by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The expansive campus of California Polytechnic University, Pomona is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is its beautiful setting at the east end of the San José Hills, with part of the ranch within the Rancho La Puente and the rest contained inside the bounds of the Rancho San José. The modest beginnings of the institution came when 110 male students began study for the fall semester of 1938 as what was known as the “Voorhis Unit” of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
With some 30,000 students today among its several colleges, Cal Poly Pomona has become a prominent and well-respected institution of higher learning and this year my niece followed her brothers and mother (my wife is also an alumnus with her graduate degree) as Bronco graduates and, attending the commencement, there was a reminder that the Homestead’s collection has several snapshot photographs of the site when it was the ranch of cereal magnate Will Keith Kellogg (1860-1951), so they are the featured artifacts for this post.
Kellogg was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, where his father owned a broom factory, this being where the youngster got his start in employment as a child. Later, he joined his physician brother, John H., at a famous sanitarium and spa in this hometown and it was here that he began to experiment with healthy foods, encouraged by his vegetarian sibling. One product, derived largely from accident, was a wheat flake that proved popular with patients, but, when Kellogg worked with corn, he found his miracle product.
In 1906, he founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company, which was the first company to manufacture and sell ready-to-eat cereals, with the flagship being Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. The product was an immediate success and was soon followed by the development of the firm’s Bran Flakes, All-Bran and Rice Krispies brands. Renaming the firm after himself in the early 1920s, Kellogg became a multi-millionaire, but began during the decade to plan for a different future.
After retirement as president in 1929, Kellogg created a foundation and devoted himself largely to philanthropy, while he also took a childhood passion and became a renowned breeder of Arabian horses. To that end, after traveling around the country in a customized automobile that was, perhaps, something of a forerunner of today’s luxury recreational vehicles, he decided to establish a breeding farm in greater Los Angeles. He scouted several locations, but chose not far under 400 acres west of Pomona for his new endeavor.
The land was at the west end of Rancho San José, granted in 1837 to Ricardo Vejar and Ygnacio Palomares, who grazed cattle and other livestock on their domain, adjacent to Rancho La Puente. While the Gold Rush years were good to them and their contemporaries, such as John Rowland and William Workman at La Puente, the years following included economic depression, floods and drought and Vejar, in particular, got into deep financial trouble. In 1863, he lost his portion of San José by foreclosure on a loan made to him by two Jewish merchants, Isaac Schlesinger and Hyman Tischler. The latter was mysteriously killed on a visit to the ranch and the former decided to hire another local Jew, Louis Phillips, who was a rare Jewish rancher at the time.
Phillips soon bought the Vejar half of San José and over about 35 years built a formidable ranching and farming empire. When a group of developers, who’d recently established Artesia south of Los Angeles, acquired some land from Phillips to the new town of Pomona, they obtained loans from the Temple and Workman bank. After that institution’s collapse and failure in 1876, though, the nascent community floundered, though it was revived in the following decade and became a prosperous city with citrus as its main economic engine.
After Phillips died in 1900, his widow, Esther Blake, and their children inherited a substantial estate. A daughter, Bella, who was married to Ambrose George, a railroad conductor and machinist, resided in Los Angeles with their two sons, (Franklin) Cecil and Ralph, but owned a substantial interest along with two brothers. Once Bella died in 1920, Cecil, who was the only heir because his brother died during the flu pandemic in 1918, became the scion of a large property.
This included the 1870s French Second Empire mansion built by his grandparents, but also a good deal of land including what he used for horse raising and farming at the west edge of what was generally known as the Phillips Ranch. While George maintained his full-time residence in Los Angeles, including the Hollywood community, and worked in investments, he frequently stayed at the Phillips Mansion and sought to keep the community of Spadra, established in the late 1860s by mainly families from the American South (his mother was from one early family there) and outside Pomona city limits until its later annexation.
Despite his significant level of activity at Spadra, George received an offer too good to turn down and sold 377 acres to Kellogg in spring 1925 for a reported $250,000. In short order, Kellogg announced grand plans, including a nearly 9,000 square-foot Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, the initial cost of which was pegged at $82,000 (though it would be surprising if did not involve much more by the time overruns and change orders were processed!) and a smaller house in the same style for his eldest son, Karl, who was charged with overseeing the ranch and its development, and an elaborate stable complex, all of this designed by the well-known architectural firm of Myron Hunt and Harold Chambers.
Additionally, landscape architect Charles Gibbs Adams, who worked on such notable gardens as the Robinson in Beverly Hills, William Randolph Hearst’s castle at San Simeon, and many in the film industry, worked with Hunt on elaborate gardens for the Kellogg Ranch. Adams, who gave a number of talks in Pomona and nearby areas on his work on the ranch, stated that, while on his tour scouting locations for his horse-breeding operation, Kellogg was particularly impressed by Pomona and its Ganesha Park, a showpiece for the city in that era. It was reported at the time that there were plans to expend some $2 million overall on improvements.
Kellogg also spent large sums on bringing Arabian horses to his new domain and was quickly recognized for his breeding of the magnificent animals and once opined that southern California could be as successful, or more so, than the famed Kentucky Blue Grass country for raising purebred horses. In fact, his efforts attracted the attention of another breeder of Arabians, Chicago banker Albert W. Harris, who created a stock farm in what is now Chino Hills. The Pomona/Chino/Chino Hills/Diamond Bar area, in fact, became a prominent place for the breeding of purebred cattle, pigs and horses, with Frederick Lewis, a tire tycoon from New York, establishing, in 1918, the Diamond Bar Ranch on the Rancho Los Nogales, while Revel L. English was another prominent horse-breeding figure who moved from Pasadena to Chino and Chino Hills during the early 20th century.
Kellogg, however, was at another level when it came to investment for his breeding operations, as well as his residences, stables, outbuildings, gardens and other elements and he also differed from the others in the area by immediately opening his estate to the public on regular occasions. Over the course of several years, the Kellogg Ranch was visited by many thousands who gawked at the majestic Arabians, as well as the lush landscaping and the stately houses an buildings on the property.
The city of Pomona was particularly proud of its association, though, again, the ranch was outside its limits, and trumpeted the work undertaken by the cereal titan as part of the Roaring Twenties boom experienced by it and the region broadly. In fact, advertisements by the Mutual Building and Loan Association of Pomona clapped back at those who were “poking fun at small towns” by emphasizing Kellogg’s plans, along with the efforts of Lewis and his Diamond Bar Ranch and others investing in Pomona and environs. News accounts often mentioned that Kellogg was establishing the finest estate of its kind in the region, state or Pacific Coast.
One Pomona newspaper article noted that construction, which did lead to one death as a worker was hit on the head by steel for a large wall and then buried by the cave-in of the trench dug for the supporting structure, yielded mortars and other items from indigenous settlement, with it reported that village was likely in a canyon at the west end of the ranch at that eastern extremity of the hills. Some cannon balls were also unearthed leading to speculation that they may have had to do with the Mexican-American War of 1846-1847 and the defense against American invaders. The piece did err in stating that the ranch was on the lands of the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino, when it was actually on the San José, and confused Louis Phillips, with San Luis Obispo rancher Charles Phillips, who briefly owned a controlling interest of the Chino ranch.
Another interesting little fact related to the film industry, when it was widely reported that Kellogg allowed the use of a prized Arabian named Jadan for the filming of The Son of the Sheik, the popular 1926 picture that was the last work of the matinee idol Rudolph Valentino. The horse with a trainer used as the actor’s body double in many scenes in the movie was insured for $50,000 for the purposes of the production and it was reported that Valentino, when visiting the ranch, was intensely interested in the Arabians and their breeding.
Moreover, it was stated that Jadan was treated royally with a private railroad car for travel to location shooting and specially sterilized water, while it was claimed that the horse and the star developed a strong bond during filming. Valentino was quoted at length about “the true equine aristocrat” with which he worked and supposedly uttered (though it seems almost certain that a studio official provided the material) that Jadan was such that “no horse has a greater spirit, nor a greater degree of understanding.” As for the owner, the star lauded Kellogg “for spending a fortune in an idealistic attempt to save the Arab blood [breed?]” Kellogg spent time at shooting locations and “was entertained by Valentino at the studio,” as well.
It was part of his increasing interest in expanding his philanthropic endeavors, though, that led Kellogg to offer his ranch, focusing on the horse-breeding operation, and a significant endowment to the State of California in spring 1932. As noted above, this led to the modest beginnings of the university and, while the institution has many important and well-regarded elements to its educational endeavors, the significantly remodeled ranch house, the stables and other Kellogg-related aspects remain on the campus today.
The Homestead’s holdings has a 1929 pamphlet about the Arabian horse-breeding operation at the Kellogg Ranch, so we’ll be sure to return at a later date to share that in a post, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.