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Even More Ghost Signs of Pasadena

Aug 13, 2014
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A weathered sign for “Eddie Motorworks,” 55 Waverly Drive. (Photo by Zenia Pollard)

In Pasadena, faded signs serve as emblems of the past. You see them on buildings, sidewalks, and rooftops—the enigmatic reminders of a time gone by. They may consist of a disembodied sentence fragment, a single word, or even a few mysterious letters. Standing in dissonant contrast to their surroundings, they add to the quirk and character of Pasadena’s urban landscape, providing rich material for the historical detective, the urban archeologist, and the everyday pedestrian.

This week we unearth the stories behind a few more of these faint imprints of bygone days…

“POTTS” – 37 E. Union Street

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Tile threshold at 35 E. Union Street, circa 1910s-’20s. (Photo by Zenia Pollard.)

Our sign-hunting begins in Old Town, on the threshold of 35 E. Union Street. Today it’s occupied by law firm Connon-Wood-Scheidemantle, but from 1910 to 1927, it was home to Potts Business College, a venture founded by Pasadenan M.G. Potts in 1908.

In 1917, Pasadena, California, Historical and Personal described Potts Business College as “a desirable and successful school of business training for boys and girls, located on Union Street and filling a much appreciated place in the community. More than one hundred pupils are here found busily engaged in preparing themselves for the fortunes of life and of the business that may be in store for them.” Rather atypically for a business school, Potts College also had its own small baseball team.

Little information is available on M.G. Potts, the president, except that he was also secretary and treasurer of the Property Owners Division of the Pasadena Realty Board, and had his hand in a number of other businesses, including a second Potts Business College in Redlands.

After the school shut down or moved away, the Pasadena Horticultural Society took up residence at the same address in the 1930s, followed by the Eagles Hall in the 1940s, and a Latino nightclub in the 1950s. Later tenants included an architectural firm in the 1990s, and Garza Group Communications in the early 2000s. Remarkably, through all these changes, this beautiful tile entrance sign remained.

(A 1915 view of Pasadena’s first city hall shows Potts Business College at bottom right.)

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1906 concrete road marker – 1320 E. Colorado Blvd.

Concrete Pylon Road Marker – 1320 E. Colorado Boulevard

On a grass strip in front of a McDonald’s, this concrete pylon stands like an ancient stone tablet, with the cryptic inscription: “II 220/222 F.B.” Erected when Colorado Boulevard was still a dirt road, the concrete slab is a milestone, literally and figuratively, in Southern California’s automotive history. Before metal highway signs became the norm, it was placed here as part of a road improvement project by the Highway Commission of Los Angeles County in 1906.

The California Historical Resources Inventory Database shares some interesting details on the pylon’s historical significance, and what the letters and numbers actually mean:

“Chiseled lettering denotes the miles to the old Los Angeles County Courthouse (demolished) in downtown Los Angeles (‘11’ miles, in circle), the block numbers assigned under the County road-marking system (blocks ‘220/222’), and the initials of the rout name (‘F.B.’, Foothill Boulevard). The ‘Foothill Boulevard’ road left the Los Angeles city limits in South Pasadena, traveled north to Pasadena along Orange Grove Boulevard to Colorado Boulevard, and then eastward through Arcadia, Monrovia and Azusa to Claremont.

In 1994, the milestone was displaced by a new driveway to accommodate adjacent commercial development. To preserve the milestone, it was relocated approximately twenty-five feet east within the grass parkway strip to its present location. The milestone is at the same depth below grade, tilt and distance from the curb as with the original siting.

This concrete pylon is the oldest road marker in the City. This marker sat in front of the J. R. Giddings house which was built in 1893. {…] The Giddings family was among the earliest settlers of the Lake Vineyard Tract, arriving in Pasadena in 1874.” (California Historical Resources Inventory Database)

Of further interest is the fact that two other such markers once stood in Pasadena, one at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Grand Oaks Avenue; the other at the corner of S. Orange Grove Boulevard and Bellefontaine Street.

“Foothill Motors” – 1320 E. Colorado Boulevard

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A sign dating from the 1970s or ’80s.

Near the road marker, in the McDonald’s parking lot, another automotive mystery sign is still emblazoned across a cinderblock wall in fading paint, dating from the 1970s or ’80s. Foothill Motors, a Lincoln Mercury dealership, once occupied this space—and the PCC parking lot across the street, for roughly forty years.

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A 1950s automobile proudly displays its Foothill Motors license frame.


“Foothill Motors, Pasadena Lincoln-Mercury dealers, held [an] open house yesterday, celebrating the formal opening of their new sales and service headquarters at 1339 E. Green St,” wrote the Los Angeles Times on September 7, 1947.

Business boomed during Southern California’s golden era of car culture and remained steady in the ensuing decades. Eventually, Foothill Motors became “Pasadena Lincoln Mercury” before closing sometime in the late 1980s.

“Maryland Hotel” – N. Euclid Avenue between Ramona and Walnut

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Faded sign for the Maryland Hotel, North Euclid Avenue. (Photo by Zenia Pollard.)

The hotel is gone; the sign remains—just barely. Passing by on foot, one would have to look very carefully to spot this hand-painted vestige of one of Pasadena’s finest hotels, the Maryland, which opened in 1903 and closed in 1937.

The hotel itself occupied the spot where the Westin Pasadena now stands, extending south all the way to Colorado Boulevard (while skirting All Saints Episcopal Church), and comprising a total of nine separate buildings. One of these, at the corner of Union and Euclid, still stands today as the Maryland Hotel apartments.

1911 advertising supplement in the The Pacific Monthly gives an idea of what the Maryland Hotel grounds were like:

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1910 Sanborn map of the Maryland Hotel. (Accessed through Pasadena Public Library.)

“In the beautiful gardens north of the great main building, and connected by the canvas-covered winding walks with the main lobby of the hotel, are twenty-odd bungalows and cottages, each with its own private yard. […] Some of these are quite pretentious, having a dozen rooms or more, while others are but vine-clad bungalettes. All are furnished richly. Each suite has its private bath, and the entire little colony is connected directly with the main heating and power plant, and has every convenience and facility of the hotel proper. Those desiring it may even have their meals served at their private board in cottage or bungalow, directly from the hotel kitchen, charcoal ovens being used to keep the proper dishes hot in transit. These cottages are in great request throughout the Winter. […]  The main building, of course, contains the hotel offices and the great lobby, with its easy chairs, its individual escritoires, its cozy and secluded nooks where guests indulge in bridge, reading or private conversation. The arcade of plate-glass windows makes it in reality a vast sun parlor. Immediately off the lobby on the west is the famous dining salon, which seats a thousand guests and overlooks the splendid double tennis courts on which the national stars contend each Winter for the honors of the racquet. Directly off the lobby on the north is the grand new ball-room, where the annual Charity Ball and the informal weekly hops are held. A spacious stage accommodates the orchestra and affords a point of vantage for all who do not dance. On occasion theatrical performances are presented on the stage. The north exposure of the ball—room is almost entirely of plate glass, which frames a prospect of subtropical gardens in all the festal garb of blossom and illumination. On the south and west are broad verandas and, screening the tennis courts, is a beautiful pergola, at all times a favorite retreat. The major portion of the hotel suites are in the vine-clad east wing of the house which extends in diminishing perspective several hundred feet along beautiful Los Robles street; though on the upper floors the guest rooms embrace the whole of the great irregular structure. Each and every room looks out upon a lovely view, for no window in the Maryland frames any scene but one of beauty.” – Pacific Monthly, Volume 26, 1911

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A closer view of the sign. (Photo by Zenia Pollard.)

Presidents William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson were all said to have stayed the hotel, along with various governors and statesmen. Perhaps the most interesting visitors, however, were the women of the Hughes campaign train in 1916. That year, Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes, a former New York governor, was challenging incumbent Woodrow Wilson for the presidency. Hughes (in contrast to today’s Republicans), ran on a progressive platform, which included immediate suffrage for women, and expanded rights for African-Americans and other minorities. To help his cause, he enlisted a team of female suffragists and feminists (as well as a few men) to board a cross-country train and give speaking engagements. The women were known as “Hughesettes.”

In October 1916, the train arrived in Los Angeles to great fanfare. At the Maryland Hotel, one of Hughes’s speakers, Mrs. Raymond Robins, “told of the many bills for the laboring people passed during Governor Hughes’ term of office, of his fight for the first workman’s compensation measure ever adopted and of the other labor measures he has espoused,” according to the Pasadena Star-News. Interested men and women packed the hotel that day and flocked to other Hughes rallies nationwide, but although Hughes garnered 46% of the vote, he eventually lost to President Wilson.

The Maryland Hotel closed in 1937, and was sold to Broadway department stores in 1946, and soon after demolished. Today, the hotel’s sign, so faint as to be barely visible, remarkably still remains.

(This 1995 shot is clearer.)

“SLAVIN” – 14 N. Fair Oaks Avenue

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Tile threshold for the Slavin Building, corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Colorado Blvd. (Photo by Zenia Pollard.)

Like the Potts Business College sign, there’s something charming and almost deliberately opaque about this tile threshold that leads into this six-story office building at the corner of Fair Oaks and Colorado. It doesn’t say who or what “Slavin” was—just the name.

To the uninitiated, it remains mysterious–but longtime Pasadena residents know this structure as the “Slavin Building,” named for the man who built it, Matthew Slavin, a New York-born builder and contractor who settled in Pasadena in 1887. He was known for building an annex to the Hotel Green in 1903, Pasadena’s original Masonic temple, and the Potter Hotel in Santa Barbara.

In 1904, Slavin put up the cash for this particular building, and hired noted architect Frederick Roehrig to design it. The sign most likely dates from this time, having been done in a style typical of the period.

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Slavin Building, 14 N. Fair Oaks Avenue, 1935. (Pasadena Digital History Collaboration.)

“Slavin” isn’t a household name, despite the fact that Matthew Slavin was also a Pasadena city councilman in the city’s early days. This may be because, as Sid Gally of the Pasadena Star-News put it in a 2013 article on Slavin, “Pasadena’s architects are quite well known, but the same can’t be said for builders and contractors.”

Nevertheless, when Slavin died in 1915 the Pasadena Daily News wrote that “scores of sorrowing friends” attended his funeral.

(As an interesting side note, Matthew Slavin had a lavish two-story house on North Marengo Avenue. Today, the house is gone–replaced with drab apartments, but two stone “ghost columns” from the property still remain.)

 

 

 

 

 




1 Response for “Even More Ghost Signs of Pasadena”

  1. I’m going to have to make a pilgrimage to some of these signs. Thanks so much.

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