About Arcadia Bandini Stearns deBaker
Arcadia was born into the Bandini Family, one of the most prominent of “Californio”* families. Her father, Juan, was known as the first citizen of San Diego. The Bandini ranchland holdings spread out from San Diego through the counties of San Diego and Riverside to the mountains of San Bernardino County. The Bandini home, Casa de Bandini, was the social center of San Diego.
Her life spanned the decades of the Mexican Rancho days, the U.S. and Mexican War, the Gold Rush, the growth of Los Angeles from a dusty pueblo taking its’ first steps toward becoming a major city and she was considered the “Godmother of Santa Monica” as her vision shaped much of the physical beauty of this seaside community.
Arcadia was the eldest of three daughters (praised for their beauty and gentleness) born to Juan and his wife, Dolores. Juan and Dolores had five children (two sons) and after Dolores died Juan married Refugio Argüelles and three more sons were added to the family. Arcadia would become the Matriarch of a large family.
At age 15 Arcadia was married to Abel Stearns 43, a business partner of Juan Bandini and one of the wealthiest men in California. It was an arranged marriage merging great wealth and vast land holdings. The Stearns moved into Abel’s mansion in the Pueblo de Los Angeles. It was called El Palacio and was the grandest mansion in the Pueblo.
The commercial life of Los Angeles revolved around Abel Stearns. Understanding the importance of a port he established a stagecoach line from Los Angeles to San Pedro and built a large warehouse there called La Casa de San Pedro. By the 1860’s Stearns was considered the wealthiest man in California. Abel died suddenly in 1871 leaving Arcadia widowed and enormously wealthy.
In 1874 Arcadia married Col. Robert Symington Baker who had recently purchased the Sepulveda Ranch property (some 36,000 acres for $ 54,000). Baker and his business partner, Senator John Percival Jones, intended to establish the Port of Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast on the land known as Santa Monica. In 1875, having built a wharf and railroad, they auctioned off lots and founded the community of Santa Monica. The railroad failed but Santa Monica became a resort and the Bakers built a home on Ocean Avenue. Arcadia would remain in that home the rest of her life. Baker sold all his land holdings to his wife in 1877 and Arcadia and Senator Jones formed the Santa Monica Land and Water Company that developed most of West Los Angeles. Arcadia was widowed again when Baker died in 1894. Arcadia lived on until 1912 and became the great benefactress of Santa Monica. 2000 people attended her funeral at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral. When she died Arcadia left an Estate valued between 8 and 15 million dollars. She left no will and there was a famous court battle over her estate which was the largest ever probated in California.
· 1888 Arcadia and Jones deeded extensive land to the U.S. Government to establish a National Home for Disabled Veterans—known today as the Veteran’ Administration.
· 1891 They donated Palisades Park to the City of Santa Monica.
· Near the turn of the century Arcadia donated land in Santa Monica Canyon to establish the nation’s first experimental forestry station managed by Abbott Kinney.
· Arcadia donated land to churches (Presbyterian and St. Augustine by the Sea), schools and clubs (Bay City Women’s Club)
Arcadia was an astute businesswoman and a gracious hostess at her salons in her Ocean Avenue home. Arcadia never spoke English but conducted all business and social conversations in perfect Castillian Spanish. An interpreter was always present and during her first marriage it was often Abel Stearns.