Signs of the Times

May 16, 2011

It’s an increasingly rare sight in Pasadena: signs remaining for businesses that have long since gone. In this feature, we take a look at several that have endured and the stories behind them.

1. Crown City Bank – 1176 E. Colorado Boulevard

This tile mosaic dates from 1906, when the small Crown City Bank opened at this location. The Crown City Bank was short-lived, however. In 1907, J.B. Coulston, president of the Colton and Covina National Banks, purchased it, and consolidated it with the National Bank of Pasadena, creating the Crown City Trust and Savings Bank, and moving the its headquarters to the corner of Marengo and Colorado. The original building became a secondary suburban branch, then closing in 1909 or 1910.

Over the ensuing decades, the building became home to a diverse assortment of businesses, including the Crown City Motor Sales Company, the Pasadena Glass and Mirror Company, the Southern California Refrigeration Company, Johndrow’s Fine Slacks, and the Pasadena Coin Company. Astonishingly, the mosaic remained intact through all these changes, and is now a quaint reminder of Pasadena’s early years.

2. Horton & Converse – 937 E. Green Street

Southern California pharmacy chain Horton & Converse had several Pasadena locations over the years, including this one, dating from about 1952, which offered 24-hour service. Eventually, the Pasadena-based pharmacy Brown & Welin acquired the store, but the sign stayed on.

3. The Owl Drug Company – 3 W. Colorado Boulevard

It’s a bit of a surprise to cross the threshold of swanky J. Crew at the corner of Fair Oaks and Colorado and see this chipped mosaic on the entrance floor. Probably preserved in an attempt to keep Old Town feeling “old,” the sign dates from 1916, when the San Francisco-based Owl Drug Company, once a national chain, opened its first Pasadena store—a combination soda fountain and pharmacy.

Owl Drug was known for its delicious soda fountain offerings, including milkshakes, Hawaiian pineapple, and olives grown in Sylmar. Its pill bottles—highly prized today among collectors—came in a variety of colors, and each featured a distinctive owl design on its surface.

Rexall, another national chain, purchased Owl Drug in the 1940s, and the Old Town location became the Rexall Owl Drug Company, before becoming the City Drug Company in the 1950s. A short-lived eatery called the Bowery moved in afterward, followed by another called the Family Bar B-Q Pit. From 1966 until 1989, Carodin’s Wardrobe, a used clothing shop, stood on the spot, before J. Crew opened in the 1990s.

4. Clune’s Pasadena Theatre – 61 W. Colorado Boulevard

One of Pasadena’s first movie and vaudeville theaters, Clune’s opened in 1911 and operated for about ten years before it was purchased by the Fox Theatres. In addition to showing silent films of the day like The Runaway Leopard, which the Pasadena Star called “one of the most laughable pictures ever produced,” Clune’s also booked an impressive array of performers and speakers that included composer John Philip Sousa and his orchestra, Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, and English suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst.

The theater attracted controversy in 1915 when it exhibited D.W. Griffith’s polarizing film, The Birth of a Nation—then titled The Clansman. The Pasadena Negro Taxpayers and Voters’ Association lodged a complaint with the city board of censorship, fearing the film would incite racial violence. As a result, two of the more incendiary scenes from the film were cut for its nine-week run at the theater. Despite its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, the Pasadena Star proclaimed it “the greatest film in the world in point of heart interest, dramatic detail and historic fidelity in those scenes picked from the pages of history.”

In the 1920s, Fox Theatres purchased Clune’s and changed its name to the Fox Pasadena Theatre, which it continued to operate until the early 1950s. Later, the building became a thrift store for the Pasadena Salvation Army, and today comprises Crate & Barrel, the Gap, and Sushi Roku; but on the northern and eastern walls of the building, the signs for Clune’s remain.

4 Responses for “Signs of the Times”

  1. Great piece. I love this stuff. Thanks.

  2. Bellis says:

    Me too. I’m going to go looking for these signs. I found a “ghost sign” that I’d never noticed before, on a wall behind Salutations, a store on Granite Drive off South Lake. Would love to know what happened to the company, which sold antiques.

  3. […] of Pasadena’s former movie houses. Where did they go? And what were they like? As we did in our signs feature, we take a look at a few whose traces still remain, and some of the stories behind these […]

  4. Gospodean says:

    Holy cow, I’m from Pasadena and I never noticed the Clune sign! William Clune was a theater owner that ran several theaters in downtown L.A., and, as stated above, ran into some hot water exhibiting “Birth of a Nation.” As controversial as it was, it was also hugely profitable, and Clune opened a film developing lab and silent film studio in Hollywood on the corner of Melrose and Bronson, now the home of Raleigh Studios. The facilities at Raleigh make it the oldest continuously operating film studio in Hollywood, and it was all thanks to William Clune.



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