Demolition derby: is erasing history a developer’s horse race in Arcadia?
By Terry Miller
Arcadia Weekly has learned of yet another new mixed-use project up for discussion by City Council.
On Tuesday evening, a study session at Arcadia City Hall involved a proposed mixed-use project at 211-233 East Huntington, the site of the historic The Derby restaurant and Embassy Suites Hotel.
It has not been a good year for restaurants and hotels. The Derby, as with all other restaurants, has had to cut business — mostly to dinners and takeout due to pandemic mandates.
The significant project will require robust planning and may take years, if approved. However, local historians and community members are crying foul as it appears that part of Arcadia’s history is once again possibly threatened to be wiped out by bulldozers, much like the Anoakia 50-room mansion/estate in 1999. Anoakia was the historic home of Lucky Baldwin’s daughter and was razed in 1999 a council decision despite considerable public outcry.
Sandy Snider, a local historian, expressed concern that the 99-year-old building may just end up being razed. The owner of The Derby and developers insist there is no threat to the restaurant at all. Essentially, according to developers, The Derby will simply move and a large mixed-use development will occupy that space.
Contrary to Mayor Roger Chandler and Councilman Sho Tay, Councilmembers April Verlato and Tom Beck have reservations of such a project, which involves residential units on Huntington Drive. “I’d prefer to see a mixed-use development closer to the Gold Line station,” Verlato said Tuesday.
While the daunting and exceedingly large project is massive, Councilman Paul Cheng supports the relocation of The Derby.
Chandler said the proposed mixed-use project would “light up the area” and people would frequent other area restaurants along that part of Huntington Drive.
Beck and Verlato expressed concern over the initial proposal’s size and location for a residential project. Two other major issues were brought up by Beck and Verlato: parking and the fate of the adjacent parcel, where the now permanently closed Souplantation structure exists.
George Woolf bought The Derby in 1938, originally named the Proctor Tavern when it operated in 1922. Its proximity to the racetrack attracted horse owners and horse betters alike. In 1931, it moved to its present location at 233 E. Huntington Drive. It was here that Woolf became co-owner in 1938 with his partner Bill Peterson. Woolf was a premier rider and fate brought him together with Seabiscuit when the scheduled jockey, Red Pollard, was injured. That was to place Woolf on Seabiscuit during a near miss in a photo-finish of the Santa Anita Handicap, and later, in a victorious match race against Triple Crown winner, War Admiral. The storied success of its jockey-owner increased The Derby’s popularity.
In 1946, Woolf was fatally injured when he was thrown from his mount “Please Me” during the running of the fourth race at Santa Anita Race Track on Jan. 3, 1946. Bronze statues of Woolf and Seabiscuit remain at Santa Anita today.
Arcadia Weekly will follow this story closely and report any major developments as they come to light. As always, we welcome community input on this and any other issues facing the city.