Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Views of the Columbia Grammar School, established on the east side of Lake Avenue just south of Walnut Street in 1895. The school was one of two built to relieve the rapidly growing enrollments, but the new eight-room building was not ready for students in September as anticipated; it was Christmas vacation before classes were opened. By 1898 new rooms were added to help meet the need for additional facilities. One of the first kindergartens was established at Columbia School in 1901, and the following year a new kindergarten building was constructed on the school grounds. The school was discontinued at the end of the school year 1930-31 and the property was sold.
The building was demolished and the Farmer's Market complex was built on the site and today Ralphs market is located here. A shame again to lose such a beautiful building on Lake Avenue. Hopefully, the present non descript Ralphs building will be demolished and something worthy of this grand corner will take its place.
Corners should be respected in our city. The recent adoption of citywide design guidelines will make sure this will happen. Thanks, Moule and Polyzoides, and thanks to Stefanos, particularly.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


This photo shows the heaviest snow which has fallen in Pasadena in the 20th century, on January 11, 1949, when 6" fell on Lake Avenue and 12" higher up in the foothills. This picture was taken from the Santa Fe railroad track crossing between Maple and Curson, what is now in the middle of the 210 Freeway, looking north to Maple, with the original Lake Avenue Congregational Church sanctuary on the Northwest corner of Maple and Lake, with its steeple hidden in the low lying mist.
The Fox Market, a well known market on the Southwest corner of Maple and Lake is just across from the Lake Avenue Congregational Church. None of these buildings exist anymore due to the construction of the 210 Freeway.
Notice the historic street light fixtures which had a high mast in the middle to support the cross wires for the Pacific Electric Short Line overhead catenary above the track which was in the middle of Lake all the way up to Altadena, but were removed by this time.
The 210 Freeway divided Pasadena even more than the railroad tracks had before it. Now instead of being on the other side of the tracks, the rest of Pasadena is on the other side of the freeway, without the connection of the Pacific Electric trolleys or the lure of the mountains which at one time proved more irresistible to tourists than now. At least our mountains are not as congested with people as they once were and it's possible to wander the trails without seeing many hikers from out of the area and most everyone is local, especially during the week.
Will we ever see such a snow again? Will we ever have such main street architecture on Lake Avenue again? When we were planning the North Lake Avenue Gold Line Station, we had proposed the bridge where it's located to be more like the Rialto Bridge in Venice, with room for shops and businesses. The North Lake 210 Freeway Bridge was widened, but no provision for shops and businesses was built into the structure. Perhaps this will happen in the future. Could you imagine a flower shop, a newstand, a tobacco shop on this bridge? More unlikely things have happened. If we can imagine a great bridge like the Rialto in Venice, we can have one here, also.


This is the architectural model of the Union Bank Plaza under construction in 1965 on the westside of South Lake Avenue between Cordova and Del Mar, which was to eventually include an eight-story office tower, hotel medical complex, a pedestrian bridge over Cordova connecting to the next block to the north. Most of this was built as designed; it was known later as the Jacobs Engineering Complex for a very long time, being named after its major tenant, and Union Bank moved away in the 1990's. William L. Pereira and Associates were the architects of Union Bank Plaza and this photo is dated 6.13.65.

The building of this complex took out many single family homes in this block that had survived on South Lake into the 1960's, with a few still surviving even longer, such as the Craftsman home housing the Japanese owned " Lake Florist " just south of what was the Wells Fargo Bank Tower at Green and Lake and just north of what is now Smitty's Restaurant. " Port O' Call " high end gift shop, a Pasadena intstitution, was located in a large Craftsman home farther down on Lake directly across from Continental Burger. Both these homes have been demolished in the meantime to make room for new developments. One home which still remains is where the speakeasy style bar " Magnolia " is located, just south of the Mobil Station at San Pascual and Lake, sharing the space with Heller & Company coin dealer, a business which I have never seen open in the last twenty years. The front of the bungalow is covered over with retail box construction, but you can see the house from the area of the gas station or from inside " Magnolia " where a tree grows in front of the bar.

The one story 1960's modernistic bank building on the northwest corner of Cordova and Lake was demolished in the 1990's and the entire south end of the block is now covered with new development. Many notable 1960's buildings in the South Lake Shopping and Financial District have been threatened with demolition or significant alteration, erasing interesting architecture on this stretch of Lake Avenue.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Amazing how so many natural features of our landscape can be rendered invisible over time and pass from memory as generations live and die or move away. Waterways, streams, creeks, springs, lagoons, ponds, lakes were always a part of our natural landscape, even in the arid San Pascual Rancho. As the area became ever more settled, these water features were either depleted or in the way. Also, many water features appeared to be less permanent, since in the summer they may have withered away with seemingly little trace, but in winter and spring reappear with a vengance which sometime resulted in death and destruction of those who built too close or in the way of nature.

Lake Avenue's own water course, known as Woodbury Creek in the north and Wilson's Creek or Mill Creek in the south, has been known since the 1920's as the East Side Storm Drain. Beginning in the alluvial soil of the western edge of the Woodbury Ranch in Altadena and coursing down Santa Rosa, traveling through the Washington Park Arroyo, crossing from west to east of Lake Avenue at Orange Grove Boulevard, forming a lagoon behind Charles Francis Saunders' home and continuing south between Lake and Wilson, finally emerging from El Molino Canyon just north of the El Molino Viejo, flowing through the Old Mill, and finally filling Kewen Lake , also known as Wilson's Lake, the flowing stream of Lake Avenue still flows, now channelized in concrete as the East Side Storm Drain, but suffering the decapitation of its southward flow south of Maple by the intrusion of the Foothill Freeway ditch, a veritable Grand Canyon of the present age.

Hopefully, we can restore this scenic lost waterway for future generations of Pasadenans and its wildlife to enjoy. More unlikely things have happened. Woodbury ... Wilson's ... Mill Creek , the flow from the mountains to the lake. These are dreams of nature restored and appreciation of paradise lost, with hope for its rediscovery and reinstatement.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


All that's old is new again. Here is an introduction to the Pasadena-Altadena Regional Trolley System, a proposal which has been in the works for the last year and has been the recipient of some generous consultancy work, which we hope shows in the thoughtfulness of the proposal. The idea is to link the city by trolley going east from Old Pasadena on Green Street to PCC and then return traveling west on Union Street, than using the old Union Pacific Right of Way now on Caltrans property along the 210 Freeway outer edge and travel up behind Muir High School, travel east on Woodbury which has a median strip, travel north on Fair Oaks which is wide and fairly calm on this section, turn east on Mariposa, which is wide and calm, turning south on Lake Avenue going south to connect with the Union Green Street loop in the City Center.

This will link the greater city with historic trolleys as seen by the large San Francisco loop from the Presidio to Fisherman’s Wharf to the Market District presently in service. In conjunction with the Pasadena Arts Bus System, this would give a world class city, Pasadena, world class public transportation. The City of Pasadena does well with national and international tourism around the New Year’s Holiday; let us embark on a bold step to continue this green revenue stream of tourism the entire year, as was once the case in Pasadena’s proud history.

By making Pasadena a world class all year tourist destination, expanding our number of museums (the proposed JPL/NASA Space and Aeronautics Museum and the proposed Museum of the New World, for example) and other touristic venues and events (Pasadena as a possible venue for an upcoming World Fair and/or Olympic Games), it will allow us to truly make the City of Pasadena the center of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Science, and Natural Wonders of the West, truly the Athens of the West as envisioned by our City Father George Ellery Hale.

Downtown Los Angeles is planning the same idea as seen in the LA Times July 31, 2009. Street trolley gaining steam in downtown Los Angeles
11:40 AM July 31, 2009
Transportation planners are considering three different routes for a proposed street trolley that would run through downtown Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Street Car Inc. has been working with city officials and downtown property owners on the trolley concept, which is designed to connect the sprawling city center. It comes as officials are working on a plan to revive the movie palaces along Broadway, which is where the streetcar would run. Here are the proposed routes:
-- Option 1: The streetcar would run from Bunker Hill to the South Park area, running by Disney Hall and the Music Center, then on Broadway and Hill Street. It would then veer west on Pico Boulevard to Figueroa Street, hitting the Convention Center, Staples Center and L.A. Live.
-- Option 2: This route is somewhat shorter, with a smaller run along Figueroa.
-- Option 3: This route would not go as far south, ending at 11th Street.
Downtown boosters have hailed the trolley system as a way of getting visitors and workers around within the area.
The trolley would be the centerpiece of an effort to turn Broadway into the theater and dining district. Government officials and private developers have earmarked nearly $40 million, hoping to pull the gentrification that has swept much of downtown into the district's main commercial area. They envision many of the movie facades giving way to a live theater district forming on the street, with a trolley car system running down its center.
-- Shelby Grad

Be sure to click on the different routes link in the above to see what LA is planning.

The interurban railway of the Pacific Electric Company brought the "Big Red Cars'' to North Lake Avenue in 1902, in which crowds of hikers would arrive early on Saturday morning bound for the local canyons to the north. Come Sunday evening the reverse migration would occur. At its peak in the year 1921, when 160,930 passengers were carried, Mt. Lowe cars operated from Pasadena to Altadena via North Fair Oaks, Mariposa, and North Lake including via North Lake from Colorado Boulevard. Another nearby local tourist destination was the home and gardens of noted local botanist and Southern California Missions booster Charles Francis Saunders, located at 580 North Lake Avenue, located just south of Orange Grove Boulevard, which was visited by many traveling on the Pacific Electric cars going up and down to the mountains.
The hiking era came to a close soon after the Angeles Crest Highway was opened in 1936 and the automobile began to dominate people's lives. Roads were driven into the San Gabriel Mountains and few people ventured more than a few hundred yards from their automobiles. The number of visitors today is probably a few percent of the number who came in 1921.The North Lake Pacific Electric Line was extremely busy until shortly before its abandonment in 1941. The businesses saw their fortunes decline after the closing of the Mount Lowe tourist attraction in 1936, the opening of Angeles Crest Highway into the mountains also in 1936, the ending of trolley traffic in 1941, the onset of World War II and the general availability of automobiles and cheap gasoline for the common man. We hope the trolley on Lake Avenue can be put back in order to bring the tourist trade life blood we have been missing since 1936.