Los Angeles County Arboretum is in my city , Arcadia , across Baldwin Avenue from the Santa Anita racetrack . Actually , right across Baldwin are the stables and , a little further down , one of the giant shopping malls that have taken over America . But , behind the stables , and as yet still a distance from the shopping mall , is the picturesque old track built in the thirties , and its extensive parking lot .
Developers have been eyeing that parking lot , that open space , for years , salivating ( in a business sense ) , hoping to use the expansive space to make more money . The mall ( Fashion Park ! ) has been spreading and spreading like an invasive and contagious lesion across the town , like a pecuniary pustule on the face of the city . I suppose though , that progress is progress , that time moves on , and that business is business . The racetrack , however , has been the golden goose for Arcadia . We’ll see in future years if the city kills off that goose , squeezes out the track , and how things go then .
All of this area , the stables , the Fashion Park , the parking lot , was used to imprison the L.A. area Japanese , citizens or not , for a few months after Pearl Harbor , as longer-term internment camps were being built , as the high desert camp called Manzanar , in which to keep them , where most of these people would spend the years of the war . At a time years later , as WWII dragged on , thousands of young men from these prison camps volunteered for the military , to fight for the country that had imprisoned them and their families , to win honors in combat .
Do the ghosts of these detainees still haunt this space ? No doubt , yes , in some of the same horse stables used in 1942 to house people . What about in the mall , where tar paper shacks were once standing , having been built quickly , with barbed wire stretched around , and armed Army guards posted , bayonets and machine guns ready , to keep the Japanese , citizens and otherwise , within their cramped quarters ?
E. J. Baldwin , known as ” Lucky ” , once owned all of this land . Where the Arboretum is now was his home . He lived in the adobe house built by a previous owner , Hugo Reid , a Scotsman , who married a native Tongva woman and lived near the small natural lake that still exists on the property .
Lucky Baldwin built an exquisite Queen Anne Cottage on the lake as his honeymoon cottage . He never lived there . Near the cottage is a beautiful coach barn built in the same style .
Ada and I visited the Arboretum on Sunday . The sun was shining . As we walked we heard the continual calls of the peafowl , their loud and uniquely annoying wail . Lucky Baldwin went to India in 1880 and brought back three pairs of the ornate birds . Now there are hundreds of their descendants wandering the Arboretum and also roaming the surrounding neighborhoods , walking the streets , perching high up in trees , screeching , wailing , proudly showing off their brightly colored feathers on their decidedly decorous tails . Proud as peacocks .
The arboretum is a botanical garden . The gardens have expanded in recent years . When Ada and I went this Sunday , every flowered inch seemed to be in bloom . We both had cameras and there were endless photographic possibilities .
Some say the Queen Anne cottage is haunted . Sounds are heard at night , moans , and strange smells are said to permeate the grounds . There are those who say it is the ghost of one of Lucky’s wives . Others say a native American actor once lived in the cottage and died there , and that his phantom calls out . We were not there at night . The place closes to the public at 4:30 . Maybe there are ghostly sounds . Maybe they are the shrieks of the young girls old man Baldwin was known to have seduced . Maybe they are the moans of the Japanese Americans , their dignity accosted , living in stables across the road , imprisoned because they happened to be of their particular ancestry . Maybe their wails , proudly kept to themselves during the war , are released now and are wafting across the road , an audible release of decades-0ld frustration , the spewing-out of locked-away humiliations and indignities , overheard by whomever roams the Arboretum grounds at night .
There is a Japanese garden now there on the grounds of the Arboretum . It is a peaceful place to walk and to calm down , to let go of daily frustrations and to enjoy nature . The Arboretum area may have a rough-and-tumble history , but that can easily be overlooked on a visit . It closes at 4:30 and the ghosts don’t come out until night falls . Relax . Enjoy .