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Walnut Creek Magazine

A LOOK BACK: Walnut Creek’s Rich Equestrian Past

In 1921, a wealthy gambling hall owner, John W. Marchbank, converted the 255-acre Sulphur Springs Ranch (once a hotel and spa) on Ygnacio Valley Road into a thoroughbred horse training facility, and named it Heather Farm after his champion stallion, Heather King.

Marchbank, who made his fortune during the Gold Rush, spent one million dollars to build a Spanish-style mansion, a half-mile track, a 48-stall stable, and a barn on the land. He turned Heather Farm into one of the most prominent horse-breeding farms in the country, raising dozens of champions. 

 In 1931, movie stars Clark Gable and Madge Evans filmed scenes for MGM's, Sporting Blood, at Marchbank's Heather Farm. For Gable, it was his first starring role. In 1945, Marchbank sold the racetrack for $1.5 million and retired in his Heather Farm home, which remains today as the St. John Vianney Church rectory.

When Heather Farm Park opened to the public in 1970 by the City of Walnut Creek, a vestige to its past remained at the Equestrian Center of Walnut Creek (ECWC). Tucked away in the back, its two arenas, host annual horse and pony shows “keeping horses in the heart of our community.”

Source: Walnut Creek An Illustrated History by Brad Rovanpera

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