by Paul R. Spitzzeri
About fifty people came out to the Chino Hills Community Center tonight for a presentation on the equestrian history of that area, specifically concerning Albert W. Harris and his Arabian horse farm, known as Anazel or Anazeha.
There is still a sizable equestrian district to the west of the community center and the McCoy Equestrian Center next door, left to the city by a couple that raised Arabians there for decades, is steps away from English Road, which leads into the district and is named for Revel English, a champion horse breeder who once had 1,250 acres there. Just beyond that thoroughfare is the upscale gates Payne Ranch residential tract, which was also a horse-breeding property by its namesakes.
The focus this evening was on Harris, born in Cincinnati and raised in Chicago and who started his business career as a bond salesman in his father’s Windy City investment bank and then served as its president. The Harris Trust and Savings Bank rose to great heights during Harris’ tenure and propelled him into great wealth. Among his major philanthropic efforts was the creation of the Chicago Community Trust, modeled after the nation’s first of its kind in Cleveland, and which is still in existence with a large endowment and a long track record.
Speaking of tracks, Harris was a horse enthusiast from a young age and acquired property in the Lake Geneva area of southeast Wisconsin where wealthy Chicagoans had luxury vacation homes, but he turned his Kemah Farm into one of America’s first Arabian horse-breeding facilities.
A frequent visitor from about 1900 to Los Angeles, where he also conducted a great deal of business for his bank as well as some twenty years as a director and executive committee member of utility giant Southern California Edison, Harris spent more time in the balmy City of Angels (his retired father settled in the tony Oak Knoll area of Pasadena shortly before his death) as the years went on. He even launched a remarkable project: building and outfitting a prairie schooner, which he took on a long trip east from Los Angeles to his Wisconsin farm in 1910. He even wrote a book about it, one of several that were mostly about his passion for horses.
That consuming hobby led him in 1927 to buy 170 acres on the Rancho Santa Ana del Chino from the Chino Land and Water Company (the deal was said to be the last major landholding sold on the ranch by the firm, which started selling tracts in the first years of the century) so he could establish a second Arabian horse breeding establishment, referred to as “Anazel” or “Anazeha,” the latter referring, it is said, to an Arabian peninsula nomadic tribal group.
Harris purportedly spent in excess of $100,000 building a large barn, outbuildings, ranch manager’s residence, and a large hilltop home for himself and stocked his property with horses, including one, Kaaba, that was sold for $10,000 in 1931 to Chicago chewing gum heir, Philip K. Wrigley. Wrigley promptly shipped the horse to his ranch on his privately owned Santa Catalina Island.
It was likely not an accident that Harris established his farm just several miles from one of his few serious and friendly rivals in Arabian horse breeding, cereal magnate Will Keith Kellogg (a third major breeder was W. R. Brown, who had an excellent farm in New England). Kellogg had, not long before, established his magnificent facility at the base of the San Jose Hills on the west fringes of Pomona.
Soon, Harris and Kellogg were regular participants together in local equestrian events, including the Los Angeles Horse Show, a major event each year for well-to-do breeders and owners, as well as ones at the Ambassador Hotel Auditorium, and the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds, established in Pomona early in the Twenties.
Harris maintained his Chino Hills facility for about a quarter century and rose to be president of the national Arabian horse breeders association, wrote about horses and his work, and retained his interests in business and philanthropy even as he relinquished direct control of the bank.
In 1951, he sold the farm to the Greening brothers, who became major landowners and developers in the Chino Hills area, and a couple of years later donated his Wisconsin facility to the Chicago Boys Club. Harris spent his remaining years as an elder figure of great repute in the realm of Chicago finance until his death at age 91 in 1958.
Some newspaper reports, when covering Harris’ purchase of the Chino Hills property, made a direct connection between what he and his contemporaries, like English and Kellogg, were doing to the long history in greater Los Angeles for horse raising and breeding. This could mean the racing horses at Rancho Santa Anita in modern Arcadia owned by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin all the way back to the massive Spanish and Mexican era ranchos, including Santa Ana del Chino and its original owner, Antonio María Lugo (as well as successors like Isaac “Don Julián” Williams and Richard Gird.) One of the earliest purebred horse breeders in the region was F.P.F. Temple, who began raising prize animals by the early 1860s.
Though there are still some significant equestrian areas in our region today, including the Los Angeles Equestrian Center near Griffith Park, a surprising pocket in South-Central Los Angeles, the Shadow Hills area near San Fernando, and the Avocado Heights area just west of the Homestead, there are mounting (!) challenges to equestrians with increasing development, rising costs to raise and maintain animals, and other issues.
Still, the equestrian heritage of greater Los Angeles is still something to remember and, hopefully, perpetuate when possible. Tonight’s presentation was a way to highlight that history and to do so literally within a stone’s throw of active horse ranches, however long they will continue operate well over a century after breeding and raising of these majestic animals began in the Chino Hills area.