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HISTORY

History of Marwyck Ranch
1936 – 1943

Let’s step back in time to the 1920’s and 1930”s; silent movies, flappers, the 1929 collapse of Wall Street, thoroughbred horse racing explodes - Seabiscuit and War Admiral entertain millions, the “talkies” and Hollywood celebrities begin to build their “retreat” homes which were built as their “second” homes in the San Fernando Valley. The Stars were drawn to this agricultural paradise to escape the intense pressures of their movie work. These Northridge ranches become increasingly popular. Producers, directors, actors and actresses acquired large tracts of land becoming the owners of “celebrity ranches”. Typical ranches, five to 35 acres or larger, not only contained agricultural crops and livestock but these properties incorporated large homes mirroring the architectural styles of the Hollywood lifestyle with swimming pools, tennis courts, horses, and landscaped grounds. In the late 1930’s, with the Great Depression in full effect, horse racing was booming. Hollywood was splurging on new houses, ranches, cars, race horses, diamonds and furs.

On November 19, 1936, the Van Nuys News/Daily News article reported Kentucky Thoroughbred Horse Farm New Valley Enterprise, “127 acres of the Porter Estate in North Los Angeles (Northridge) is purchased by a syndicate composed of actress Barbara Stanwyck, her agent Zeppo Marx and William S. Hart. Fifty of the finest Kentucky thoroughbred racers will be moved to the ranch as soon as quarters are provided for them”. This ranch was designed to be a thoroughbred breeding, boarding and training ranch. It was named Marwyck.

Both Barbara Stanwyck and her agent Zeppo Marx with wife Marion each purchased 10 acres on Devonshire Street high on a knoll at the northern edge of the ranch. Both built formidable, large, rambling ranch style homes that overlooked the breeding facility and farmland. Paul R. Williams noted African-American architect and Robert Finkelhor were commissioned to design the Stanwyck home. Marwyck Ranch spread from the southern edge of the residences, along Reseda Boulevard, to what is now Lassen Street where the 6 furlong (¾ mile) training track was located. Just south beyond the track was the famous Huntsinger Turkey Farm.

Marwyck (a combination of the owner’s last names) was an ambitious affair, as made clear in the Los Angeles Times article dated 1937:

“Southern California will boast a thoroughbred bloodstock farm which will be one of the show places of America when Harry Hart completes work now progressing on the 130 acre tract near North Los Angeles.

Named the Marwyck ranch, the tract will be the most modern in the West, and surpass many old Blue Grass farms in appointments and convenience.

Work is being rushed on a six-furlong training strip, large, earthquake-proof box stalls, spacious paddocks, and living quarters for the help. Everything that a horse could desire is included in the equipment, while their valuable lives will be guarded against fire by automatic fire sprinkler equipment.

It will be operated solely as a breeding farm, the produce will be offered for sale each year. If necessary, the stock will be raced only to establish their worth.

. . .The Marwyck ranch is one of the most pretentious breeding projects ever undertaken in California. When their stock, and that of some other fine mares and studs recently brought to California, get to running, it is well within the bounds of reason that this state again will take a front row with Kentucky and Virginia as a producer of not only champions but honest, sturdy racers of real worth.”

It was reported that Stanwyck’s and Marx’s initial investment of $200,000.00 was reflective of the enormous wealth of the Hollywood elite and the growth in the thoroughbred racing industry. Santa Anita racetrack, about 35 miles to the east in the city of Arcadia, was built in 1934. It soon became a popular place for movie stars.

In 1939, Barbara Stanwyck married actor Robert Taylor. In 1940, she then sold her Paul R. Williams designed home on 10 acres to actor Jack Oakie. Oakie resided in the property for decades along with his wife Victoria Horne Oakie. At that same time Stanwyck also sold her share in Marwyck Ranch to Zeppo Marx who retained ownership of Marwyck until 1943.

The following information provided by Keeneland Library of Lexington, Kentucky - The Blood-Horse and The Thoroughbred of California publications from 1936 – 1965.

Mr. Harry S. Hart the manager of LeMar Stock Farm Stables of Lexington, Kentucky, was hired to design and manage Marwyck Ranch. In late 1936, Hart purchased a group
Kentucky horses for shipment to Janss Ranch in Ventura, California, while Marwyck was being completed. The first stud, The Nut, was purchased for $13,000.00 along with four mares, three weanlings, 14 yearlings. Hart designed the four barns, paddocks, sheds, 6 furlong training track, and modern equipment which included: sun sheds, breeding shed, foal house, office with apothecary room, superintendent cottage, a bunk house with a game room for employees, 40 box stalls with electric fly traps, paddocks ranging from ½ acre to 15 acres, two 100 acre fields and four 5 acre plus fields with a watering and irrigation system installed to fields and barns. Crops planted for Marwyck horses were: alfalfa, beardless barley, adino clover, burr clover, Dallas grass, wheat and kanota oats. For grazing acreage, a rotating clover crop was planted to replenish the soil ravaged by severe overuse by Japanese truck gardens.

Hart also designed a special paddock containing ocean soil and ocean water for bad hocks and sore feet. “Harry brings the sea to his horses”. Hart’s horses had the best there was to offer. Hart was proclaimed “ a thoroughgoing horseman”. Following a tour of the ranch in 1941, an east coast journalist wrote, “Marwyck has everything a horse could ask for except automatic tail swishers”. When Harry Hart was asked, “Why locate in Northridge?” he responded that he liked the air currents that circulated over the ranch and the supply of fresh water.

The 6 furlong (3/4 mile) training track contained four starting gates/shoots for training horses “to stand” and “to break”. Hart used sandy soil from the Wilbur Creek, on the western boundary of the ranch, to further improve the track surface.

By 1938, Marwyck was a beehive of activity with green paddocks, fresh white fences, tree lined roads, beautiful residences, mares, foals, three stallions standing, and even more yearlings and two year olds. The ranch was so over run by sightseers that the gates had to be locked to the public.

By 1941, the ranch had nine stallions standing which was second in the U. S. only to A.B. Hancock’s Claiborne Stud Farm in Paris, KY. It was the busiest horse breeding farm in California with 65 - 70 accounts. Zeppo Marx sold his home and surrounding 10 acres to Thomas and Mary Quince who then sold to Janet Gaynor and her husband Adrian Gilbert the following year, 1942.

In 1942, Marx and Stanwyck change their plans and Marwyck become exclusively a boarding ranch not a breeding facility. The Nut remained at Marwyck.

It was reported that Stanwyck’s and Marx’s initial investment of $200,000.00 was reflective of the enormous wealth of the Hollywood elite and the growth in the thoroughbred racing industry. Santa Anita racetrack, about 35 miles to the east in the city of Arcadia, was built in 1934. It soon became a popular place for movie stars.

During World War II, thoroughbred racing “went dark” and tracks closed. Santa Anita became an internment camp for Japanese Americans. Del Mar Fairgrounds Race Track closed in 1942/43/44 with races resuming in the summer of 1945. During that time the Del Mar Fairgrounds was used as a Marine Corp training facility then as a factory for producing B-17 bombers.

Marwyck Ranch, in 1943, was sold lock, stock and barrel to John H. Ryan who renamed it Northridge Farms. Ryan continued to breed and train champion thoroughbred race horses. Northridge Farms, combined with Ryan’s other two ranches, Ryana and Lindley Ridge, grew to become the largest boarding, breeding and training ranch in California. On June 25, 1956, for health reasons, Ryan holds a Dispersal Sale selling horses, tack, supplies and land. By the mid 1960’s land developers began subdividing the ranch and constructing residences.

A timeline, labeled aerial map and Thoroughbred of California magazine articles are available on the Historic Documents page.

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