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Pasadena--Why You May Never Want to Leave
Pasadena has given the world Jackie Robinson, Julia Child, the Rose Bowl, the Cheeseburger, the Mars landing, See's Candy and its most famous "little old lady." When Marty visited the professor in "Back to the Future" it was in Pasadena's fabulous Greene & Greene "Gamble House."
Every year, people in freezing climates watch the Rose Bowl Game with it's cheering fans in t-shirts on New Years Day and decide to move here--which is only fitting because Pasadena owes its very existence to the bitter cold winter of 1873.
First a little setting for drama:
Occupying the land but unfortunately fresh out of legal title deeds, a band of far ranging native environmentalists, the Hahamognas, welcomed their new friends the Spaniards in 1771, whose well meaning priests promptly converted them, appropriated their land and enlisted their help in building the new Mission system. Several years later, Mexico took over from Spain, thanked them for all their hard work and divided the land into Ranchos (complete with freshly printed title deeds-called land grants) which it handed out to its favorite "Don's.".
The grants were honored even after California became a state in 1850 but these fun-loving Don's couldn't keep up with their extravagant lifestyle and defaulted or sold their interests to their bankers, John S. Griffin and Benjamin "Don Benito" Wilson. Griffin and Wilson wanted to have an "open house" in their real estate investment so they asked Benjamin Eaton to supply it with water from the Arroyo Seco and Eaton Canyon so they could put "The San Pasqual Plantation" on the brochure.
This is where the weather comes in.
Enter the record-breaking mid-western winter of 1873. Indianapolis resident, Dr. Thomas Eliot, felt his ill wife could not survive another winter like they had just experienced. M.J. Newmark stopped by Indiana to try to sell the neighboring "Santa Anita Rancho" to them but the price was too high. Dr. Eliot and other Hoosiers calling themselves the "California Colony of Indiana," sent an asthmatic brother-in-law, Daniel M. Berry, to shop for orchard land in Southern California.
Benjamin Eaton, having failed to sell the San Pasqual Plantation to more knowledgeable local folk, invited Berry to look at the property. Having his first good night's sleep in years in the Rancho San Pasqual, Berry fell in love with the area which he code named "Muscat," and lobbied his group to buy the area now known as Pasadena. Although over their budget of $5 per acre and losing most investors in a stock market crash, Berry sold shares in a "Southern California Orange Grove Association" and cinched the deal with Griffin and Wilson. The bankers were so tickled to have unloaded their land to the Indiana Colony, that they threw in what would become Altadena for free.
When the Postmaster General wouldn't let them have their own post office with a confusing name like "Indiana Colony," the hardy midwesterners decided to have a colorful indian name. Of course they didn't ask any of the Hahamognas for one of their words, that would be too easy so they wrote to an old college buddy to ask the Minnesota Chippewa (everyone knows only Minnesota indians are experts on California) for an appropriate name. They came up with suggestions like "Crown of the Valley, Lily of the Valley, Girl of the Valley" which all ended in Pasadena--meaning "of the valley." The new colony liked the "euphonious" (Hahamogna for "gag me with a spoon,") sound of the name and it stuck.
Well they all came in droves and with each record snowfall, they still do. It's easy to be impressed with the blue ribbon private school system and decide to raise a family here. Outdoor enthusiasts are fascinated by the fact that they are ten minutes from the mountains with their trails and waterfalls and yet only twenty to thirty minutes to the beach. If that wasn't enough, for over a hundred years people with respiratory difficulties have been coming to Pasadena for the healing, dry climate. Some visit Old Town with its more than one hundred diverse restaurants and outdoor cafes and fall in love with the shopping and cuisine.
What struck me when I first encountered Pasadena was its comfortable diversity and friendly neighborhoods. What stands out about Pasadena is the melting pot dynamic that dissolves traditional barriers but still allows for the culture and uniqueness to thrive. Pasadena restaurants are renowned for their hospitality and delicious foods.
Whether I am having chicken and waffles at Roscoes, Mediterranean fare with belly dancers at Burger Continental, carne asada tacos at all night La Estrella's, eating slippery shrimp at Yang Chow's, Cowboy Ribeye at Arroyo Chop House, pasta at Luciano's, Diane Salad at Green Street Restaurant or a perfect Cheeseburger and fries at La Grande Orange, I know that I am a part of the creative and expressive family that is Pasadena.
I have to admit that I am hugely influenced by food when I think of a particular city and Pasadena is not the place to visit if you are on a diet. The already fabulous eateries are getting even better due to the graduates of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts who practice first in their very own "Technique" Restaurant. I could fill this entire article with my favorite restaurants and the savory dishes they prepare.
There are at least eight restaurants serving Middle Eastern food, over ten serving Japanese, at least that many steak houses, Chinese and Thai specialties. There are scores of Mexican Style restaurants and several of the finest California-Fusion eateries in all of Southern California. Here is a sample yelp review of the Parkway Grill by Paul from Whittier:
This a rarity for me, 5 stars, but not only have I encountered perfection, I ate it too!
The scallops on a bed of couscous with a subtle curry sauce was as good as it may ever get. Each scallop was cooked perfectly, flavorful to the max. I tried Kris' fillet Mignon with the red wine reduction Au jus and mushrooms and the flavor was eye popping, a good garlicky flavor, well cooked, melts in your mouth quality. The Neapolitan desert was light, not too sweet, great texture. Old school Pasadena at its best.
Pasadena has always had exceptional buildings and many of the more colorful ones have been hotels. The Huntington Hotel, now the Langham Hotel, was originally built by a Civil War veteran, General Wentworth in 1906. Designed by Charles Frederick Whittlesey in the Spanish Mission Revival-style, and redesigned in 1914 by Myron Hunt for its new owner, Henry Huntington.
Hunt and his partner Elmer Grey, either together or separately, designed many of the exceptional landmarks of Pasadena including Huntington Library, the Rose Bowl, Cal Tech and the Pasadena Playhouse.
In 1913, the fabulous Colorado Street Bridge opened. It was designed and built in the Beaux Arts style by Kansas City, Missouri firm J.A.L. Waddell.
In 1927, Pasadena's Civic Center opened, including a beautiful library and a city hall designed by John Bakewell & Arthur Brown, who incorporated influences of early Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio.
Art Center opened in 1930 in Downtown Los Angeles. In 1965 it changed its name to Art Center College of Design and in 1976 it moved to its current location in Pasadena. What do you say about an institution, who most people still call "Art Center," that had Ansel Adams as a photography instuctor, is consistently rated as the #1 art school by DesignIngelligence and U.S. News & World Report and whose graduates give us such fun things as the Mazda Miata by heading automotive design for automakers like Ford, Volvo, Honda, Audi, Mitsubishi, GM and Mazda. It is the only design school to be awarded NGO status by the United Nations.
In the 1980s, the Public Art Program was launched, requiring the 1% of the building valuation of both new private development and municipal construction projects in the city is dedicated to public art.
. In 1974, art collector Norton Simon took over the struggling Pasadena Art Museum and today the Norton Simon Museum has over 18000 priceless objects including works by (and I only list my favorites here) Goya, Manet, Monet, Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Warhol, Frank Lloyd Wright's Japanese Woodblock collection, Gauguin, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, Rubens, Rembrant, Botticelli, Raphael and El Greco. I must confess that it was only by writing this article that I realized how much I am missing by not visiting there every day.
Other significant museums in Pasadena include The Pasadena Museum of History (established in 1924), Pacific Asian Museum (founded in 1971), the Kidspace Children’s Museum (established in 1979), and the Pasadena Museum of California Art (founded in 2002).
What makes me run from most cities is the absence of history in the architecture of the buildings and homes. In contrast, one of the things I like most about Pasadena is the marvelous blend of art and history in the architecture, design and care of construction of some of the most beautiful and classic homes in the country. I ride one of my bicycles whenever I can and cut through the many tree-lined neighborhoods to enjoy the sumptuous diversity of the homes and landscapes.
Charles and Henry Greene were fascinated by Japanese building techniques and combined this with the new craftsman philosophy and the influence of the rising art nouveau and art deco styles. While they built many of these craftsman homes which have been called the "ultimate bungalows," their crowning achievement is the Gamble House. Built in 1908 for a Proctor & Gamble heir, the house with its custom furniture and accents made with rich tropical woods is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of residential architecture in the United States.
The Huntington Library is one of the largest research libraries and perhaps the most beautiful library in the country. There are over two hundred acres of botanical gardens, seven million items, including rare books and manuscripts dating back as far as the 14th century. The archives are only open to qualified scholars and more than 1700 study there each year, including 20 Pulitzer Prize winners. The public exhibition hall gives a sampling of the collection, which includes the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and one of the four complete copies of the Gutenberg Bible on vellum in the world.
The crown jewels of the library's eighteenth century portrait collection are the Gainsborough "Blue Boy" and the Laurence "Pinkie." The Blue Boy subject was the son of a hardware merchant friend, Jonathan Buttall. Pinkie, Sarah Moulton, the aunt of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, would die one year later at the age of 12 but their paintings would become one of the most beloved pairings in history.
The vast grounds feature replicas of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. There is an Australian garden, subtropical garden, rose garden, jungle garden, palm garden, Japanese Zen garden, and a recent addition, the Chinese-themed Garden of Flowing Fragrance.
The Japanese garden's tea house was originally from Kyoto, Japan and was recently carefully dismantled and sent back to Kyoto for restoration by its master designers.
Frank Lloyd Wright's "La Miniatura" is perhaps his best example of Textile Block Building Architecture. In one afternoon of bike riding I took pictures of that home and several others in the neighborhood that demonstrate the incredible diversity and exceptional design of Pasadena's heritage.