Wednesday, June 13, 2012

John Weidner Building/Harvest House/1925 Five Bay Lombardic Revival Style Commercial Building”, 1376/1380/1386 North Lake Avenue, Landmark Designation From June 2008

                                                                 Photo from circa 1978
                                                                Photo from 2008
Sid Gally's recent comments about Larry's Ice Cream bring up John Weidner, Pasadena's "Oskar Schindler" WWII hero, and owner of the "Harvest House" health food store at 1380 North Lake Avenue, and one time employer of Sirhan Sirhan, a Howard Street resident.  The following is more information on the Pasadena local landmark "Weidner Building" and its namesake John Weidner who was an underground Dutch agent during WWII and rescued more than 800 Jews and more than 100 Allied Airmen:

World War II hero John Weidner had his health food business located in this structure and he also employed local Pasadena resident Sirhan Sirhan at this location (The Sirhan family still lives in a neat bungalow on Howard Street not far from the Weidner Building).

Businesses have prospered in this structure and it has also been the subject of television and film locations, as in the 1988 Dobie Gillis Reunion Movie, in which John Weidner’s Harvest House Health Foods was used as the neighborhood grocery store owned and operated by the grown and married Dobie Gillis, as he had become a neighborhood grocery store owner just as his television show father had been in the “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” several decades before.

From the LA Times, June 23, 1957


June 23, 1957


John, 42, runs a health food store on North Lake Street in Pasadena and lives at 861 Elizabeth St., The Times says in a feature story. Born in Holland, he is like many Europeans who came to America after World War II. "I love it here," he says. "You have a spirit of freedom and liberty which is lost in Europe."

But the man behind the counter at the health food store is different from most Americans in several ways: He's a Seventh-day Adventist. He's a member of the Order of the British Empire. He holds the French Croix de Guerre, the U.S. Medal of Freedom and the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau.

His name is John Henry Weidner and for his heroism in saving more than 1,000 people from the Nazis, he will eventually be honored by Israel as one of the Righteous Among Nations. John's life makes for quite a story. His father, a Dutch Reformed minister, and sister died in concentration camps and John was tortured by the Gestapo, escaping from the Nazis five times.

But what interests us about him now is something other than his actions during the war.

Let's jump ahead 10 years. One of his regular customers, a woman named Mary, will ask John to hire her son as a stocker and delivery boy. He's a troubled young man and like John, a refugee--an Arab Christian from Jerusalem who is having a hard time fitting into American society. He's had a few odd jobs, but nothing has worked out. Since he's a small man, he even tried being a jockey at Santa Anita, but ended up filing a disability claim because he suffered a head injury when he was thrown by a horse.

Mary, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, had taken her son to St. Nicholas, the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral, in Los Angeles; First Nazarene of Pasadena; and finally First Baptist Church of Pasadena, where she enrolled her son in Sunday school and a group for teenagers. The Baptists sponsored Mary's older sons for entry into the U.S. But the young man didn't like the Pasadena Baptist church, saying that the other teenagers were too frivolous in a place intended for reading the Bible and praying.

John will hire the young man and discover that he is bright, pleasant and witty, eager to please and so honest that John will trust him to handle some of the store's banking. The only problem is that the young man is extremely sensitive to anything that seems like criticism.

"He had a lot of pride, a lot of arrogance," John's wife, Naomi, will say. "We were always careful how we gave him an order. If you gave him an order he didn't like he became very resentful."

Still, John will reach out to the young man whenever he has a spare moment at the store. But the young man will be a test. "I would like to be like you but I cannot," he will tell John. "There is no God. You see in Israel what happens to the Arab. There is no God. How can you have a God?"

The young man and John will also argue over the Six-Day War, comparing Israel's victory to the actions of the Nazis. "You think Jews can't be cruel too?" he will ask John.

Eventually, there will be a dispute. John will insist that there was a misunderstanding and try to make amends, but the young man will be adamant and quit his job.

Shortly after that, on a night in June that's the first anniversary of the Six-Day War, the young man will go to the Ambassador Hotel, where Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is celebrating his victory in California primary.

Sirhan Sirhan, who once earned $2 an hour as a stock boy at John Weidner's Pasadena health food store, will be waiting in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel's kitchen--with a .22-caliber, eight-shot Iver Johnson revolver.

"I think he was a man of revolt," John will say of Sirhan. "He was a kind of anarchist against society, against law and order, against those who possess. Against those who have more than he has and are more successful in life."

"In America, freedom does not exist," Sirhan told John. "I agree with the violence."

Postscript in 2007: John H. Weidner died in 1994. He once said: "During my father's lifetime he taught me, my family, his parishioners and the community that the most important quality in a human being was to love, respect and treat our fellow man as we wished to be loved, respected and treated.

"I was a witness to the barbaric treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. I personally observed the crushing of the skull of a Jewish infant who was torn out of the arms of its mother. I was determined to heed the teachings and example of my father and I did everything that I could to save as many lives as possible."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Channeling George Ellery Hale: Stefanos Polyzoides speaks June 14th, 2012

Next Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., June 14th, renowned international and Pasadena architect, Stefanos Polyzoides will give a talk about creating a "Liveable Pasadena."

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. 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.  Stefanos and his wife live in the very same George Ellery Hale home and I've often joked that he is channeling George to help make Pasadena the best it can be, and since Stefanos is Greek, the phrase "Pasadena is the Athens of the West" takes on a new meaning.

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.
Elegant architecture and planning contributes to Pasadena's arts, tourism, culture and science and make Pasadena live up to its reputation.  Come out Thursday evening and hear Stefanos; he is a very inspirational speaker, just as George Ellery Hale was in convincing Pasadena's benefactors including one tough Scotsman Andrew Carnegie, and you will find the future an uplifting place.
When and Where

•Thursday, June 14th at 6:30PM

•Pasadena Presbyterian Church – Gamble Lounge (off the courtyard)

•585 East Colorado Boulevard, between Madison and Oakland

Please RSVP to confirm a place for you at this exciting event! E-mail or call 626.539.3762.

More information here: