Arcadia Chamber of Commerce – a century in the making
The original seeds were planted for the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce more than a century ago, only 11 years after Arcadia was incorporated as a city in 1903. But it would be several decades before the organization would take official form and decades more would pass before it grew to its current size.
Board of Trade: 1914-1918
The roots of the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce stretch back to April 1914 with a group called the Arcadia Board of Trade.
The group of 28 men who formed the Board of Trade are said to have been sparked by the spirited women of the Cooperative Arcadians (later called The Woman’s Club) to form this civic promotional organization. Each charter member paid a $1 initiation fee and monthly dues of 25-cents to be paid quarterly.
The Board’s goals, as laid out in the constitution adopted at the group’s second meeting, were to “foster and encourage commerce, to stimulate home manufacturers, to assist in securing a market for the products, to induce immigration and the subdivision settlement and cultivation of our lands, to assist in the development of material resources and generally to promote the business interests in the City of Arcadia.”
The City Council granted the Board of Trade use of the Council Chambers upstairs in the McCoy Building as its meeting place as of July 27th, 1914. The Board of Trade quickly affiliated itself in September 1914 with the Associated Chambers of Commerce of San Gabriel Valley, which held its next monthly meeting in Arcadia. As the McCoy Building was not big enough to accommodate the larger gathering, the 100 attendees met in the home of O.D. Harris at Orange and Santa Anita avenues.
The very next year, the Board flexed its muscles further by requesting in March that St. Joseph Street be oiled and graded from Santa Anita Ave. to its east extremity. The next month, in April, the Board asked that the Council’s appropriation of $200 for Fourth of July expenses be revoked. The Council not only complied but shortly thereafter appropriated $75 to pay the Board of Trade to act as the city’s official promotional organization. (Twenty-four years later, in 1939, it was the Chamber that sponsored the first Fourth of July celebration in the County’s Arcadia Park, which drew 15,000 people.) The city and the Board next teamed up to split the cost of creating signs denoting Arcadia along local highways. The Board’s last official meeting of record was on July 1, 1918.
Arcadia Chamber of Commerce born, 1921
Three years later the first group calling itself the Chamber of Commerce was formed on Sept. 19, 1921. During the 1920s and 1930s the Chamber absorbed the members of several other local business organizations such as the Arcadia Service Association and the Arcadia Business Men’s Association.
The Chamber tried valiantly to raise the credibility and image of Arcadia by petitioning the City Council to create the position of City Manager in 1922 to keep up with neighboring towns like Monrovia despite a population in Arcadia of only 2,500. It would be about three more decades before Arcadia would hire its first city manager.
In February 1926, the Chamber tried to get a population sign of 4,000 on the Santa Fe Station changed to read 6,000, but the city’s population even four years later was still only 5,100. Ten years later the Chamber tried to suggest Arcadia had grown to at least 10,500, but the census of 1940 showed only 9,112.
The Chamber provided support to the Santa Anita Riding Club’s effort in 1931 to develop the bridal path along Santa Anita Avenue. Also in 1931, the Chamber protested plans to use Ross Field (the county’s current Arcadia Park) as a camp for the unemployed of Los Angeles County. “Directors of the Chamber are strong in their protest against such usage … of the field, especially in view of the fact the government is advertising for bids to remove the hutments from the well-known field,” as commented by to the Arcadia Tribune.
Chamber officially incorporated, 1934
More than a decade after forming the Chamber, articles of incorporation and bylaws were submitted during a December 1933 meeting at city offices and the Chamber finally became official with its incorporation on July 16, 1934.
The Arcadia Tribune referred to the group as the “live-wire” Arcadia Chamber of Commerce following its official incorporation on July 16, 1934. The paper credited support for the Chamber to the organization’s efforts to improve streets and the water system, plant trees and beautify homes, add street signs, and support the building of everything from sidewalks, a new church, and the Pacific Electric station, to a daily newspaper and factories, as well as represent Arcadia in the Rose Parade.
The incorporation of the Chamber came only five months before the first Opening Day at Santa Anita Park on Christmas 1934, which the Chamber promoted with “Welcome” banners for the Los Angeles Turf Club and its patrons along Huntington Drive.
High-profile events before and after WW II
The Chamber promoted “Arcadia Day” on August 26 at the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco and arranged to take the famous race horse, Malicious to the Stockton Fair on the way to the Bay area, which drew 166 press clippings for the horse’s exhibition between races.
The Arcadia Chamber of Commerce created the Arcadia Peach Blossom Festival, which ran three years, from 1949 to 1951. The name came from 46 flowering peach trees planted on a 30′ x 300′ strip of land behind City Hall as a World War II veterans’ memorial. The first event on March 26, 1949, was combined with the dedication of the then new City Hall and civic center (the current one still used in 2011), and included a parade featuring a team of horses pulling a stagecoach.
The second Arcadia Peach Blossom Festival, on Saturday, March 25, 1950, was tied to the dedication of Memorial Grove at the rear of City Hall and included a golf tournament, tennis tournament, and parade, followed by a “chicken picnic” lunch. The afternoon began with lawn bowling and children’s games, an L.A. County band concert, “Indian dances,” a folk dance exhibition, the dedication of Memorial Grove, and concluded with a Peach Blossom Ball of square dancing, ballroom dancing, and entertainment at Santa Anita Park’s paddock room and grandstand area. The 1951 event also included a Peach Blossom Queen contest organized by the committee chairman of the “Jr. Chamber of Commerce.”
The 1950s, ’60s and ’70s
In the late 1950s, the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce purchased the 1926 American LaFrance fire engine owned by the L.A. County Fire Department, one of only 16 delivered to various cities in the U.S. The Chamber gave it in equal shares to the City and the Arcadia Firefighters Association. From 1980 to 1983, several Arcadia Firefighters worked many off-duty hours to restore the fire engine to mint condition, matching parts and features to those of the original engine. It is housed at Headquarters Fire Station No. 105 on Santa Anita Avenue and is showcased in parades and community events, including the Taste of Arcadia.
Chamber members met at the various City Hall buildings for years, including the former marble-columned building on the northwest corner of Huntington Drive and First Avenue, before setting up their own office in the Beacon Building (later Arcadia Storage) at 37 W. Huntington Dr., across from Arcadia Park. That space would carry the Chamber through the 1950s and early ’60s.
With the demise of the famous Red Line electric railway, land became available in the median of Huntington Drive, on which was built a headquarters building for the Chamber in 1964. The new, round Arcadia Chamber of Commerce building became the geographic and civic hub of the city.
The Chamber had its own Women’s Division for many years, which sponsored the Annual Youth Safety Run in the 1960s and 1970s.
Origins of Taste of Arcadia
When the Arcadia Tournament of Roses Association was dissolved in 1999, its assets, including an annual Wine Shed Mixer fundraiser at Santa Anita Park, also sometimes subtitled A Taste of Arcadia, were turned over to the Chamber.
The Chamber continued the food and wine event at Santa Anita for a few years under various names, including the Festival of Food, before moving it to the L.A. County Arboretum several years later and adopting the name Taste of Arcadia. It has become the Chamber’s biggest annual fundraiser. About 1,300 people attend each year.