What It Is: A 22.5-mile city ten miles northwest of downtown L.A.
Sister Cities: Mishima, Japan; Beijing, China; Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany; Vanadzor, Armenia; and Jarvenpaa, Finland
Ethnic Diversity: 53.4% Caucasian, 14.4% African-American, 10% and 17% other ethnicities; within those groupings, 33% are Hispanic (don’t ask—the U.S Census follows its own bizarre logic)
Median Household Income: $46,012
Led by brothers-in-law Dr. Thomas Balch Elliott and Daniel Berry, Pasadena’s first American settlers were some 100 Indiana families fleeing the Midwest’s nasty winters. Called the Indiana Colony, they bought a 4,000-acre hunk of the San Pasqual Ranch and began building a town and wooing newcomers. The early arrivals were conservative Christian folk, who in 1886 incorporated the city mostly so they could outlaw the sale of alcohol.
“Pasadena” is a Chippewa word for “valley,” although it was interpreted to mean “Crown of the Valley”—hence the nickname “The Crown City.” (It’s sometimes also referred to as “The Rose City,” thanks to a certain parade and football stadium.)
The new city became a wintertime haven for wealthy Eastern industrialists, and its arts, schools, churches, gardens and architecture thrived. The Valley Hunt Club, founded by fox hunters, began the Rose Parade as a booster activity in 1890; Throop Polytechnic Institute (later Caltech) was founded in 1891; resort hotels and health sanitariums in the San Gabriel Mountains and foothills thrived; and the Rose Bowl came along in 1922, replacing a dump in the Arroyo Seco, the ancient river canyon that runs through Pasadena’s west side.
In 1970, Pasadena won national fame for something other than the Rose Parade: It was the first non-Southern city ordered by the feds to desegregate its schools. The decade that followed was one of bitter battles within the community, and the effects are still felt today—including the fact that nearly a third of Pasadena’s children attend private schools, the highest percentage in the nation.
Then & Now
Pasadena lost its once-glamorous resort luster during the Depression and gradually morphed into a city known for its scientific and technical businesses and education, its high society, its do-gooderism and its handsome neighborhoods. With the 1940 opening of the west’s first freeway, the Arroyo Seco Parkway (later renamed the Pasadena Freeway, with an attempt in the words to change its name back), it also became home to many L.A commuters. The city’s last renaissance began in the mid-’80s with the restoration of once-squalid Old Pasadena, now a glossy outdoor mall. Pasadena has boomed in the last decade, with offices, condos, apartments and the Gold Line light-rail train all being built. (It takes a lot longer to drive across town, but, boy, have our property values soared…)
Library: Pasadena Central Library, a grand and lovely 1927 Mediterranean-style building; don’t miss the Peter Pan fireplace, created by Pasadena artist Maud Daggett in the ’20s
Park: Lower Arroyo Seco, home to a casting pond, archery range and miles of trails
Dog Park: Alice Frost Kennedy Off-Leash Dog Area in Eaton Wash Park, on Orange Grove just west of Sierra Madre Villa.
Farmer’s Markets: Victory Park, on Sierra Madre Villa, Saturdays 8:30 a.m-12:30 p.m; and Villa Park, Villa Street at Garfield, Tuesday from 8:30 a.m-12:30 p.m; pasadenafarmersmarket.org
Arts Organization: Pasadena Art Alliance, a venerable group that combines blue-blood credentials with a cutting-edge sensibility
Parade: Gee, does Pasadena have a parade?
Radio Station: KPCC, 89.3 FM, a National Public Radio station
Newspaper: Pasadena Star-News and Pasadena Weekly
Hospital: Huntington Hospital, with complete ER, 626.397.5000
Web Sites: pasadenacal.com; cityofpasadena.com
Don’t Be a Lawbreaker!
Noah, you’d better find another place for the ark!
No person shall keep or maintain any hog or hogs within the city of Pasadena.
Other ordinances forbid feeding pigeons, letting pet monkeys run free within city limits, and low-altitude formation flying before sunset.
What She/He Said
“Suburbs, developments and intersections, and here we are in Pasadena. Softly sloping avenues loll between orange trees and thickset palms.”
- Simone de Beauvoir
“Come to think of it, Pasadena’s as good a place to die as any.”
- from the 1993 film The Player, directed by Robert Altman
“I once witnessed more ardent emotions between men at an Elks’ Rally in Pasadena than they could ever have felt for the type of woman available to an Elk.”
- Anita Loos
“In addition to everything, you have those mountains.”
- Doris Lessing
Vroman’s Bookstore; Jones Coffee; Old Town for teens and young adults; the excellent Senior Center for the over-65ers; Arroyo Chop House for the power people; and Tournament and Singer parks for the under-8 set.
The Smart Set
Since its early days, Pasadena has been a haven for education, science, the arts and intellectual pursuits. Today it is home to the following institutions of higher learning:
Art Center College of Design, famed for its automotive-design program but also highly regarded for its photography, graphic design and product design programs
Caltech, a world-renowned center for undergrads, graduate students and researchers in science, math and engineering
Fuller Theological Seminary, a Christian graduate school for future ministers, therapists, psychologists and theologians
Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, for aspiring chefs and restaurateurs
Occidental College, an excellent liberal-arts college (okay, it’s really next door in Eagle Rock)
Pacific Oaks College, a nationally known college for teachers and counselors
Pasadena City College, a highly rated community college offering AA degrees and continuing and vocational education
Born in Pasadena
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
John Singleton graduated from Blair High School
Eddie & Alex Van Halen were born in Holland but raised in Pasadena
The Human Betterment Foundation (HBF), which advocated eugenics—the compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill and mentally retarded—was founded in Pasadena in 1928 by citrus magnate Ezra Seymour Gosney. Inspired by the eugenics program practiced in Nazi Germany, the HBF boasted such luminaries as the president of Caltech and the chancellor of Stanford as members.