‘Pomona A to Z’: Q is for Quartermaster

[Q turned out to be the hardest letter and the only one for which I felt compelled to pick something that no longer physically existed: the WW II-era Quartermaster Depot. (Although some of the buildings still stand.)

The quilt mentioned below wouldn’t have worked without a gigantic photo to show each panel. Quinceaneras aren’t unique to Pomona. Someone suggested Quality Thrift Store but that turned out to be in Montclair. And I wasn’t going to pick Quizno’s. Two years after “A to Z,” I learned Pomona still had a quarter-midget racetrack. Shoot! Oh well, it’s gone now anyway.

This column was originally published Dec. 26, 2004.]

Finding a Q for Pomona means turning to an old warhorse

“Pomona A to Z,” my quixotic quest to document the city’s quality, today reaches the letter Q, and you can imagine my qualms.

With readers’ few Q suggestions mostly quartered in other cities, I was in a quandary, my qwerty keyboard quiet, until research — whew! — turned up examples of my quarry.

Let me queue up a quartet of possibilities:

* Quilt made for Pomona’s 1988 centennial depicting structures from city history. Check it out on the second floor of City Hall. Can you identify each panel?

* Quest Academy, a private school on Phillips Boulevard serving students from grades three to 12.

* Quarter horse races at Fairplex Park during the L.A. County Fair.

* Quinceanera, the 15th-birthday celebration for Latinas, made possible by Pomona party, clothing and disc jockey businesses.

Which Q will quantify Pomona’s quintessence, you query? I hope you won’t become quarrelsome when I say it’s none of the above.

Instead, our Q is the Quartermaster Depot, the World War II-era name for what is now Cal Poly Pomona. Thanks to Betty Peters for the suggestion.

The depot was one of seven facilities in the nation where the U.S. military, to fight the Nazis, trained its secret weapon: horses.

Yes, horses.

Somehow we won the war anyway.

“It sounds like something out of the Civil War, doesn’t it?” said Melissa Paul, curator of Cal Poly’s Arabian Horse Library.

The Quartermaster’s Remount Service was founded in 1775 to breed, train and supply horses to Army troops in the field and was still galloping along in the thick of the 20th century.

Mechanization was in its nascent stages in World War I, when 571,000 horses and mules carried supplies to U.S. troops.

The expectation was that World War II would be no different, Mary Jane Parkinson wrote in “The Kellogg Arabian Ranch: The First 60 Years,” her history of the Cal Poly property.

American strategists learned the Germans had 791,000 horses, compared to our 750.

You’ve heard of the missile gap? This was a horse gap.

Spurred (har!) into action, the Remount Service looked for fresh horses and a site for a new depot in the West, which it found in good ol’ Pomona on what had been cereal magnate W.K. Kellogg’s 800-acre Arabian horse ranch.

The War Department took control in August 1943 and proved a better steward than the state university system, which had let the property decline after Kellogg donated it in 1932.

Under the Remount Service, horses again became the central mission and Sunday horse shows for the public continued.

Improvements were made, too. Block walls, landscaping and irrigation were installed by German and Italian prisoners of war, who were held at the Pomona fairgrounds.

No, they didn’t eat rations of cotton candy and corn dogs.

Col. F.W. Koester, who had led the Army’s War Dog center in San Carlos, was made Pomona’s commanding officer, perhaps indicating that horses were a promotion from dogs.

But as it turned out, jeeps and trucks transported personnel and supplies in this war, not horses.

After the war, the Army got out of the horse business. It closed the Pomona Quartermaster Depot in June 1948.

“After more than four and a half years,” Parkinson wrote of Kellogg’s ranch, “the military air was gone; no more inspections from Quartermaster generals and colonels, no more military decorations ceremonies at the flagpole, no more Quartermaster insignia over the main entry to the stables, and no more salutes in the archways.”

The ranch was nearly sold as surplus and its prized horses auctioned off until halted by a public outcry. The property, with the blessing of Kellogg, then 88, was deeded in 1949 to the state, which established what became Cal Poly.

Much of the wartime activity in Pomona remains a mystery.

“We have very little detail on what happened. We just don’t have the records,” said Paul, the library curator.

A sheaf of declassified documents a mere inch thick accounts for those five years. Author Parkinson managed to pry them from the National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act in 1990.

Among the tidbits deemed hush-hush for nearly a half-century: a 1942 inventory of Kellogg’s 81 horses, with their names, and the one-page 1943 depot budget listing $36,340 in expenses, including the chief clerk’s salary of $2,300.

Keep that on the QT.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday in nearly quotidian fashion.)

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  • Anonymous

    The last US Army horse cavalry charge was supposedly in Bataan in 1942. The story is the Japanese were so surprised it even worked, although they shortly overwhelmed the last defenders.

    The famous Royal Lippizan horses were taken by Nazi Germany in that war, and at the end captured by Gen. Patton, who took them as war booty. Some of them were sent to the Kellogg ranch. Not long after, they were purchased and sent north of Chicago, where their descendants still put on shows.

    [Thanks, whoever you are. — DA]

  • Fred Henderson

    How about ‘q’ for quilting at Mrs. Griggs yarn shop on Alvarado near Garey Ave.?

    [Didn’t know about it! — DA]