Baldwin's Belvedere: The Queen Anne Cottage at the L.A. Arboretum | KCET
Baldwin's Belvedere: The Queen Anne Cottage at the L.A. Arboretum
It looks like something out of a slightly sinister fairytale. The so-called Queen Anne's Cottage, built by land baron Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin, is nestled in the sprawling, underappreciated Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, in Arcadia. On the outside, the 1885 stick-style architecture makes this summertime play house look like it's made of candy. The wraparound porch affords splendid views of what was once Lucky's beloved Santa Anita Ranch. The porch features one oddity -- a full-length mirror. My guide explains it could have been placed there for Lucky's many female friends to check their long, heavy frocks. But it was most likely there to satisfy Lucky's boundless vanity. An outside door leads to a large private bedroom. "Probably, the master's bedroom," my guide says in an amused tone.
Inside the cottage it is dark and colorful. Stained glass windows depict different images -- on one there is a portrait of Lord Byron, on another a scene of scantily clad maidens. In the parlor, a stuffed royal blue peacock reminds one that Lucky brought peacocks to Southern California. Unsurprisingly, royal blue was his favorite color. On a table sits a deck of cards. Made by Lucky, they include pictures of his beloved racing horses and scenes from his sprawling ranch. The card most prominently displayed features a likeness of Lucky himself. The card is the "jolly joker."
Success in the West
Much has been written about the legend of Lucky Baldwin. Born to a farming family in Ohio, in 1828, Lucky grew up in rural Indiana. Charismatic and brash, Lucky eloped with Sarah Anne Unruh while they were both still teenagers. In 1853, the couple, along with daughter Clara, began their wagon journey to the promised land of California. Always the opportunist, Lucky sold goods along the route, making a large profit on a journey that caused most people to go broke.
Lucky settled in San Francisco. After divorcing Sarah Anne, he worked in Virginia City before setting off on a world tour. It is said that he earned his nickname "Lucky" during this time. Before he left in 1867, Lucky had forgotten to give his broker the key to the safe where he kept his shares of Hale and Norcross stock. Though he had instructed his broker to sell the shares at a certain point, his broker couldn't without the key. So the stocks rose and rose. In 1896, he returned to San Francisco with a new wife, Mary, and a new Hale-and-Norcross-supplied fortune. By 1874, due to shrewd investments and extraordinary luck with mines and stocks, he had amassed around five million dollars.
Lucky turned his always searching gaze towards the Southland. He invested in a mine at Big Bear, which would soon close. On one of his trips south he visited the old Rancho Santa Anita. "I came down to look at a mine," Lucky explained, "but when I saw this ranch, there was nothing that would make me happy but to own it." The sprawling ranch, once owned by Perfecto Hugo Reid, was now in the hands of a man named Harris Newmark. On March 19, 1875, Lucky paid $200,000 in cash for over 8,000 acres of the old Rancho, which included all the water rights in Santa Anita Canyon. He lived part-time in the old adobe on the property. The Los Angeles Express enthused, "This is one of the most attractive pieces of ranch property in the state...the place is capable of being converted into a perfect paradise, and Mr. Baldwin's taste, liberality and abundant means will be immediately applied to the object."
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The ranch was not Lucky's only passion project during the 1870s. Through questionable means, he would acquire more and more land in Los Angeles County, including almost all of the Workman-Temple family's vast holdings. "He had more things to do in an hour than any man I ever knew," one employee recalled, "and he did them." In 1877, he opened the luxurious Baldwin Hotel and Theater in San Francisco, which quickly became one of the showcases of the city. Here he indulged his third wife, the young Jennie Dexter, and their daughter, Anita, who was born before the couple was married. The petite, beautiful Jennie, a former singer from a popular family of sisters, was said to be the love of Lucky's life. However, that doesn't seem to have stopped him from having numerous extramarital affairs. "Baldwin didn't run after women, they ran after him," a bartender at the Baldwin Hotel remembered.
As Lucky's gambling spirit and peccadillos were making him the talk of both L.A. and San Francisco, he was becoming increasingly land rich and cash poor. In 1879, he hired a man named Hiram Augustus Unruh, a relative of his first wife. Over the years, Unruh increasingly took the reins of Lucky's numerous projects, which included land development, brick making and horse breeding. One wag claimed that Lucky never worried, and "he let Mr. Unruh do that." This let Lucky focus on more important things. At some point, it seems that he became involved with a very young, unstable woman named Verona Baldwin, said to be a cousin from the Midwest. Years later, Verona would claim that she and Jennie became great friends, romping around San Francisco together. According to Verona, Lucky eventually brought her down to Santa Anita, claiming to have a job for her at the ranch's schoolhouse. While this job never appeared, another one -- that of mistress -- apparently did.
In 1881, the sickly Jennie died at the Baldwin Hotel. She was 23 years old. For the rest of his life, Lucky would keep a pair of her tiny shoes and gloves in his home at Santa Anita. Heartache would turn into a giant headache in 1883, in the shape of "a tall brunette, of slight build, large hazel eyes and good looking." The San Francisco Call reported:
Lucky lived up to his name and escaped with only an arm wound -- but it wouldn't be the last time he was shot by a disgruntled woman. Verona was eventually declared mentally ill, although Lucky's opponents, including the lawyer and publisher Horace Bell, claimed that "our hellish statues protected him and enabled him to send his victim to the insane asylum."
But Lucky was not through with love. Far from it. In 1884, The San Francisco Call reported that 56-year-old Lucky, "agile in every movement" and "buoyant in his spirits," had married a new 16-year-old bride:
Lucky hired the new bride's father to design a honeymoon cottage for Lillie near the ranch's main adobe. The cottage would be for entertaining only, with no kitchen. The Santa Anita Ranch was now a flourishing mini-town, with a winery, prized racing stables (including award-winning jockeys), a general store, a dairy, citrus orchards, and a multi-cultural workforce. When asked what was raised at the ranch, Lucky responded wryly, "everything in the world but the mortgage." A huge nature lover, he planted thousands of trees and plants, and raised a variety of animals. One employee claimed, "If you dared cut a tree, kill a peacock or mistreat an animal, you could be fired immediately."
The honeymoon between the May-December pair was very short-lived. "For a year after she married Baldwin, the little girl was queen of the ranch," wrote the Los Angeles Times. "Then, however, came a change; the ever-fickle Lucky found a new affinity." One can only assume it was another lady. Not only that, Lucky was slapped with a breach of promise lawsuit by yet another teenage girl. In the breathless words of the New York Herald:
This time the complainant was Louise Perkins. According to the L.A. Times:
Louise claimed that Baldwin had then taken her to San Francisco, promising to educate and then marry her. He had married Lillie instead. The subsequent trial was a media sensation. Lucky admitted he had slept with Louise, but said he had not seduced or promised to marry her. Louise, who Lucky accused of being neither innocent nor naïve, was represented by future Senator Stephen Mallory White. His closing statement was one for the ages:
Perkins was awarded $75,000. Lucky appealed and in the end only had to pay out $15,000. Not surprisingly, Lillie left for San Francisco. She never divorced Lucky. The two remained friendly, but Lillie stayed in San Francisco, while Lucky increasingly lived on the ranch. He was left with a newly made honeymoon cottage and no one to honeymoon with. Nicknamed, "Baldwin's Belvedere," it was turned into a guest house. According to some, it also served as Lucky's love shack. Disappointed in one love, he turned the cottage into a shrine to another, his long-lamented third wife Jennie:
I'm Not Licked Yet
In 1893, Lucky was again slapped with a breach of promise lawsuit, this time by a woman named Lillian Ashley. He fought back with 14 lawyers. " I want a reputation of being hard to collect from," Lucky explained. "If anybody wants anything out of me for any purpose, they'll have to sue. Lucky eventually won the suit. But before that happened, Lillian's crazed, religious-fanatic sister took a shot at Lucky in open court, slightly grazing his head.
Not surprisingly, Lucky retreated more and more to his beautiful ranch, where he was king. One visitor noted:
As Lucky got older, his patterns of great failure and great success continued. The Hotel Baldwin burned down in 1898. Lucky had to sell much of his land, but he also founded the town of Arcadia. His horses won many races. In 1907, he helped found the world famous Santa Anita Park. The Los Angeles Times reported:
Lucky spent his twilight years with his daughters, their children and a reported bevy of mistresses. On March 1, 1909, he died in his bedroom at the old Santa Anita adobe, surrounded by his loved ones. After his death, many people claiming to be his illegitimate children sued the estate. Lillian Ashley also reappeared, claiming she and Lucky had been secretly married. Baldwin's Belvedere was packed up, falling into disrepair until it was restored as part of the L.A. Arboretum, which opened in 1948. The cottage is perhaps most famous today for being in the opening credits of the TV show Fantasy Island.
Ten years after he died, oil was discovered on some of Baldwin's former property. Even in death, the man was Lucky.
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