Matt Hormann: The Darkest Night

May 4, 2016

Comparison-of-the-ruins-of-Chinatown-1885-2016_aaThe South Pasadena Public Library’s community room was packed. Chairs miraculously appeared a full fifteen minutes into the evening’s history lecture. Local residents, reflecting the area’s diverse ethnicity and cultural backgrounds, had gathered for Matt Hormann’s “The Darkest Night.”

It was a quiet room as Matt launched into his presentation, a lecture accompanied by slides. The topic: Pasadena’s Chinatown and the night it was burned to the ground.

Didn’t know Pasadena even had a Chinatown?

You’ve probably walked it several times or at least seen the entryway, easily recognizable by the throwback burger joint on the corner. Of course, Jake’s has now closed much to our chagrin, but Mills Place still bustles with the “newly evolved” Edwin Mills by Equator, a Burke Williams spa, and the Dog Bakery. Back in 1885, this current walking alley was a proper street and many Chinese immigrants resided and worked there, most importantly Yuen Kee who moved his laundry business from South Orange Grove Boulevard to Mills Street.

Now only around 400 folks called Pasadena home in the late 19th century, but the town was considered rather sophisticated and could boast a Wells Fargo branch, a public library, an ice skating rink, a three-story hotel, and a railroad connecting it to downtown Los Angeles. What was to happen on the evening of November 6, 1885 and over the course of the next 24 hours has been referred to as “Black Friday,” and it is shocking and alarmingly relevant considering the current political climate in America.

Read Matt’s fascinating article by visiting the Pasadena Weekly at


1884: Ward Block, which became Hotel Pasadena located at the southwest corner of Colorado Blvd. and Fair Oaks Ave.; right behind this building is Mills Alley; photo from Pasadena

1884: Ward Block building—which became Hotel Pasadena in 1885—located at the southwest corner of Colorado Blvd. and Fair Oaks Ave.; right behind this building is Mills Alley and Pasadena’s Chinatown; photo from Pasadena





Matt Hormann is a Pasadena-based freelance writer and historian who graduated from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and California State University. He has been writing about local history for the past seven years. During that span, his work has appeared in Pasadena Weekly, the Argonaut newspaper, WestwaysAmerican BungalowHometown Pasadena, and the Sierra Madre Historical Society Newsletter. His articles have focused on such topics as the real-life detective who tracked Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, the suffragist who went undercover to investigate a lynching in a Texas town, and the rise and fall of Pasadena’s most famous rock and roll venue.

Read Matt’s Hometown Pasadena history articles:
A Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name
Courage and Cowardice in San Marino
When South Pasadena Was for Whites Only
How a Former Hospital Became a Public Library
The Lost Airport of East Pasadena
The Lost Adult Theaters of Pasadena
The Night Jack Kerouac Spent in Arcadia
Courage and Cowardice in San Marino


Chinese workers picking grapes on a ranch in Altadena, circa 1885.

Chinese workers picking grapes on a ranch in Altadena, circa 1885.





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