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Altadena Stables: The Long Trail Home

A brief history of our century-old local stable, complete with happy ending

I’m not the best rider in the world.  I’m probably not even the best rider on the block.  Let’s just say I’m queen of the unscheduled, spontaneous dismount and leave it at that. Still, I love horses in general, and my horse in particular. I’ve boarded my horse Vandy at Altadena Stables for twenty years; we’re two very satisfied customers.

A walk around Altadena Stables is a walk through history, a history of greater length and significance than the one I share with Vandy, but with just as many bumps along the road.  

The stable, or a version thereof, has been in operation since at least 1921, perhaps as early as 1911. And like so much of old Altadena, it has gone through a series of incarnations -- from opulence to decay to rediscovery and refurbishment .

Once upon a time, Captain George C. Hester built, owned and operated the Altadena Riding Academy where Altadena Stables stands today -- south of Altadena drive, north of Mariposa and west of Lincoln.

By 1921, it was the millionaire’s row for the horses of millionaires and their horse-loving wives, sons and daughters. The Academy claimed six acres, including a 3-acre riding ring – the largest in California -- and a polo field. Most of the Captain’s 50 horses were thoroughbreds, and all came from Kentucky and Virginia. (This was a point of pride, as in those days, California bred, i.e. “homegrown” carried no bragging rights.)

The stable employed and housed grooms, trainers, a blacksmith, a veterinarian and even some guy whose job no longer has a name -- one tasked with keeping the leather of bridles and saddles well oiled and supple.

According to the Academy advertising literature circa 1921, at “The stable overlooking the arroyo… every horse is given a thorough examination, groomed, hoofs cleaned and washed at least once each day … each groom has a special grooming room equipped with every known need for that work … the room is well lighted and ventilated without draft…” and the horses “scientifically fed.”

I kind of hate to leave the story at this juncture, but time marches on.

When the Academy pulled up stakes and moved to Flintridge, sometime in the 1930s, it took most of the hardscape with it – barns, showers, grooming rooms, and even fencing.  After that, for the next 30 years or so, things would get more complicated and less comfortable for “the stable overlooking the arroyo.”

Sometime in the 1940s, the property fell into the hands of local artist Alex Sison. Finding stable ownership harder than expected and unable to make a go of it, he borrowed many thousands of dollars from fellow-local artist, Elena Kellogg.  Judging from Sison's correspondence, it appears Elena Kellogg made this as a good faith and unsecured loan. But when Sison continued to fall on hard times, he, by choice, deeded the property to Ms Kellogg.

Kellogg, who had neither asked for nor wanted the stable, leased the enterprise over to a Mr. Iverson for $70 a month in 1954. Iverson must have been a pretty good fellow, because to this day, people, mainly men, make a pilgrimage to Altadena Stables and speak fondly about summer days spent barrel racing and swinging a lariat.

The next lease, or maybe the next after the next, went to a county sheriff at the end of the 1950s.  He, in turn, gave control to some stable hands, one who apparently had more business concerns in the area of pharmaceuticals than horses. Legend has it, drugs changed hands on the trail, bartered for the bridals and saddles off the rental horses.

Things finally hit bottom for the “stable overlooking the arroyo” by the 1960’s. Not much was left, just four emaciated horses picking their way through fallen stalls and broken timber.

This could have been the end of the story had it not been for current owner, Desdy Baggott, and her husband, William Kellogg.  Appalled by the blight and animal cruelty, the two took over the reins and rebuilt Altadena Stables into what we enjoy today -- a safe haven where children and adults can learn to ride and care for horses. Altadena Stables, still owned and operated by Desdy, with the assistance of two full-time trainers and two on-site stable managers, offers individual and group classes, summer and winter riding camps, boarding, and training.

Ok, so I squeezed three decades of hard work and dedication into a couple of sentences. That’s not fair. But you see, I’m late. I should be riding now, and my horse is probably pawing the ground as we speak. She doesn't like to be kept waiting, even at a stable still overlooking the arroyo.

terry Morris November 08, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Thank you Karen. Our daughter rides there three times a week, taught by the fantastic Teri Trujillo. Altadena Stables is a magical place, steeped in history, beautiful views, and an amazing atmosphere. I always feel like I am in the pages of Charlottes Web, when I'm there, and that if I were just thirty years younger, i would be able to hear the animals discussing their day. We love it for it's age, it's character. It is not posh, it doesn't carry an attitude or any pretensions. It is just a lovely old stable, for horses and the people who love them. It's an essential part of our daughters life, not only helping to build her riding skills, but her character as well. Can't say enough good things about the place.
Margaret Finnegan November 08, 2011 at 03:27 PM
I'm so glad this had a happy ending. I was getting worried.
Natalie November 08, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Such an interesting story about a place that doesn't look very large when viewed from the end of the cul-de-sac. In fact, it was years before I even realized there was a stables down there. What glorious beginnings it had! One question: was William Kellogg related to Elena Kellogg?
michele Zack November 08, 2011 at 04:12 PM
@Natalie, yes he was, she was his aunt, and Desdy Kellogg Baggot's by marriage. The story of this family in Altadena is fascinating, and entwined with several other very interesting families. You can read about it Altadena: Between Wilderness and City. Thanks Karen, for another great story that reminds us of our complicated past!
Pasadena Adjacent November 08, 2011 at 05:36 PM
What year did Desdy and William take over the lease? A gentle reminder to those who own horses in the other remaining stables of the Arroyo.... It's very important that you become activist in keeping other interest from pushing you out of the Arroyo. Attend city land use meetings. Let your voice be heard. Are you listening San Pasqual stables? that's city property your sitting on and a privately owned stable next to you (name your price Thompsons). I've heard talk about converting that land into a soccer field. You of the "tally-ho" saddle set may not care to take your steeds out of the ring, but you put your barn at risk by standing on the sideline as elitist outsiders.
Patrizzi Intergalactica November 08, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Giddyup! I miss riding real fast and hanging on with everything. No place to blow it out up here.
Rosemary Byrne November 08, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Great article! I boarded two horses there in the late 1950's when Grant Iverson had the stables. I'll always remember the summer rides up the canyon to Switzer's Camp. Those were the good 'ol days! Glad the stable had a happy ending! Does anyone know what happened to Mr. Iverson? I heard many years ago he moved to Wrightwood, and I think his son, Donny, became an Altadena Sheriff. Not sure, though.
Karin Bugge November 08, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Thanks to Desdy for generously sharing correspondence, stories, and photos. Terry, if you have a photo of your daughter & Alt Stables, please post it here. Natalie, to add to Michele's comment, Desdy is a well-known artist in her own right and Aunt Elena's house is her studio. PA, according to my notes, 1973. Rosemary, I'm curious too.
Ron Rosen November 09, 2011 at 01:59 AM
Great article. Local history (of anywhere) is always interesting!
Petrea Burchard November 09, 2011 at 04:37 AM
Wonderful article about an interesting spot. I like sneaking down to the end of the cul-de-sac and wondering about it. Pasadena Adjacent: how many soccer fields do we need? How much Dena history do we have to trash to get them?
Pasadena Adjacent November 10, 2011 at 10:10 PM
^ ^ ^ Petrea, I don't need a single one. I need green space and animals. This plan is in South Pasadena's court
Karen November 10, 2011 at 11:40 PM
Karin and Michele, We had understood from the original owner of our home, formerly the store for Florecita Farm, that the stables were associated with the farm. It doesn't sound like that was the case from Karin's story. We also heard that there was a traditional posada, or procession, from the farmhouse at the top of the hill to the stables on Christmas Eve.
Karin Bugge November 10, 2011 at 11:54 PM
Karen, would that have been sometime between 1911-1920? Because the newspaper clipping and advertising I've seen fixes Hester's time to at least 1920, but prior to that, can't say. Would love to know the stories you've heard.
Desdy Baggott November 11, 2011 at 12:18 AM
Yes. Elena Kellogg was the Aunt of William Crowe Kellogg.
Desdy Baggott November 11, 2011 at 12:34 AM
Desdy and Bill officially leased the property in 1973, after Grant Iverson and Connie his wife decided to move to Northern California. Grant was beloved by many of the neighborhood children, and taught them manners, responsibility and even gave them haircuts with horse clippers. Before Grant, the stables were leased to Eddie Adamack, who specialized in fancy roping tricks.as well as horse rentals and cowboy activities. The first manager, Capt. Hester specialized in large drill teams, including a large contingent from the local Boys Military Academy. Currently the emphasis is on English and Western horsemanship, particularly featuring American Saddlebred horses, known for their pleasant nature and comfortable gaits.
Desdy Baggott November 11, 2011 at 12:38 AM
Unfortunately Grant died a few years ago. I think his son Donny might be living in Malibu and I've heard he is connected with the Fire Department (strictly rumors)
-k- November 11, 2011 at 01:27 AM
That's a really remarkable story. It's as if time has stood still within those six acres for the last 90 years.
Susan Campisi November 12, 2011 at 09:03 PM
This is a great story, Karin. I'm so glad the stables survived. I don't ride but it does my heart good to know there's a few acres nearby where horses get the love and care they deserve.
Jacob Cuadrez July 17, 2013 at 05:25 AM
Donny is my father. He retired in 1989 from the Pasadena Fire Department. Grant is my grandfather. He passed away in November 2004. Our whole family misses him greatly. He had a tremendous love for each and every person he encountered at the Stables in Altadena. I loved him and love him still so very much. It was a great gift for each of us to have known him.

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