Lucky Baldwins is a charming English pub with a focus on Belgian beers that has been a fixture in downtown Pasadena for over 20 years and has expanded to three current locations. My brother and a group of his drinking buddies have been going there since the early days. I used this location as the starting point for two of my main characters in my recent book. The bar was started by partners David Farnworth and Peggy Simonian and does have an Anglo feel with their classic English breakfasts and featuring an array of soccer games displayed on their large TV screens. Their Belgian brew fests they sponsor are also quite popular. It can be busy on these events and crazy on New Years Eve with the Rose Parade crowd massing.
The bar’s name predates the current owner , Peggy (Mr Farnworth passed away 2 years ago) but furthers the legacy of its namesake Lucky Baldwin. Naming a bar in Pasadena after Lucky is not surprising since he himself owned bars and amassed a large part of Southern California land, including Baldwin Hills in LA and the Santa Anita race track. Elias Baldwin had a simple beginning on a farm in Ohio in the early 1800’s but he quickly developed an entrepreneur's spirit. He opened a grocery store and saloon in Indiana and later sold that to finance a move out west in 1853 at the height of the gold rush. Others might have been looking for gold but he saw opportunity in sales and provisions. He outfitted several wagons with supplies and despite some challenges along the way was able to make his way to California. He managed to stop in Salt Lake City and sell his stock of brandy to Brigham Young’s brother at a large profit. He bought a hotel on his arrival to San Francisco for cash and turned around and sold it for $5000 more in 30 days. He built the magnificent Baldwin Hotel and Theatre in San Francisco and developed a fabled resort, Tallac House in South Lake Tahoe. Fortunately he kept the old growth forests around the hotel as opposed to most of Lake Tahoe’s forests that were plundered to shore up the mines in Virginia City. Baldwin invested heavily in those mines and was rewarded greatly, multiplying his expanding fortune.
He was not a pleasant man but did acquire the romance of a number of women. He was married 5 times - usually to much younger women, and reportedly had numerous affairs. Even a man of Lucky’s stature could not trifle with young women’s hearts without some fallout. He wound up paying significant amounts to several women for breech of promise and was actually shot by two of his paramours - once in a court room while he was testifying.
Despite his reputation of animosity and tightfisted business dealings, Lucky did have some friends especially in equine circles since he owned the Santa Anita racetrack. He was good friends with Wyatt Earp and reportedly Wyatt got married on Lucky’s yacht off the coast of California.
Lucky Baldwin certainly was larger than life and had major impacts throughout southern California and San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. He did have a knack for accumulating wealth beyond imagination. He was not afraid to use that wealth to impact the world around him. The old growth trees he preserved at Lake Tahoe remain a testament to his tenacity. He was not a pleasant man and reportedly at his funeral there was not a moist eye in the crowd. His luck persisted even after his death when oil was discovered on his property in Baldwin Hills creating untold millions more for his legacy. He remains one of the West’s significant characters among a host of eccentric figures. I doubt that he would mind my borrowing his namesake bar in Pasadena for my book. I know if he were around today he would want to be paid for that privilege.