California Fool's Gold -- Exploring East Pasadena

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 24, 2013 09:29pm | Post a Comment

This neighborhood exploration is about tiny East Pasadena. Despite its name, East Pasadena is an independent community and no more a part of the city of Pasadena than are South Pasadena or Altadena. Historically it was a much larger community but through many annexations it has shrunk to a small area that also includes the neighborhoods of Michillinda Park, a portion of Chapman Woods, and several numbered tracts.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of East Pasadena

South Pasadena is neighbored by Pasadena to the north and west, San Marino to the west, East San Gabriel to the south, and Arcadia to the east. Though an independent community, many of its businesses have Pasadena addresses.  East Pasadena is a small but diverse As of the 2010 census, the population was just 6,144 and 52% white, 35% Latino of any race (mostly Mexican), 23% Asian (mostly Chinese and Filipino), 3% black, and 1% Native American. Though the fastest growing population in the last ten years was Asian-American, it still has a ways to before it reaches a plurality and thus joins its neighbors in "The Far Eastside." Whatever East Pasadenans' ancestral origins, it is heavy on the American Flags... and USMC flags... and one Colombian one.



Eaton Wash looking north toward the San Gabriel Mountains

Present day East Pasadena is located near the Tongva village of Sisitcanonga (also spelled Sisitkanonga), which was located near the banks of Eaton Creek. Eaton Creek is a small, seasonal stream, the headwaters of which are in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The lower, channelized version is referred to today as Eaton Wash and flows into the Rio Hondo.


Spaniards first arrived off the coast of Southern California 1542 although it wasn’t until 1771 that they built a nearby mission at which many of the Tongva were enslaved. With Mexican independence achieved in 1821, the land again changed hands. The missions were secularized in 1834 and the 54 km2 Rancho Santa Anita (which includes modern day East Pasadena as well as all or portions of Arcadia, Monrovia, Pasadena, San Marino, and Sierra Madre) was granted to Perfecto Hugo Reid, a Mexican of Scottish origin.


In 1848, after Mexico’s defeat in the Mexican-American War, California became part of the US but the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required that the pre-existing Mexican land grants be honored by the conqueror. After that the land changed hands many times before being purchased in 1875 by Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin. Baldwin was a stockholder in the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and in 1885 the railway arrived on his ranch in then-new town of Arcadia. To the west, the rail line reached Pasadena in 1887.


Pasadena was incorporated in 1886, the second town to do so in the county after Los Angeles. It quickly grew through annexations in all directions. South Pasadena incorporated in 1888 but Pasadena continued to annex the unincorporated lands of Altadena and East Pasadena. From 1906’s East Pasadena Annex to 1971’s Foothill Freeway Annex No. 71-2, nearly all of unincorporated East Pasadena was eventually annexed by Pasadena and today just 3.39 km2 remains.


Sunny Slope Water Company

In the 19th Century, Leonard Rose’s Sunny Slope property included 2,000 acres of orange groves and vineyards comprised of 35 varieties of grapes. It employed 150 workers and produced Rose’s Sunny Slope Brandy. In 1887, Rose created the Lamanda Park subdivision on his property and sold his company to a British firm. I'm not sure if Sunny Slope Vineyard was directly connected to East Pasadena’s Sunny Slope Water Company or whether it's merely named after Rose's Sunny Slope tract but it does date back to 1895, when it was established, and still operates today.


Lamanda Park station, served by the Pacific Electric Railway’s Sierra Madre Line and the Southern Pacific Railroad, opened in 1903 and the community further emerged as the industrial center of East Pasadena – namely around Nina Street and Rose Avenue (now San Gabriel Boulevard). It was annexed by Pasadena in 1920’s East Side Lamanda Park Annex.


Chapman Woods was purchased in 1869 by Albert (or Alfred, depending on the source) and Katherine Champan. It was later subdivided and true to its name, much of it retains an actual woodsy character. Part of it was annexed by Pasadena in the Eaton Annex of 1927 and part remains within East Pasadena.


The Michillinda Tract was subdivided around 1910. According to a 1916 edition of Out West magazine:

There is a little village near Pasadena called “Michillinda,” which is not a Spanish nor an Indian name, nor is it taken from an automobile tire, or a chill cure. It is simply the work of an original real estate lord who joined the names of three states – Mich., Ill,. And Ind., to appeal to prospective purchasers from these states. So on these rainy days he fuses the names of different states into on name, and dreams of opening new tracts and calling on “Minn-al-ar-ky,” for Minn., Ala., Ark., and Ky.: another “Wisgawyo,” for Wis., Ga., and Wyo.: still another “Mopanebore,” for Mo., Pa., Neb., and Ore.: and still another “Flamisskansla,” for Fla., Miss., Kans., and La.

The tract, bordered by Michillinda to the east, Foothill to the south, Rosemead to the west, and Cole Avenue to the north, is now known as the Michillinda Park neighborhood.


A park, a playground, and a lovely window-less van

There’s a small park as old as the community in East Pasadena’s southeast corner, Michillinda Park. On the day that I visited there was a homeless man sleeping in the shade and a playground crowed with screeching children whose parents were congregated at a nearby picnic table. One of the children quoted Titanic, crying “I’m king of the world,” although more likely referencing some Dreamworks cartoon rather than the source film.

Extending north from the park are Woodward Boulevard and Michigan Boulevard, two streets with wide medians that are home to large evergreens that look older than most of the homes alongside them. When I the park live avenues, both were being pecked and shat upon by several peafowl, probably visiting from Arcadia’s Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.


The East Pasadena Water Company was established in 1930 and still operates. It grew out of California-Michigan Land and Water Company (aka “Cal-Mich”), which was established in 1910 alongside the Michillinda Tract. In 1913 the company began functioning as a public water utility.


From around 1930 until 1950, East Pasadena was served by its own newspaper, the East Pasadena Herald. There also used to be an East Pasadena Kiwanis Club (c. 1949 – c.1975) and the East Pasadena Boys’ Club (founded in 1951 and operated at least until 1977 and may have evolved into the Boys & Girls Club of the Foothills, one of whose buses I saw on California as I explored). The East Pasadena Rotary Foundation, founded in 1963, still exists and there’s an East Pasadena Knights of Columbus branch. A club of different sorts is the APA League that meets and plays at Crown City Billiards.


By 1927, nearly bit of land up to the north-south Sierra Madre Villa Avenue had been annexed by Pasadena, leaving modern day East Pasadena and one other large area, Hastings Ranch, located to the north. The ranch’s owner, Charles H. Hastings, died in 1942 and his 1,000 acre ranch was sold in 1945 and quickly developed into an industrial, retail and residential neighborhood. It was duly annexed by Pasadena between 1946 and 1954. 


Hastings Drive-In (image source: Jalopy Journal)

Across the street from its then-northern border on Foothill Boulevard, Hastings Drive-In opened in 1950. It had a 1,315 car capacity. Unfortunately for drive-in fans, it was demolished in 1968 and was replaced with the Pacific Hastings Theatre in 1972, when it showed The Poseidon Adventure. Subdivided and renamed the Pacific Hastings 8, it eventually closed in 2007. This would be the part where I’d normally mention any films shot in East Pasadena or filmmakers and/or actors from there but I haven’t been able to find any so please hit me up with any additions that you may have. I suppose that I could mention that I saw a girl driving a car with a Totoro air freshner on her dashboard. 


Colorado Boulevard (renamed from Colorado Street in 1958) was part of the famed Route 66 and home to Pasadena’s Rose Parade, which is probably something most people had in mind that opened most of East Pasadena’s lodging along it. For overnight visitors to East Pasadena there currently exists Best Western Pasadena Inn, Best Western Pasadena Royale, Days Inn Pasadena, El Rancho Motel, Hi-Way Host MotelHoliday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Pasadena, and Pasada Motel. El Rancho Motel opened in 1950 and has a pleasantly mid-century vibe. The Hi-Way Host opened in 1956 and has a nice neon sign. I can’t vouch for their quality as guest accommodations, however, as both have an average rating of one star on Yelp.

If you’d like to use public transportation to visit East Pasadena it’s served by the Los Angeles Metro 79264, 266, 267, and 268 bus lines as well as the superior Foothill Transit 187 line and Pasadena ARTS. About 117 meters outside the community is Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Villa Station, served by the Metro’s light rail Gold Line. On a related note, East Pasadena’s DMV office is the last one I renewed my registration at before ridding myself of my last automobile.


Craftsman home with an Ent (left)

Despite its small size, East Pasadena is home to a wide variety of architectural styles. The low-profile businesses along Colorado Boulevard with their slender bricks, iron ornaments, and fleurs-de-lis motifs are clearly products of a mid-20th century aesthetic.

Flinstonian architecture from 1956

Much of the eastern part of the community is characterized by nondescript ranch homes situated atop thirsty lawns decorated by dusty lawn ornaments and dry fountains. The southern edge along Huntington Drive is more obviously oriented toward the San Gabriel Valley’s growing Asian-American population, faced by billboards in Chinese from the East San Gabriel side of the street and home to tea houses and Chinese-speaking ESL schools.

The Outrigger Apartments (1961) -- now inanely re-named "The Aparments at Huntington"

The western area near Pasadena is home to private communities and stately mansions. There are beautiful Craftsman homes sprinkled here and there and a dismaying number of pebto abysmal Spanish Revival McMansions due in large part to the fact that the unincorporated county community is un-served by even a basic preservation ordinance.


Elizabeth Carneceria (she's pushing the cart apparently) and Sprout's Market with Sprout street art

There are a handful of dining options within East Pasadena including B-Man’s Teriyaki & Burgers, Chiquita Bonita...

... Cynthia Brooks Distinctive Catering, El Super Burrito, Gin Sushi, Golden Palace Mongolian BBQ, Half & Half Tea Express, Mama’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta, Nikki C’s Restaurant, President Thai, Sprouts Farmers Market, Yang Chow, and Yes Sushi.

The most popular judging by crowd size during my visit would have to be either El Super Burrito or The Original Tops. The Original Tops began in 1952, when Greek immigrant Steve Bicos started it as a diner with an uncle. The current restaurant was built in 1978 and is run by Bicos’s son, Chris.

Gin Sushi used to house an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. The building dates back to 1946 and seems to have been a winery, according to an old directory.

President Thai wins points from me for almost looking like a wat as does Mama’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta for having a replica of the 93 meter tall Statue of Liberty in New York (or El Monte’s seven meter version).

There are two bars as well: Esquire Bar and Lounge (formerly a gay club called Club 3772, I think) and R Place, which opens at noon and is by all accounts more of a neighborhood dive.



Normally I would mention any bands or musicians from East Pasadena but I have thus far been unable to discover any. There is music being made, however, in a music studio on Rosemead, RedZone Guitar Works, and Lee Music School. Art is hopefully being made at Pasadena Art School.


For religious sorts there are a few options. On outward appearances alone I’d have to go with St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church, built in 1965.

New Hope Presbyterian Church
, built in 1963, is a fairly typical church of the era. It used to be Michillinda Presbyterian Church, whose story was told in David Rohrer’s book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry. Most of its signage now is in Korean. The windowless Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall looks like a military barracks.

The Pasadena Hindu Temple looks rather like a house, albeit one with a large “om.” I’m so used to seeing those hanging on the necklaces of spiritual bros that I almost forget that it has a religious meaning. There’s also Iglesia del Nazareno, Impact Harvest Church, and Life Church.


I don’t normally get too into neighborhood crime statistics as I think it might make people unnecessarily afraid of exploring and personally I don’t think that any neighborhood in Southern California has struck me as dangerous enough to warrant a travel advisory. However, I will mention crime statistics here primarily out of the hope that it will challenge stereotypes. To wit, of all the communities reporting crime statistics, East Pasadena has the highest violent crime rate in the SGV (much of which, to be fair, doesn’t report crime statistics). Its crime rate is higher than that of Cypress Park, Koreatown, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Van Nuys, San Pedro, and many other communities that are with unfair but numbing regularity characterized as being “gang plagued,” “ghetto,” “the hood,” “sketchy,” having “gone to the dogs” &c (often coded shorthand for becoming less white).

Military relics

As I expected, I never once felt even remotely threatened in East Pasadena in the hours that I was there. Sure there was a dog that barked at me and I suppose the sidewalk sign-twirlers arrow could’ve gone awry and poked one of my eyes out but most of the menace occurs either behind McMansion walls or near East San Gabriel’s Clairbourn School and San Marino’s KL Carver Elementary, at least.

An orange 1980 Scout and van/pick-up with horns on the hood for sale

That being said, there was a high profile crime that took place (four years ago) that rocked a community perhaps used to the occasional aggravated assaults and robberies but not murder. On 26 July, 2009, then 85-year-old James Che Ming Lu murdered his wife of nine years, Michelle Lu – then 55 – by striking her nineteen times in the head with a hand ax at the couple’s Rosemead Boulevard home in East Pasadena. He also attacked the victim’s son, Ji Zeng, who escaped and called the police. Lu is currently serving a 42 year sentence.

East Pasadena shopportunities 

Not to end on a dour note, my experiences (excepting that with the DMV) were absolutely pleasant aside from a bit of high temperature-induced heavy sweating. I hope to come back and check out some of the restaurants and R Place in the future. And please politely contribute any additions or corrections in the comments, thank you.

Peacocks in East Pasadena (one just off camera to the left was doing its business)


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Los Angeles's Secret, Foreign Language Movie Theater Scene

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 7, 2013 01:18pm | Post a Comment

Los Angeles is a film town -- maybe the film town. Like the Hollywood district contained within it, the name "Los Angeles" a metonym for American film industry in the minds of many. "La La Land," "The Entertainment Capital of the World" and all that. I love movies; however, in my mind, the Hollywood film thing actually ranks pretty low in the long list of what makes Los Angeles the greatest city in the world. This is possibly (probably) shocking to hear/read if you're a cog in the blockbuster factory or a celebrity worshipper but better you find that out now than never. Luckily, Los Angeles doesn't just make movies, it also shows them. There are few cities in the world with as robust a film culture as Los Angeles.

For those who love celebrity-driven, gazillion dollar CGI superhero franchises you're in luck; there are multiplexes in every mall and Redboxes at every 7-11. Thankfully for other varieties of cinéastes, there's a lot more to Los Angeles’s mise en scène than that. There are architecturally beautiful picture palaces, romantic drive-ins, dingy dollar theaters, high profile revival houses, low profile smut houses, and actual art house chains. Additionally there are all sorts of special screenings and festivals that take place every week of the year.

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California Fool's Gold -- A San Fernando Valley Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 5, 2012 10:55am | Post a Comment


San Fernando Valley State College postcard (1973)


San Fernando Valley panorama

There are numerous valleys in Los Angeles County: the Antelope, Crescenta, Hungry, Peace, Pomona, PuenteSan Gabriel, Santa Clara River, and Santa Clarita, to name a few of the better known ones. However, when one hears mention of The Valley it is almost universally recognized as a reference to LA County's San Fernando Valley.

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Los Angeles's AM radio -- a welcome alternative to FM's Radio Ga Ga

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 9, 2012 05:46pm | Post a Comment

Frank Sant'Agata's Remember When We Listened to the Radio

If you're at all like me, when you're in the mood to listen to music, radio is one of the least likely places you turn. There was a time (1983 till around 2000) when the radio was the primary source of my exposure to new music. When I moved to LA in 1999, I flipped around the FM dial stopping whenever I heard something I liked. Before the introduction of Shazam, I had to rely on memorizing snippets of lyrics and then looking them up since it seemed like DJs rarely announced what they were playing. That’s how I discovered B.G.Los DandysDuncan Dhu, Enanitos Verdes, Los Freddys, Juvenile, Lil' Wayne, Mikel Erentxun, Mystikal, Los Prisioneros (among others).

Dating a Vietnamese New Waver, Napster, and Pandora all provided new avenues of exposure and I pretty much gave up on FM radio except for usually music-less public radio. When I've been subjected to FM radio in the past few years, the playlists seem to have somehow been whittled down to approximately four incredibly overplayed "classics" that serve as bumpers between hour-long blocks of commercials -- or pop music meant to make 12-year-old girls feel like 16-year-old princesses (and anyone else nauseated).

On the other hand, listening to LA’s AM radio is like taking a trip around the world -- or something approaching it for people too poor to actually travel anywhere except locally -- and by public transportation. And as one of those in the latter column, I often listen to it ready to Shazam it, post a screen capture from my phone online and ask foreign language majors to hip me to the artist and song in question.


For decades, AM was where most people turned for old time radio programs and music whilst FM was primarily devoted to classical music. AM was home to taste-making rock 'n' roll personalities like Alan Freed, Paul ShermanPeter Tripp, Cousin Brucie, Murray the K, Dr. Jive, Wolfman Jack and Jock, the Ace from Outer Space. FM was comparatively anonymous.

In the 1960s, FM became known as for album oriented rock – whereas AM was dominated by Top 40. In 1978, almost four decades after its introduction, listenership of FM surpassed that of AM. Over the following years, the Top 40 format moved to where the listeners were and AM became primarily associated with right wing talk radio, sports, religious programming and other niche stations. In LA it’s also home to many ethnic minority-owned stations.


I think my first exposure of LA AM radio was being introduced to the Old Time Radio drama, The Whistler, re-runs of which used to be broadcast on an 1070 KNX. They no longer play any OTR. The next two AM stations I spent considerable time listening to were 670 KIRN and 930 KHJ.

فارسی رادیو


The US is home to the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran and the largest concentration are in Los AngelesKIRN -- Radio Iran began broadcasting in 1999 and, from its HQ in Hollywood's Cahuenga Pass, plays Persian music and news. I don’t understand Farsi but I love a lot of the music and the spoken Farsi is also appealing to my ears. When I had a car, listening to Radio Iran whilst driving through heavily Iranian neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Encino, Tarzana, Tehrangeles, and/or Woodland Hills added an exciting cinematic element to the commute.


LA County’s largest ethnic group is Mexican-American, who make up 36% of the population. This being the case, it’s not surprising that numerous LA radio stations play a wide variety of Spanish-language genres. However, Burbanks 930 KHJLa Ranchera, is LA’s only Ranchera station. There are many LA stations that play related genres like Norteño and Banda and Inglewood’s 98.3/103.9 Recuerdo plays Ranchera, Bolero and Spanish-language oldies but La Ranchera, as the name implies, is the home of Ranchera in LA.



LA is home to the largest Korean population outside of Korea and Korean-speaking Korean-Americans and Hallyu fans are served by three area Korean language stations: Pasadena’s 1230 KYPA – Radio JBC (Joongang Broadcast Company), Koreatown’s 1540 KMPC – Radio Korea, and Hancock Park’s 1650 KFOX – Radio Seoul. Korean is, to me, another particularly mellifluous language and whether it’s music or talk, it makes a nice soundtrack when one is in Koreatown, Little Seoul, Buena Park, Hancock Park, Park Mile, Wilshire Park or other largely Korean-American communities. 1190 KGBN is currently Korean Gospel Broadcasting Network, and broadcasts religious programming. From 2001 - 2011 it operated as KXMX, which was an amazing multicultural station that broadcast programing in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese



Los Angles has a very large Chinese and Taiwanese-American population. LA County’s Monterey Park is famous for being the first city in the US with a Chinese-American (at the time, mostly Taiwanese-American) population. Chinese and Taiwanese make up the largest group of Asian-Americans in Los Angeles (followed closely by Filipinos). Nonetheless, there’s only one exclusively Mandarin station, Pasadena’s 1300 KAZN. Recommended listening for time spent in LA’s Far East Side -- Alhambra, Arcadia (aka Arcasia), Diamond Bar, Monterey Park, East San Gabriel (aka East Chan Gabriel), Hacienda Heights, Rosemead, Rowland Heights (aka Little Taipei), San Gabriel (aka Chan Gabriel), San Marino (aka Chan Marino), Temple City, and Walnut.



Pasadena’s 1430 KMRB serves LA's Cantonese-speaking population -- a population with roots in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong and Macau. It provides a nice backdrop to time spent in Chinatown.

Đài phát thanh tiếng Việt


Nearly half of overseas Vietnamese live in the US – especially in Houston, New Orleans, San Jose, and Orange County’s Little Saigon – the oldest, largest and most prominent Vietnamese-American community. Little Saigon’s 1480 KVNR -- Little Saigon Radio broadcasts Vietnamese programing. I sometimes listen with the hope of improving my extremely limited Vietnamese through exposure or osmosis.

So next time you flip your radio all the way four times over without hearing anything but commercials and bemoan the sorry state of FM radio, remember AM radio and be amazed.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography art opening at 1650 Gallery

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 19, 2012 02:16pm | Post a Comment

In a recent poll of Americans conducted by Public Policy Polling, only 33% of respondents said that they view Los Angeles favorably whereas 40% view it negatively. 27% stated that they’re not sure. Of America’s largest five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia), LA is the only one with a higher negative response than positive. As someone who lives in and loves Southern California, this disappoints but doesn’t surprise me.


Growing up in other parts of the country, pop culture sculpted and skewed my perception of the Southland more than anything else. Living here I consider it to be the most misrepresented too. I’ve never been to Philadelphia but my experiences in other large American cities haven’t produced the same sort of glaring dissonance between my expectations and experience that LA has. And with LA the center of America’s pop culture machine, I have to wonder why the city doesn’t do a better job of showcasing its positive attributes instead of its negative – mainly conspicuous consumption, movie stardom and gang culture.

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