It is the site of the Santa Anita Park racetrack and home to the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. The city had a population of 56,364 at the 2010 census, up from 53,248 at the 2000 census. The city is named after Arcadia, Greece.
In 2012, Arcadia was ranked 7th in the nation on CNN Money magazine's list of towns with highest median home costs.
In 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek named Arcadia as one of the "Best Places to Raise Your Kids: 2010" for the second year in a row.
Arcadia's beginnings go back over 3,000 years to the Tongva ("Gabrielino") Indian tribe, whose inhabitants lived in what is today Los Angeles County. Their fluid borders stretched from the San Gabriel Mountains in the north to Long Beach in the south, and from the island of Pimu (Catalina) in the west into today's San Bernardino County to the east. These people were also known as the Gabrielinos, a name taken from the Spanish San Gabriel Mission (in present-day San Gabriel, California) and under whose control these people worked during the mission period in California. One of Arcadia's settlements of these Native Americans was known as Aleupkigna (or Aluupkenga) on what later became the Rancho Santa Anita, one of many land grants created during Mexican rule of California (1821–1848). The Tongva are still alive and well today, living in the Los Angeles area and other neighboring communities.
The town was originally part of Rancho Santa Anita and owned by San Gabriel Mission, Mayor-Domo, Claudio Lopez. It was named after a family relation, Anita Cota, on his wife's side. In 1839, a large area of land that included the present-day borders of Arcadia was sold to a Scottish immigrant, Hugo Reid. Reid documented the Native Americans in a series of letters written in 1852 and served as a delegate to the 1849 California Constitutional Convention.
The land holding changed owners several times before being acquired by the real estate speculator and notorious womanizer Elias Jackson "Lucky" Baldwin in 1875. Baldwin purchased of Santa Anita for $200,000. Upon seeing the area, he gasped “By Gads! This is paradise!” Upon buying the land, Lucky chose to make the area his home and immediately started erecting buildings and cultivating the land for farming, orchards and ranches. In 1885, the main line of the Santa Fe Railroad, in which Baldwin was a stockholder, was opened through the ranch, making subdivision of part of the land into a town site practical. In 1889, on a site just north of the corner of First Avenue and St. Joseph Street, adjacent to the Santa Fe tracks, Baldwin opened the 35 room Hotel Oakwood to be the centerpiece of his new town.
By the turn of the 20th century, Arcadia had a population nearing 500 and an economy that was becoming based on entertainment, sporting, hospitality and gambling opportunities; the latter including an early version of the Santa Anita race track. Baldwin went on to oversee Arcadia's incorporation in 1903 and became the city's first mayor. His daughter, Anita Baldwin, built a stately mansion named Anoakia in 1914 on of land. Anita converted the home into "The Anoakia School for Girls." The school later became coeducational but moved out of Arcadia in 1990 after the Anoakia building was declared a fire trap and earthquake danger. The old estate became overgrown with weeds and, after an extended local debate and efforts to preserve the historic home, the Anoakia mansion, the oldest remaining private property in the city, was bulldozed to clear space for 31 luxury homes in 2000. The old estate featured one-of-a-kind architectural features and a structure whose facade was a replica of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Only the perimeter wall and a guardhouse located at the southeast corner of the property remain to surround the "Anoakia Estates" housing development which occupies the land today. Murals and artifacts from the home are preserved in museums throughout California.
During World War I, Arcadia was home to the U.S. Army's Ross Field Balloon School in what is now Los Angeles County Park. Here observers were trained to watch enemy activity from hot air balloons. After World War I, Arcadia's population grew and local businesses included many chicken ranches and other agricultural activities. During the 1920s and 1930s, Arcadia began its transition to the fine residential city that it is today, as small farms and chicken ranches gave way to homes and numerous civic improvements, including a city library and a city hall. Scenes of many of Arcadia's interesting older sites can be viewed in a series of historic watercolors painted by local artists Edna Lenz and Justine Wishek.
Thoroughbred horse racing, which had flourished briefly under Lucky Baldwin until it was outlawed by the state of California in 1909, returned to Arcadia with the opening of the beautiful Santa Anita Park in December 1934 when racing was legalized again.
Arcadia largely grew up as the well-to-do suburb of neighboring Pasadena, with many early residents being the sons and daughters of long established Southern California families. A large tract of estate homes was developed by Harry Chandler, the scion of the Los Angeles Times, who lived in adjacent Sierra Madre, California. The city became the residence of choice for many corporate chief executives, including those in aerospace, the horse racing industry, and finance.
The postwar boom saw Arcadia grow rapidly into a suburban residential community, with many of the chicken ranches being subdivided into home lots. Between 1940 and 1950, the population grew by more than two and a half times. The housing boom continued through the 1950s and 1960s and along with that growth came the necessary infrastructure of schools, commercial buildings, and expanded city services.
During the postwar boom, a modern commercial district developed along Baldwin Avenue south of Huntington Drive in west Arcadia. In 1951 this strip, called the West Arcadia Hub, was anchored by a new, locally owned Hinshaw's department store. This was the first large department store to be built in Arcadia, and the largest in the western San Gabriel Valley outside the city of Pasadena. This development marked the beginning of Arcadia's gradual transformation into one of the leading shopping districts of the San Gabriel Valley.
In 1947, that comprised the heart of the Baldwin Ranch were deeded to the State of California and the County of Los Angeles, and developed into Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.
Until a Supreme Court ruling in 1965, every property sale contract within the borders of Arcadia had to include a provision that the new owner could only sell the property to a white Protestant. However, these clauses had been ruled unenforceable by the Supreme Court's ruling in 1948's Shelley v. Kraemer, and many non-Protestant families did, in fact, own homes and live in Arcadia well before 1965.
In October 1975, the Santa Anita Fashion Park was opened to the public on the corner of Baldwin Avenue and Huntington Drive. The center court featured a gigantic blue head by Roy Lichtenstein, later removed. Now known as Westfield Santa Anita, the mall was expanded in 2004. The mall was affected by the recession in the late 2000s, but continues to do a relatively brisk business.
James Dobson, a previous Arcadia resident, founded the nonprofit Christian ministry Focus on the Family in the city in 1977. Its original office still stands on the south side of Foothill Blvd. Focus grew to larger quarters in the city, and in intervening years expanded to Monrovia for warehouse space before moving out of Arcadia completely in 1990. Focus on the Family is now based in Colorado Springs, Colorado; but still has thousands of members in Arcadia.
In the late 1990s, Native American activists threatened to sue Arcadia High School over its use of the "Apache" mascot. The high school's use of Native American symbols, including an "Apache Joe" mascot, the Pow Wow school newspaper, the "Apache News" television program, the "Smoke Signals" news bulletin boards, the school's auxiliary team's marching "Apache Princesses" and opposing football team fans' "Scalp the Apaches" signs were viewed by these Native American activists and many Arcadia community members as offensive. The school consulted with Native American groups and made some concessions but didn't change the mascot. Some residents of Arcadia, who are former students at the school and have Native American ancestry, do not take offense to the school's use of these symbols. Arcadia High School has established good relations with the Apache community with their yearly charity drive to aid them.