic Collections at the Arboretum.
Hugo Reid had acquired the property in 1839 as the result of land given to his Indian wife’s family. Reid began the business of ranching, built the adobe, a rural place for his family while visiting the operation, but continued to live with the family at a comfortable San Gabriel house near the San Gabriel Mission. Reid ran into financial difficulties, and ended up selling the property to Henry Dalton who owned property to the East, encompassing water-rich San Gabriel Canyon, now the cities of Duarte and Azusa, in 1847. Records indicate the Reid adobe was finished in 1840, so Reid owned Rancho Santa Anita for a mere seven years and never lived at the Ranch. Joseph Rowe took over the property in 1854 and at that time, Ellinger says, removed the Reid adobe and built another on the current site. Three others owned the Rancho Santa Anita until Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin arrived in 1875.
Baldwin retained the Rowe adobe and added a wooden wing that included a broad veranda.
The next segment of the story is almost equally disturbing. In 1955 the Historical Committee received approval of the California Arboretum Foundation (now known as the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation) and the County, to restore the adobe but selected to remove Lucky Baldwin’s 8-room home in an effort to show the grounds in its earliest iteration.
Snider reports, “The State of California, with the blessings of the Arboretum Historical Committee at that time, decided to bulldoze the wood frame wing of Baldwin’s [home] then re-create the supposed look of Hugo Reid’s period in the adobe wing.” Snider goes on to say that much of the existing Rowe/Baldwin adobe was saved. But, then, her archival research turned up an invaluable ingredient. Photographic documentation prior to the late 1950’s restoration project of both the old adobe and Baldwin’s home and a complete inventory at the time of Baldwin’s death in 1909 provide full and accurate details of these buildings so that any new restoration project can go forward with assurance as to detailed historical authenticity.
The timing for current restoration is critical. The historic adobe is, frankly, falling apart. The roof is in need of immediate attention. Dampness, created by the dirt floor “created” in the 1958 restoration project is ruining, well, just about everything from weakening the walls to deteriorating the furnishings which have been removed from the adobe structure.
A group of Arcadia citizens have banded together as the Baldwin Adobe Restoration Committee to present the case for the vital need to preserve what is in place at the Arboretum and to also pressure the County and the Foundation into agreeing to plans to, in effect, undo the damage unwittingly done in the earlier restoration, and at the same time acknowledge that the adobe is not the “historic” Hugo Reid Adobe but rather an important dwelling in a complex that was Baldwin’s, the founder of Arcadia and first Mayor of the city’s, home.
The opening salvo in the committee’s campaign to raise funds for the restoration project was an event held last Sunday in the gardens of the home of longtime Arcadia resident and historical activist, Carol Libby. The committee invited some 90 city notables and long-time community supporters to hear the tale of new research and to outline the critical need for the restoration to take place. Not a fund-raising activity, the committee meant to persuade these community leaders that Arcadians will have to participate financially in order to save the adobe structure and to aid in the authentic replication of the Baldwin era.
Committee members Carol Libby, Jean Parrille, Joe Eisele, Lauragene Swenson, Mitchell Hearns Bishop, Sandy Snider, Scott Hettrick and Sho Tay presented the background information on the project with the hopes that the guests would begin to talk up the project with friends and neighbors so that when the fund-raising portion begins in earnest, Arcadians will be knowledgeable and easily ready to grant money to see the project come to fruition.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the fifth-district which includes Arcadia and the County-operated Arboretum, spoke to the assembled crowd expressing his appreciation of the history involved in the project, but left only a small hope that, given County financial woes, help would be forthcoming from there. Arcadia’s Mayor John Wuo stated unequivocally, “I will definitely support this project.”
City Councilman and former Arcadia Mayor Gary Kovacic issued a warning to this group of influential residents. Kovacic mused that, “You can’t count on government to preserve history.” He recalled the attempt to save Anita Baldwin’s home, Anoakia, a few years back. He asked the crowd to recall that had the community determined on its own that it was an important part of the city’s history, her estate would still be in place. At that time, public money spurned efforts to save Baldwin’s daughter’s home. The result was that the residence at the corner of Foothill Blvd. and Baldwin Ave. was razed and turned into a real estate development.
Newly named CEO of the Arboretum, Richard Schulhof, now finishing his first week in Arcadia, but a native Angelino, spoke in support of the project. His support is considered key in ranking the importance of the historical area in setting County Arboretum priorities during his term at the helm. Schulhof spoke informally to people who stepped forward to welcome the new Arboretum leader. He said one of his first self-set assignments was reading information on the adobe, the Queen Anne Cottage, and the history of the Rancho. He said he recognizes the need for restoration of the adobe building.
Schulhof was introduced by committee-member and MC, Scott Hettrick. In his remarks, Schulhof noted that in his time at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Mass, he learned he needed to be more than a “tree” guy. He said that grant writing was an important tool he used there to extend and restore its grounds, implying it may work to provide funds for this project. Schulhof concluded, “I am confident we can move [the restoration project] forward.”
The first Superintendent of the grounds, George Spaulding, in his memoir, “The First Twenty-Five Years—A History of The Los Angeles (State and) County Arboretum” noted that the `1950’s adobe restoration was “complicated by the fact that no single authoritative source of information as to the building’s original appearance or floor plan—was a matter of long and earnest study, and sometimes sharp disagreement.” All that has changed as a historian, Sandy Snider, and a Foundation Trustee, restoration architect William W. Ellinger III, put hours of research into locating important original documentation, including floor plans of both the adobe and the Baldwin home and an inventory of possessions, and in which rooms they could be found.
According to the current Curator of Historic Collections at the Arboretum, Mitchell Hearns Bishop, three architectural firms have been sent Request for Quotations to prepare the drawings and architectural detail required by both State and Federal regulations regarding historical preservation. Until that time, hard figures on what kind of money it will take to properly restore and preserve Arcadia’s history is up in the air.
Next week: The Baldwin Legacy—Arcadia Incorporation Papers signed; Baldwin named mayor at age 75 surrounded by a bevy of beauties; succumbs at age 80 in room in the adobe building.