Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Here we have another Pasadena official landmark on North Lake Avenue, the French gothic style inspired Westminster Presbyterian Church designed by famed Pasadena architect Sylvanus Marston in 1925 as he was part of the Marston, Van Pelt and Maybury architectural firm which existed from 1922 to 1927, after Marston spent time in France during World War I, where he received inspiration from the French cathedrals. This is surely the most French European of cathedrals in Pasadena and it has a grand rose window on its south side, a sublime interior and a magnificent tower which can be seen for miles around. One could feel almost like being in Paris' Notre Dame during the Christmas Eve candlelight service in this wonderful treasure of a space.

This building has been used for filming a number of times including 1953 big screen version of the War of the Worlds where the church is seen silhouetted with Martian multi-colored blasts behind it. It was recently used for the 2008 Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie where it stood in for a German Catholic cathedral with its roof bombed and missing courtesy of CGI.

Truly a structure of magnificence on Lake Avenue. The photo is from 1939. With the undergrounding of the utilities on Lake Avenue we have very much enhanced the beauty of the street from that aspect. This gives us hope for the future that we might still be able to make major aestethic improvements to our boulevard. The ornamental streetlights are the same on this stretch from Woodbury to Howard that have been here since the 1920's. Someone thought it wise to remove the remaining ornamental light posts from Howard to the city center and replace them with much inferior light standards during the 1970's. We were lucky to replace the ornamental light standards once more from Howard to the 210 bridge in recent times, albeit they are just single headed rather than double headed.
More to come on the towers of Lake Avenue


  1. Fantastic old photo. You find the best stuff. Do you have your own collection?

    I've never been inside this church. I wonder if they let outsiders wander in and take photos. I'll have to give it a try one of these days.

  2. Hi Petrea,

    The photos come from many sources, including photos I take and ones from my historical collection including old pamphlets and brochures. I've found a lot of resources from public online catalogs; more are being put online everyday. This is an amazing time to live and many times I feel like I was blind and now I can see, the past comes alive.

    Some of the photos I've digitized from Planning Dept. Archives which has a lot of material, such as historic survey resource photographic slides which no one ever looks at. When I was on the Pasadena Historic Preservation Commission I had an opportunity to thoroughly search Planning's archives and I have a very good idea where things are which most people wouldn't know exist.

    I have so much material in my own archive which needs to be scanned and made available, as well, from the 1880's to the 1960's.

    Even though there is so much material out there, much of it is misidentified and it takes experience and multiple sources to figure out what I'm really looking at. I use the City Directories from the 1880's on to identify businesses and who lived where and when. The most complete set of those are found in the Central Library in the Centennial Room. Also, in the Centennial Room are the Biography Files where someone for years has copied articles out of the local papers about individuals and pasted them into looseleaf binders. There is an amazing amount of information in these Biography Files to digest from the beginnings of Pasadena to present times.

    I don't think most peoply are aware that before everyone had a driver's license and a social security card for identification, it was possible for a local merchant, bank or other person to look up a person asking for credit or wanting to cash a check by going to the latest City Directory. If you were listed in the City Directory with your name, residence address, telephone and occupation, you were probably a good risk. These City Directories were published for years, at least into the 1970's, and were also used for finding businesses and also for advertising,from bakeries to funeral homes, similar to the Yellow Pages of today. In these City Directories there are fascinating advertisements of long ago often complete with an illustration or photograph of a long gone building location.

    As to your question about Westminster Presbyterian Church letting visitors come in and take a look at the magnificent interior, I think that would not be a problem. Most often I see it open for weddings, but I wouldn't be suprised if it was open during the week as many other Pasadena churches are. The interior is definitely worth a visit, particularly with the sun setting in the East to illuminate the beautiful rose window on the south.

  3. There's so much, isn't there? If only I didn't have to make a living, I could spend day after day at the library, or the PMH archives, or the Altadena historical society, etc. etc. etc., just poring through and piecing it together and enjoying every minute of it. I don't know why this place, of all places, has caught my fascination, but it has.

    I'll wander into the church soon with my camera and see what I can see. Both churches.

  4. I don't think you are the only one who has had their fascination caught with this place. Some very famous and creative characters have been charmed by the area and were responsible for what we see now.

    In the field of tourism there was Professor Lowe, in the field of science there was George Ellery Hale and in the field of art collecting there was Henry Huntington, just to name a few. We had the most visited tourist attraction in the United States at Mt. Lowe from 1893 to 1936, we had the largest telescope in the world from 1908 to 1947 (when the larger Mt. Palomar opened)on Mt. Wilson thanks to Dr. Hale and we have the preeminent British portraiture collection in the world outside of the Tate Gallery in London thanks to Mr. Huntington. What will the future bring?

    When I rode my bicycle over the Colorado Street Bridge into Pasadena from Burbank as a kid in about 1963, I discovered a City Hall and a city which I couldn't believe existed. It was like I had discovered the City of Oz. George Ellery Hale is responsible for so much of this, as he is the one who convinced the city fathers to build such a beautiful civic center and convinced Throop Polytechnic School to become the California Institute of Technology.

    From my front porch I can see Mt. Lowe and Echo Mountain, and I'm reminded we are responsible for continuing this wonderful legacy.

  5. Maybe we'll become known as the preeminent blog community of the early 21st century.

    Mayor Bogaard called Pasadena "the Paris of the Pacific." Though it's a bit hyperbolic he had the right idea. There's a tough of the European love of art and architecture here that you don't find in so many other places.

  6. Another great one, TA! Comments as well. That church just feels like it owns N. Lake, and just grows on you as you approach it.
    What's the copyright protection for photos outside your own collection?

  7. Yes, it's wonderful we can share information. I think this is the best part of the 21st century.

    Pasadena has been called the "Athens of the West" in the past, and deservedly so, for its superlatives in the arts, tourism, culture and science. I like to think the Mt. Wilson Observatory is our Acropolis and we look up to it everyday, in my case for inspiration.

    Interestingly, George Ellery Hale, who some think of as the "Father of Pasadena", considered himself the "Solar Priest" (his home, the "Hale Solar Laboratory" at 740 Holladay Drive near Caltech is a National Historic Landmark) and his astronomers as members of the "priestly society." The living quarters for the astronomers on Mt. Wilson is known as the "Monastery" and Dr. Hale held ceremonies there.

    So in a very real sense Pasadena is a spiritual place, not only in the traditional sense of being home to so many churches, but also being home to the many scientific institutions and even the Theosophical Society Library on North Lake Avenue in Altadena and also the Theosophical Society Mother House at 643 E. Mariposa Street in Altadena. If you haven't had a chance to visit the Theosophical Society Library at 2416 N. Lake Avenue, you'll be amazed what rare books they have on the most esoteric subjects. The Theosophical Society has an interesting history and their "International Headquarters" on Mariposa looks very mysterious.

    As to copyright protection, I don't use any pictures or documents which are not in the public domain.

  8. Is the Hale home on Holladay privately owned? I wonder if they ever give tours. I've seen photos of the interior but would love to visit.

    I've been at the Theosophical Society library (featured it once on Pasadena Daily Photo) but haven't delved deep into the collection. And of course I've never been on the grounds of their HQ. Big "Private Property" sign.

  9. Interestingly enough, the Hale Solar Laboratory is owned privately by our own Stefanos Polyzoides and his wife Elizabeth Moule and is not open to the public since it is their home. Perhaps someday Hale's home will be on a tour or Stefanos will have a party. Stefanos is the preeminent architect in Pasadena and one of the founders of the Congress for New Urbanism. His firm just wrote the new Planning Department's Design Guidelines for the City of Pasadena. I like to think he is the reincarnation of the soul of George Ellery Hale, especially since he bought Hale's house, and there is that connection of his Stefanos' Greek heritage and Pasadena, the "Athens of the West." So many coincidences if one wishes to consider them.

    And Theosophical Society's mother house seems to have been the inspiration for Anne Rice's Talamasca, the secret society set up to watch over to keep watch over the paranormal. So if they are busy on Mariposa keeping us safe from witches, spirits, werewolves and vampires, plus contemplating the nature of the spirit of mankind, they must not be disturbed. I always peer through the fence at night and wonder what they are up to.

    At the Theosophical Society Library, right after the movie "Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997)" came out, we went there to find out what Arthur Conan Doyle had actually written on the incident which happened in 1917 where two little girls took photos of fairies in their garden.

  10. I'll most certainly give Moule & Polyzoides the respect and privacy they deserve. As for the girls and the fairies, I've seen those photos. You may call me a skeptic. But I'm happy to have the Theosophists in town. Long may they be free to have privacy and respect as well.

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