‘Pomona A to Z’: K is for Kellogg

[Nothing to explain or update in this one. If you want the proper atmosphere, eat a bowl of cereal while reading — but don’t spill milk on your keyboard. This column was originally published Sept. 26, 2004.]

Pomona’s K is for a man who was truly grrreat!

Welcome back to “Pomona A to Z,” where we host a kaffeeklatsch about the city’s key keepsakes, bringing knowledge, and kindling respect, in those who knock Pomona in kneejerk fashion. (The knaves.)

Did you guess we’re up to the letter K?

Kidding aside, Pomona has a lot of keepers among its K candidates. Among them:

* Kaiser Bill’s Military Emporium, the Antique Row business whose owner, Dave George, identified the obscure military medal worn by Michael Jackson at his arraignment in January — a Serbian “bravery” medal — and was quoted worldwide.

* Kress Building, once a department store and now Robbins Antique Mart, said to be Southern California’s oldest and largest such store.

* Koosh Ball, a squishy, spiky plastic gel ball created by two Pomona High alumni that was the top-selling Christmas toy of 1988.

* Walter and Cordelia (Honaday) Knott, two more Pomona High alumni, who married and founded Knott’s Berry Farm.

Keen, eh? What a kaleidoscope!

Our K, however, is special. You might even say it’s a Special K, because K is for Kellogg.

The man behind Kellogg’s cornflakes was W.K. (Will Keith) Kellogg (1860-1951). The son of a broom maker, Kellogg never got past sixth grade, but he built a cereal empire in Battle Creek, Mich.

The cornflake king spent winters in balmy Pomona, where he established a horse ranch. He later donated the land for what became Cal Poly Pomona — the only hall of higher learning that doesn’t get soggy in milk.

To learn about all things Kellogg, I met with Melissa Paul, curator of Cal Poly’s W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library. For the proper tone, we chatted over a breakfast of Kellogg’s cereal — she had Rice Krispies, I had Frosted Flakes — in Kellogg West, a university dining hall.

After a stint as a traveling broom salesman, Kellogg went to work for his brother, nutritional pioneer Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, at his hospital and health spa.

The brothers experimented with cereal grains to create healthy foods for patients. Through a wacky accident in the kitchen, they came up with flakes that eventually revolutionized the way America eats breakfast.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Although he was competitive, astute and rich, Kellogg was a shy man who treated employees well and gave away most of his wealth to help children and animals.

He especially loved horses. He had a horse as a boy that was part Arabian. His father sold it.

“It broke his heart,” Paul said. “He vowed that if he ever was rich, he would buy a whole herd of Arabian horses.”

Making good on his pledge, Kellogg bought 11 Arabian horses from a man in Indio in 1925, then plunked down $250,000 for 377 acres in Pomona for a horse ranch.

Lore has it a coin flip is what led Kellogg to buy the Pomona site over property in Santa Barbara.

Stables were built first so his Arabian horses would have a place to live, while Kellogg was content to rent a home in Pomona’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Kellogg bought the best horses, many from England, and hired architect Myron Hunt to design some ranch buildings.

The ranch got plenty of visitors. They included movie stars Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Olivia de Havilland and Tom Mix. Weekly horse shows catered to the common folk.

“Kellogg Ranch was the leading tourist attraction in Southern California in those days,” Paul said.

Kellogg Arabians were used in movies, too. One was even the model for Prince Charming’s horse in Disney’s “Snow White.”

In 1932, Kellogg donated his 750 acres and 87 Arabian horses to the University of California. But things didn’t go as planned and the property fell into disrepair.

After a public outcry, the holdings were transferred back to Kellogg and then to California State University in 1949.

Stipulations were made to ensure the horses and horse shows remained, and they do.

The first classes were held in Pomona in 1956. A decade later the campus became a full-fledged state college, bursting with snap, crackle and pop.

Kellogg died in 1951 at age 91. Though the millionaire was a modest, self-effacing fellow — “He was certainly no Donald Trump,” Paul said — he’s hardly a forgotten man.

Not only is his signature on every box of Kellogg’s cereal, but he left his mark on Pomona by enabling the city to get the valley’s only state university.

Raise a cereal spoon in his memory.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, more flakes of corn.)

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email