On a hill overlooking Santa Anita’s famous El Camino Real turf course sits an old brick building, partially obscured from view by bushes and ancient palm trees. Built in 1876, it was once part of Lucky Baldwin’s winery.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the vast Baldwin Rancho encompassed nearly 60,000 acres. More than 700 acres were planted with grape vines in numerous varieties, covering what is now the Santa Anita Racetrack property and the Westfield shopping mall to the south.
Although the valleys of Northern California are best known today for production of world-class wines, it was Southern California that was the birthplace of the state’s now extensive wine industry. It all began when the Franciscan fathers established missions in Alta California in the 1700s, planting vines brought from Spain. San Gabriel Mission, near Santa Anita, was the location of the largest of the mission wineries.
At Rancho Santa Anita, Lucky Baldwin annually produced 100,000 gallons of wine including angelica, port, zinfandel, claret, white wines, and sherry. He also produced 30,000 gallons of brandy a year.
The winery complex consisted of the large brick building that housed the sherry and three wooden buildings for storage of other wines and brandies. A distillery was located just to the rear of the winery, as well as facilities for coopering and bottling.
Also within the complex was a house for the winemaker and his family. Blas Cuellar came to Arcadia in 1899, going to work for Baldwin as a winemaker. He and his wife, Josefa, raised six sons and six daughters on the property. Among their many descendants who settled in Arcadia is Santa Anita’s Director of Racing, Mike Harlow, Blas Cueller’s great grandson.
The old brick building has been mentioned time and again in newspaper accounts of race days at Santa Anita. Even before the track’s 1934 opening, Harry Carr wrote eloquently in the Los Angeles Times, “Nature created the setting in the limpid valley of the Santa Anita – the Sierra Madres in the background, snow-capped peaks in the distance, orange groves with golden fruit a stone’s throw distant, one of Lucky Baldwin’s old wineries in the foreground, green grass on the slopes, and gnarled California oaks on the hills. All this you see as you sit in the grand stand and gaze on the show.” 1
In 1936, a Los Angeles Times report on the opening day scene included, “Lucky Baldwin’s winery, the herd of spotted cattle and the gnarled oaks offered a peaceful pastoral beyond the backstretch and behind it all, seeming to drape from the balloon-like clouds overhead, hung the great backdrop of the Sierra Madres.” 2
In the 1950s, L.A. Times columnist Ned Cronin also waxed poetic about the winery. In a 1956 report on the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, Cronin said, “The first part of Arcadia’s answer to the Overland Express is a downhill haul that gets every horse in the race to rolling whether he wants to or not. They whiz past an old winery so fast they can’t even stop for a snifter of muscatel from Lucky Baldwin’s old brick-enclosed vat where he used to invite the folks to come over, take off their shoes and start pressing grapes.” 3
The mystique continued into the 1960s, when the historical details of California’s first Thoroughbred race – a match race held in the summer of 1852 between Don Andreas Sepulveda’s Thoroughbred mare Black Swan and former Governor Pio Pico’s Spanish horse, Sarco – were reportedly found in a bottle in Lucky Baldwin’s winery. As reported in the L. A. Times, “Historically authentic, it was, however probably planted there by Santa Anita’s Fred Purner and B.K. Beckwith to provoke mention of today’s San Juan Capistrano.” 4
The building, now used as a carpenter shop and storage facility, has weathered the years beautifully and remains as a reminder of a bygone era.
1 Los Angeles Times, Nov. 20, 1934, A1
2 Los Angeles Times, Dec. 26, 1936, pg. 1
3 Los Angeles Times, Mar. 1, 1956, B3
4 Los Angeles Times, Mar. 10, 1960, C5