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)


To vote for Los Angeles County communities  to be the subject of future blog entries, vote here. To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County communities and neighborhoods, vote here


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California Fool's Gold -- A Far Eastside Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 13, 2013 05:47pm | Post a Comment

Last vestiges of Old Chinatown (image: Los Angeles Times)

All around the world large, multicultural cities often contain recognized, small, distinct ethnic enclaves. Los Angeles, by some measures the most diverse city in the universe, is no exception. These neighborhoods are often more ephemeral than others -- coming and going in a reflection of changing patterns of immigration, marginalization, assimilation and development. In the past, for example, Los Angeles had areas widely known as French TownGreek Town, Little Italy, Little Mexico, Old ChinatownFurusato, and Sonoratown -- to name a few. All are now gone with few physical reminders of their ever having existed.

Runners in front of the Italian Hall in Los Angeles's old Little Italy

In the Southland, where Asian-Americans are currently both the largest and fastest growing racial minority, most of the existing enclaves are predictably Asian. There’s Cambodia Town, Chinatown, Koreatown, Historic Filipinotown, Little Bangladesh, Little India, Little Osaka, Little Saigon, Little Seoul, Little Tokyo, and Thai TownOfficially-recognized non-Asian enclaves include only Little ArabiaLittle Armenia and Little Ethiopia. Unofficial but widely-recognized non-Asian enclaves include Little Central America and Tehrangeles. Are there others? 

                                Chinatown                                                                         Little Tokyo

                                Little India                                                                          Thai Town

                           Cambodia Town                                                              Historic Filipinotown

Interestingly, in most of these commercial districts, the titular Asian-American population doesn’t constitute the majority of the population (which is non-Asian Latino in most communities and overall). In all cases, however, they make up a sizable minority with a long-established presence and numerous corresponding services and businesses. The proposed “Peru Village” of South Vine in Hollywood boasts a whole two Peruvian restaurants – separated by a mile – which seems completely absurd to me. Imagine the head scratching that will understandably occur if one business fails or moves away at a restaurant getting its own neighborhood designation. Maybe one of our KFCs can get a Little Lexington or Hillbilly Village neighborhood designation.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of The Far Eastside

Anyway, far from these commercial districts is a collection of communities where Asian-Americans make up the plurality of the population and many cases, the majority. They’re all located in the San Gabriel Valley which overall has a non-Asian Latino plurality and followed by an Asian-American population of about 30%. The SGV communities with Asian pluralities and/or majorities include Alhambra, Arcadia, Diamond Bar, East San Gabriel, Hacienda Heights, Monterey Park, Rosemead, Rowland Heights (nicknamed by some “Little Taipei”), San Gabriel, San Marino, South San Gabriel, Temple City, and Walnut. I've explored and blogged about a few -- to vote for any others, click here. Tongue firmly in cheek (and in reference to The Eastside) I refer to this region as The Far Eastside*.

A crowded night market in Pasadena
Monterey Park was the first city in the world with an ethnically Chinese-American majority. Though all the communities of The Far East Side are dominated by ethnically-Chinese populations, this population includes Cantonese, mainland Chinese, Taiwanese, overseas Chinese and others. There are also large numbers of Filipinos, Indians, Indonesians, Koreans, Vietnamese as well as non-Asian Mexican-Americans, blacks, English-Americans, and people of other ethnicities and countries of ancestral origin.

*I’m aware that the term “Far East” is a concept loaded with cultural and geographical relativism and worse, exotification. To people living in these communities they’re not “far” anything. It should also be noted that – to an extent – the concept has been adopted by those countries to which it refers. 遠東 literally translates to “Far East” and is used by numerous Chinese and Taiwanese institutions. On a similar note, the wonton typeface (also known as the ching-chong font, chopstick font or chop-suey font), whilst understandably sometimes seen as offensive, is used by countless Asian-American as well as non-Asian-American business owners to convey “Asian-ness.” My aim is to acknowledge and respect that and to cheekily play with the stereotype rather than unthinkingly and cluelessly uphold it. By no means is my intention to offend.


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring El Monte, the End of the Santa Fe Trail (or at least some trails)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 23, 2013 08:00pm | Post a Comment

Valley Boulevard and Peck Road -- Welcome to El Monte

El Monte is a city in the middle of the San Gabriel Valley. As of the last census (in 2010), its population was 113,475. It contains the neighborhoods of Arden Village, the Auto District, Downtown, Five Points, the Flair Business District, Hayes, Maxson, Mountain View, the Northwest Industrial District, Norwood Village, and Park El Monte.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of El Monte

El Monte is neighbored by Temple City, North El Monte, and Arcadia to the north; Irwindale to the northeast; Baldwin Park to the east; City of Industry to the southeast, Avocado Heights and South El Monte to the south; and Rosemead to the west. Although El Monte's top three employers are school districts, its economy seemed to me to be dominated by auto shops and smog checks as well as nail and beauty salons.


Aerial view of old El Monte Station and freeway

El Monte has long served as a crossroads and transportation hub. It is believed that the Tongva made camp in the area when travelling between villages. Later, Spanish missionaries and soldiers used to rest in the area. Even later, some have claimed that it's the end of the Santa Fe Trail.

El Monte Metrolink station with lions and film motif 

Today El Monte is still a crossroads -- it's served by two freeways, the Los Angeles Metro's rapid transit Silver Line, Southern California Regional Rail Authority's Metrolink train, a 38 mile bike trail that connects the San Gabriel Mountains to Alamitos Bay, and two rivers (that aren't terribly reliable ways of getting around for most). It's also home to the largest bus station west of Chicago (and served by many bus lines) and Longo Toyota -- the number one auto dealer in the US (by sales and volume) and El Monte's fourth largest employer. I was accompanied on this episode, the debut of Season 7, by librarian Matt Patsel, first and last seen in Season 4's episode, "Gardena - The South Bay's city of opportunity."



The land that is now part of the city of El Monte was something of an oasis in the middle of the semi-arid San Gabriel Valley as it is situated between the banks of both the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel Rivers and thus has relatively fertile soil. Somewhat surprisingly, El Monte is one of the oldest towns in Los Angeles County and yet seemingly few vestiges of its rich past remain today. Despite its current appearance (very few buildings remain that were built before the 1950s and almost none from before the 1920s), El Monte has a rich history.


End of the Santa Fe Trail or End of the Gila River and Old Spanish Trails?

Spaniards named the area "El Monte" -- an archaic Spanish term which describes an uncultivated scrubland and not, as is probably often assumed, "mountain." It was part of The Old Spanish Trail, which originated in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As of 1821, The Santa Fe Trail (which connected Kansas City, Missouri to Santa Fe) was extended to El Monte. This is why El Monte is said to be "The End of the Santa Fe Trail" -- a claim that is rejected by the Official Santa Fe Trail Association.

El Monte - The End of the Santa Fe Trail (1923)

At the time El Monte was referred to by several variations including "El Monte," "The Monte," and simply "Monte."  In 1826, explorer Jedediah Smith led a party that stopped in the area. One of the members of his party, Harrison Rogers, referred to the area as "Camp Monte" and "Monte Camp" in his diary entry about it.


Oldest home in El Monte as it appeared when photographed in 1922

Sources vary on exact dates and names but Americans began to permanently settle in El Monte around 1850. The first non-Native-constructed home was built for Nicholas Schmidt. Other early settlers included were G. and F. Cuddeback, J. Corbin, and J Sheldon. Mostly farmers, they came from Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas. Around 1851 the Thompson Party (led by Ira W. Thompson) settled there. Captain Johnson, was from Lexington, Kentucky and he convinced the villagers to rename their settlement "Lexington" after his hometown. 

Plaque commemorating Southern California's first Evangelical church

Shortly after the settlement was founded, the structures of a small town followed. In 1852 the first schoolhouse was erected. That same year John Prior organized the first Evangelical congregation in Southern California (a plaque was installed in 1930 to commemorate the site). By 1855 the town was rounded out by the Old Cecil Saloon and a Masonic lodge. In 1858, El Monte became a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route. By then El Monte's economy was based around the production of bacon, castor oil, cotton, fruits, grains, honey, hops, and wool.


El Monte was very much a Wild West town in the mid-19th Century and frontier justice was the law of the land. A notorious vigilante militia, the El Monte Rangers, was established in 1854 to impose their brand of justice (namely in the form of trial-less lynchings). They later evolved a group which called itself The El Monte Boys.


Although California was a free state, by 1861 El Monte was a stronghold of CSA sympathizers. A. J. King, an undersheriff of Los Angeles County and former member of the El Monte Rangers, formed a secessionist militia company, the Monte Mounted Rifles in 1861 (taking after the pro-Confederate Los Angeles Mounted Rifles). After he marched through the streets of El Monte carrying a portrait of Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard he was arrested by a U.S. Marshal. In 1862, Union troops established New Camp Carleton near El Monte to suppress any rebellion by southern sympathizers.


In 1866, the California State Legislature divided up the state into governmental units known as townships. The village of Lexington was made the governmental seat of the new El Monte Township but the residents soon after voted to change the name of their town to El Monte. As the town continued to establish itself, the Willow Grove Inn was constructed by the Thompson family to serve travelers on the Butterfield Stage Route between Riverside and Los Angeles.


El Monte in 1889

The Southern Pacific built a railroad depot in El Monte in 1873. In 1875 W.L. Jones built the El Monte Hotel (which was sold and renamed the Lexington Hotel in 1875). In 1876, El Monte began publishing its own newspaper, the El Monte Gazette (later the El Monte Herald). In 1888, B.F. Maxson and P.F. Cogswell planted El Monte's first crop of walnuts. El Monte soon grew to become the walnut-growing capital of the world. The first local drug store opened in 1892.


El Monte's Main Street in 1908

In the early 20th century; dairy, fruit, hay, vegetable, walnuts and truck farms dominated El Monte's economy. Arden Farms (a dairy) and Bodger Seed Ltd were two of the largest operations. The El Monte Union High School District was organized in 1901. In 1907 the Pacific Electric Railway (the so-called "Red Cars") expanded its reach to El Monte. In 1910, refugees from the Mexican Revolution arrived in significant numbers and most found work in El Monte's agriculture sector. In 1911, D.W. Griffith filmed a western, Was He Coward? In El Monte. El Monte was finally incorporated as a municipality in 1912.

More than "knee high by the Fourth of July" -- El Monte corn crop in 1914

"Welcom to Friendly El Monte"
 -- the Welcome Wagon in 1920

By 1920, El Monte's population had grown to 1,283. That year The Son of Tarzan, starring Kamuela C. Searle as Korak, Son of Tarzan, was filmed at Woodland Park.


In 1934, another Tarzan film, Tarzan and his Mate (starring Johnny Weissmuller ) was also filmed there.


The front and back of the Rialto as it appears today

El Monte's first movie theater, The Rialto, opened in 1923 at 10818 Valley Mall (then Main Street). It was built for local developer Walter P. Temple and was designed by Walker & Eisen. For sixteen years, the Rialto was operated by Arthur Sanborn. In 1940, the Rialto was sold to James Edwards and became part of the Edwards chain until it closed in the early-1950s.


Postcard from Gay's Lion Farm - El Monte

Gay's Lion Farm opened in 1925, offering visitors an alternative to the usual ostrich and alligator farms of Los Angeles and its suburbs. It was operated by Charles Gay and his wife -- two retired circus performers. Gay's pride of more than 200 African lions was used in film productions -- including more Tarzan installments. Metro Goldwyn Mayer used El Monte lions "Jackie" and "Slats" in their logo from 1924 until 1927. El Monte High School adopted "The Lions" as their mascot in 1925. The lion farm was featured in the documentary Lions for Sale (1941). The lion farm closed in 1942 due to a wartime meat shortage and the lions were given to zoos.

The orignial lion from Gay's Lion Farm -- in front of El Monte High School

Today, the original lion statue from the farm is situated in front of El Monte High.

Marker identifying site of Gay's Lion Farm

In 2000, another lion statue was installed beneath the freeway at Valley and Peck to commemorate the original site of the lion farm -- behind bars and just below the 10 Freeway.


By 1930 the population of El Monte reached 3,479. By then the population was roughly 75% white, 20% Mexican-American, and 5% Japanese-American. Most of the Mexicans lived in El Monte's barrios (Granada, Hayes Town, Hicks, Las Flores, Medina Court, and Wiggins). Most of the Japanese residents grew berries, melons and vegetables on small tracts after the Great Depression hit in 1929 and forced many larger operations to sublet their land to tenant farmers. Schools were segregated with Anglos attending class with Anglos, and Japanese and Mexicans attending class together. Theaters were segregated along similar lines but there were occasional tensions between the town's main minorities, such as with the famous strike of 1933.


Thousands of Mexican berry pickers, organized by the Communist Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (CAWIU) demanded a raise (nine cents per hour wasn't unheard of). The Mexicans' employers were Japanese. Due to alien land laws, Asians weren't allowed to own land so the 80% of El Monte's agricultural land that they farmed was leased. It was the largest agricultural strike in California at that point. The Japanese and Mexican consuls, and the US and California Departments of Labor intervened but a settlement wasn't reached for a month.

Small Farm Homes in El Monte, CA -- 1936 (by Dorothea Lange)

During the 1930s, the city became a vital site for the New Deal's federal Subsistence Homestead project, instigated in 1933. Many of the new arrivals were Dust Bowl refugees and their new ranch homes built as part of the project were photographed by Dorothea Lange.


The El Monte Airport, built in 1936, is the last remaining one in the San Gabriel Valley; Alhambra, Arcadia, Monrovia, Rosemead and San Gabriel's airports have long since closed. It was founded by New Jersey-transplant Nick Lentine. In 1931 he became the first Californian to land a plane on a city street (in Pasadena) due to fog.

Matt and I checked it out. Not only was it filled with small airplanes but the smell of food being prepared and consumed at Annia's Kitchen. Annia's has an outdoor patio which offers a view of the San Gabriel Mountains and arriving and departing airplanes. We looked at some of the displays but opted to eat later.


The El Monte Community Center

The El Monte Community and Civic Center also opened in 1936 and initiated the annual Pioneer Days festival. Because they were too rowdy, the festival was ended in the 1940s. A new Civic Center was built in the 1950s. The complex also includes the El Monte Historical Museum, headquarters for the El Monte Historical Society (established in 1989).

The El Monte Historical Museum

The El Monte Aquatic Center

Up the street is the El Monte Aquatic Center. I couldn't find out what year it was built but in 2012 it made the news when fourteen of the lifeguard staff were fired for filming an homage to Korean musician Psy's music video for "Gangam Style" whilst wearing their uniforms (despite the fact that they did so off hours).

El Monte Lifeguards' parody of Psy's hit music video

The El Monte Library

Just a little bit further up the street is one of El Monte's two public libraries, the El Monte Library. It was founded in 1890 (although the current building is obviously much newer). The other is the Norwood Library -- which we didn't visit.


The old El Monte Theater

The Tumbleweed

In 1939, the El Monte Theater, was built in 1939 for Arthur Sanborn after he sold the Rialto to Edwards. That same year the Tumbleweed Theater opened on Garvey. The building was designed by S. Charles Lee and was designed to look like a barn (with a windmill on top of the marquee). It was demolished sometime in the 1960s.


By 1940 the population of El Monte reached 4,746. Throughout the decade the population nearly doubled. The advent of World War II saw small aircraft parts factories spring up on the west side of town. World War II also saw El Monte's till-then-prominent Japanese population forcibly rounded up and sent off to concentration camps. The berry fields went into decline and never recovered.


The El Monte Drive-In Theatre

The El Monte Drive-In opened in 1948 at the corner of Lower Azusa Road and Ellis Lane. It was featured in the films Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (the 1993 remake), Bikini Drive-In (1995), and the stop motion short, Wazzock (2006). In 1980, reflecting the change in El Monte's demographics, it became a Spanish language theater. Around 1999 it was torn down and replaced with a Home Depot.


El Monte Legion Stadium

One of El Monte's most-missed treasures is the El Monte Legion Stadium. Construction of the stadium began back in 1927 and was completed in 1929. It was originally built as the gymnasium for El Monte High School. It was used as an Olympics venue in 1932. The Long Beach Earthquake of 1933 damaged it and most of the campus and it sat vacant until it was bought by American Legion Post 261 in 1945 at which point it officially became known as the American Legion Stadium in El Monte and unofficially as "The Pink Elephant."


After buying the old El Monte High School gym in 1945, the American Legion first used the hall for little more than meetings. They had little success with it as a basketball venue but more with boxing, wrestling, roller derbies, mini-car racing and dances. Then came Cliffie Stone. KTLA's famed country music program Hometown Jamboree (produced and hosted by Stone beginning in 1949). It ended up being recorded at the stadium. Country acts who played there include Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Tex Ritter, to name a few. Along with Compton's Town Hall Party (which debuted in 1952), El Monte was one of the major hubs of country and rockabilly music on the west coast.


Art Laboe in El Monte with his people

Famed DJ Art Laboe had originally tried to organize rock 'n' roll and rhythm & blues concerts in Los Angeles but ran afoul of those who objected to race-mixing minors and the then-widely detested music. He (and fellow DJ Huggy Boy) began promoting concerts at the El Monte venue beginning in 1957 with as part of a series billed as Oldies But Goodies. Brenton Wood, Dick Dale and his Del-Tones, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Otis, Ray Charles, Ritchie Valens, Rosie & The Originals, Sam Cooke and others performed at the popular Friday night dances. The house bands were The Phantoms and The Romancers. The song "Memories of El Monte" (written by Frank Zappa and originally recorded by the doo-wop group, The Penguins in 1963) celebrates the once vibrant scene.

The scene extended beyond just music to other Eastside subcultures. El Monte was a hotbed of lowriding culture. Whereas many other venues had strict dress codes, the diverse El Monte crowd fostered varied sartorial expressions. Sir Guy plaid shirts and khakis became cholo fashion and young black men favored velvet or satin-trimmed suits (de rigeur for the Continental look).

As rock 'n' roll became more accepted and racial hostility cooled in Los Angeles, big acts started opting to play there instead of in El Monte. By the late '60s the stadium was losing money and was occasionally rented out for weddings (boxing and wrestling continued to be popular). Grateful Dead recorded a live album there on 28 December, 1970 that only saw the light of day as a bootleg. The venue was bought by the US Post Office for the site of a new post office and subsequently demolished in 1974.


Plaque marking the execution of Flores Gang members

The population of El Monte reached 69,837 in 1970, following biggest decade of growth. Even after Anglos became a minority, the Nazi Party still had an office there. After many young Latino lives were lost in the Vietnam War, gangs proliferated. The largest, El Monte Flores, and several others had roots in the old barrios of El Monte's agricultural past and even further back. A survey undertaken at the time estimated that there were ten to twelve separate gangs operating in that decade with roughly 1,500 gang members. Author Benita Bishop's books, Escape from El Monte and The Lost Girl from El Monte recount her experiences as a young Latina in that decade.


Approaching the new El Monte Bus Station

Inside the new El Monte Bus Station

Map of El Monte Bus Station Services showing connections

The old El Monte Bus Station opened in 1973. The new one opened to the public on October 14, 2012. It is currently the largest west of Chicago. [Click here to read about my misadventures there on 2012's Election Day].


By 1980, the population of El Monte had reached 79,494. Faced with a serious gang problem in the '70s and the attendant influx of heroin and violence, the El Monte Police Department Gang Employment program was initiated in 1980 with the aim of finding proper jobs for gang members. By most accounts, the programs met with limited success. However, by 1988 only 40 active gang members were counted -- a considerable decline from the bad ol' days of the '70s. Despite this huge decrease in gang activity, as the population of El Monte has grown increasingly Latino, many El Monte old-timers have since taken to internet comment sections to moan about how gangs are taking over El Monte in what (as far as I can tell) is nothing more than not-so-thinly-veiled racial hysteria or at best, cognitive dissonance.


Thrifty Ice Cream in El Monte

Thrifty Ice Cream has its roots in a chain called Thrifty Cut-Rate Drug Stores, run in the 1930s by a pair of siblings known as the Borun brothers. In 1940 they decided to start making their own ice cream at their Hollywood factory. It moved to its massive El Monte facility in 1976. 

Beginning in the 1970s, realtor Frederic Hsieh had begun marketing another San Gabriel Valley city -- Monterey Park -- as "The Chinese Beverly Hills." As Monterey Park's population grew much more Asian in the 1980s, political pressure from hostile old timers drove some Monterey Park's newer immigrants into neighboring cities in the valley. El Monte remains primarily Latino but there was a significant influx of Asians in the 1980s and '90s.


In front of El Monte's City Hall is a thirty-foot tall fiberglass replica of the Statue of Liberty, donated to the city by Dr. Jung T. Wang, Paul Mu, and Victor Chiang on July 4, 1986. In 2012, sixty rose bushes, Japanese boxwood shrubs, and two purple leaf plumb trees were planted in front of it in commemoration of the city's 100th anniversary of incorporation.


In 1990 the population of El Monte reached 106,209. The Edwards El Monte 8 opened in 1992.

Outside the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club

Inside the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club

The San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club started in September of 1995. The club was Matt and my first stop upon visiting the city. The rates are quite reasonable and, with a few exceptions, most players didn't seem intimidatingly skilled. The facility itself is a huge building which seems likely to have been a factory in some previous incarnation.

Freed Thai sweatshop slaves in El Monte

In 1995, 72 undocumented Thai workers were discovered working in an El Monte sweatshop where they worked sixteen to eighteen hour days, seven days a week for less than $2 dollars an hour making High Sierra, B.U.M., Anchor Blue and other brands for Miller's Outpost, Nordtsrom's, Target, Sears and other stores. Ultimately, in 1999, seven companies paid out more than $3.7 million to 150 El Monte sweatshop workers, many of whom were also granted citizenship.


The Heaven's Grace Maitreya Buddha Society was built in 2001. Maitreya is the future Buddha, presently a bodhisattva residing in the Tushita heaven.


113,475. 73% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran with a smaller percentages of Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Peruvian), 19% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese with a smaller percentages of Filipino, Cambodian, Burmese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Thai, and Pacific Islander), 7% white, 1% Native American, and 1% black.


El Monte was the birthplace of Gregg Myers, Joe "Country Joe" McDonald, and singer/guitarist Mary Ford.

John Paul Larkin
was born March 13, 1942. As Scatman John he released the hit "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)" when he was in his early 50s. El Monte was formerly home to Pate's Tapes and Records and is still home to Musica Latina. There used to be a county music club, the Nashville West, in Five Points. The house band, also known as Nashville West, released an eponymous album in 1967.


A palomino named Bamboo Harvester was born in El Monte in 1949. He later gained fame as the star of Mr. Ed. Actor-filmmaker Timothy Carey filmed much of The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) in El Monte. Actors Glenn Corbett, Mark Idda, and Virginia Gilmore were all born there, as was screenwriter Sam Rosen.

In addition to the aforementioned films, El Monte served as a filming location in Back to the Future II (1989), Back to the Future III (1990 -- the McFly residence in 2015 is the home at 3793 Oakhurst Street), Falcon Crest (1981 -- two episodes featured the El Monte Police Station), Shocker (1989 -- at Legg Lake Park), Death Ring (1992), L.A. Sheriff's Homicide (2003), and Songs Like Rain (2006). The Circus Clown (1934), Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (1992) and A Test of Will (2005), were filmed primarily or entirely in El Monte.

There are a couple of mom 'n' pop movie stores in El Monte that one might consider supporting -- Video 1 DVD & Game, Video Sales and Video Plus.


Cyclists of all ages can ride or walk The San Gabriel River Trail (if they can find an entrance) which connects Azusa and Duarte in the north with Seal Beach in the south. El Monte is home to few proper bars. My research and exploration turned up the Oasis Club and the Silver Dollar Saloon. There's live music, karaoke, gambling (and probably smoking) at Babyface Restaurant & Bar. Pool players have KBC Champion Billiards. Karaoke fans can go to Happy KTV. El Monte sports clubs include Badminton Fan Club, San Gabriel APA, and the Los Angeles Table Tennis Association. There's also a Moose lodge.


There are several parks in El Monte with a variety of services.

Tony Arceo Memorial Park

The first park that Matt and I visited was Tony Arceo Memorial Park. The park originally opened as "El Monte City Park." It was dedicated in 1974 to Ton Arceo, a policeman who was killed that year in the line of duty.

Tony Arceo Park Bandshell

In the summer the park hosts a short series of free summer concerts. Last year's line-up included cumbia, mariachi, ranchera, rockabilly, and rock 'n' roll sounds.

Pioneer Park and Santa Fe Historical Park

We later went to Pioneer Park, which includes Santa Fe Trail Historical Park (which opened in 1989). Matt and I walked around it -- not surprised that it was closed on Martin Luther King Day. However, one half of a couple of day drinkers told us that it's never open (and then laughed maniacally). 

Other parks include Baldwin Park, Fletcher Park, Lambert Park, Lashbrook Park, Mountain View Park,  Rio Vista Park, and Zamora Park

Though not parks -- there are these things called "Tree Power Towers." According to the legend there are twelve along Valley. The mascot is "Monty." A search on the internet yielded absolutely nothing.


One of the most popular pastimes in El Monte is dining out -- there's even a culinary club, The Medina Court Men's Breakfast Club, who meet once a month. There's a wide selection of eateries offering the cuisines of Mexico, Vietnam, and China. There are additionally a lot of taquerias and bakeries. However, the number of burger and donut joints is simply staggering. The first drive-thru burger joint was Big D Enter-Out Restaurant, which opened in the late 1960s (after the similarly-named In-N-Out). Since then it opened it moved to a larger location. The old location is now the home of Art's.

Outside Jolly Jug

Watching the inauguration at Jolly Jug

Matt and I ate at Jolly Jug. The restaurant (and bar) was established in 1947, making it one of, if not the, oldest restaurant in El Monte. The ambiance was charming, we both quite enjoyed our food.

Here's a list of the rest:

Ajos y Cebollas, Alberto's, Alfredo's Mexican Food, Amigo Donuts, Angel Bakery, Antojitos, Apple Jack's Coffee Shop, B & B Ice Cream Wholesale, BBQ Express, Baby Bros Pizza & Wings, Bamboo Wok, Basileia Cafe, Best Noodle House, Big Famous Burgers, Bill's Drive In, La Barca Restaurant, Brothers Burgers, Burritos La Palma, CG Italian Bakery, Cafe Rosemead, California Sushi & Teriyaka, Carlton's Market, Cate Japan Teriyaki & Sushi Exp, Cerezo Bakery, Cha Cafe,

Chanos Restaurant Number Two, Chillin' Thai Cuisine, China Express, China Great Buffet, Chinatown Bakery, Chinese Restaurant, Chinese Taste Fast Food, Chopsticks Kitchen, Christy Donuts, Corita Bakery, Cyber Yogurt, Da Cheng Vegetarian Food, David Son's Meat Market, 
The Deli Box, Diana's Restaurant & Tortilleria, Donut Capital, Donut Galore, Doublz, Douglas Drive-In, Dragon Restaurant, Dulceneas Tacos y Bionicos, Eat Low Taqueria, El Bukanas, El Burrito Grande, El Caney Market,

El Chamango, El Comalero Pupuseria No 2, El Gallito Market & Restaurant, El Gordito Taqueria, El Huarache Restaurant, El Jacalito, El Patio Bar and Grill Restaurant, El Salvadoreno Pupuseria, El Siete Mares Restaurants, El Sol de Acapulco, El Sombrero, El Taco Man, El Taquito, Fanta Chinese Food, Flames X Press, Flo's Coffee Shop, Fogo de Andre, Foody Goody, Fortune BBQ Restaurant, Fu-Xing Bakery, Gardunos Restaurant, George's Produce, Golden Ox, Golden Ox Burger, 

The Good Donut, 
Goody's Restaurant, Green Produce Market, Happy Bakery, Havana Club, Ho Ho Kitchen, Hoa Binh Restaurant, Hot Space Restaurant, I Love Pho, Italiano's Restaurant, Jack's Sub, Jade Cafe, Jim's Burgers, Joy's Market, Juan Colorado Meat Market, Kim Hoa Hue Restaurant, Kim Long Hue Restaurant, King Taco, Kirin's House Chinese Restaurant, LOL Cafe, La Blanquita, La Blanquita Tortilleria, La Fruta Feliz, La Lonchera, La Mexicana Bakery, La Michoacana,

La Michoacana Bakery, La Pizza Loca, La Pradera Market, La Principal Bakery, La Reyna de Michoacan, La Sirena Restaurant, Las Islas Marias Restaurant, Las Mas Meat Market, Liang's Kitchen, Links Hot Dogs, Little Malaysia Restaurant, Lorena's Mexican Restaurant, Los Toros Meat Market, Louisiana Fried Chicken, Love Sandwiches, Malaysia Kitchen, Maria's Bakery, Mariscos Cancun Restaurant, Mariscos La Quebrada, Master Fresh Donuts, Menos Pinches Burgers,

Mexicali Grill, Mi Pueblo Market, Mitchell's Donuts, Mr. Chopsticks Seafood & BBQ, Mr Pizza & Pasta, Mr Steve Donuts, New Nature Food Co, New Wok, Nick's Burgers, Ocean Bo, Palermo Pizza, Paleteria Y Neveria, Peck Market, Pepe's Mexican Seafood Restaurant, Pho Hai Phong Noodles, Pho Hien Mai Restaurant, Pho Huynh, Pho Kim, The Pizza Oven, Point Dume Chinese Food, Pollo Mania, Qi Lu Restaurant, Queen's Donuts, Ray-Ray Restaurant, Restaurante De Mariscos Altata,

Rice Wok, SIR Pizza'n'Chicken, Sk Donut, Shrimp House Original, Shun Fat El Monte Superstore, Sunny Restaurant, T & M Market, TC Bakery, Taco N Tento, Tacos Don Chente, Tacos La Bufadora, Tacos Los Betos, Tacos del Chino, Tacos el Arco, Tai Pan Chinese Food, Taqueria Azteca, Taqueria La Cabana, Tasty Express, Tay Do Quan Hy, Thai Excellente Restaurant, Thanh Diem, Thanh Loi Tofu, The Sandwich Place, Thien Tam Vegetarian Restaurant, Thrifty Maid Ice Cream Co,

Tina's Bakery, Tito's Market, Tommy's Original World Famous Hamburgers, Tommy's Burgers, Tommy's Restaurant, Top Donut & Sandwich Shop, Triple J Burger, Universal Donuts, Valenzuela's Restaurant, Viet Huong, Wing Lee Fresh Poultry
, and Yummi Chinese Fast Food

For a great hand account of El Monte, visit Richard's History of El Monte. Please share your own memories and impressions of El Monte in the comment section as well as any additions or corrections. 


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Southern California Night Markets - the Return of the 626

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 27, 2012 04:17pm | Post a Comment
626 Night Market logo

The first 626 Night Market was a victim of its own, unanticipated success. Taiwanese-American organizers Jonny and Janet Hwang struggled to get enough vendors to commit even after lowering fees to the point that they expected to lose money. The Facebook page had about 2,000 fans a couple of weeks before its debut but FB fans are a notoriously flaky bunch – or is that just when I’m hosting something?

By some estimates, when the night market actually took place, some 10,000 people descended on a single, long block of North Oakland in Old Town. It was honestly a bit scary being swept along by the crowd without any control and a little amazing. My roommate’s phone disappeared and we weren’t even able to approach most of the food vendors to even see what was available -- forced to accept the sugary toast sold nearest to the entrance. Several friends I expected to meet gave up -- several opting to go to Arcadia to satisfy their Taiwanese jones. My roommate and I barely escaped and went to Lucky Baldwin’sThey, along with other businesses in the vicinity, were probably among the few who enjoyed the windfall that resulted from what was quickly nicknamed the "626 Nightmare Market" -- or maybe that was just me.

The night market in Yilan -- notice breathing room and smiles

For those unfamiliar with night markets (I overheard someone at a neighboring table explaining that there was “some kind of Asian fest” taking place) are nighttime bazaars where people do a little shopping as they aimlessly ramble and eat street food. They’re especially popular in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. I’ve been to them in HaulienTaipei, Taitung, Yilan and Pasadena and in my experience eating and strolling are the primary focus except the first Pasadena, where not getting trampled or crushed was.

Empty lounge in Monterey Park -- everyone's eating

Night markets offer an alternative to the typical urban American nightlife (usually alcohol-fueled) options like partying, bar-hopping, clubbing, pub-crawling, art openings, music performances, &c. Eating out with friends is popular in Asian-majority communities like Monterey Park (America’s first Chinese-American majority city). With a population of over 60,000, they're seemingly content with only two bars (one in a hotel, the other on the border with East LA and almost entirely patronized by Latinos). Boozing doesn’t seem to play much of a role in the activity. In Monterey Park's San Gabriel Valley neighbor, Rowland Heights (nicknamed by some, "Little Taipei"), most evenings large numbers of young people congregate around Diamond Plaza, cruising through the parking lot, playing cards and hanging out at a tea house. In other words, much of LA County seems to me to long have been primed for night markets.

suffocating at the first 626 Night Market -- no smiles

Although a writer for the LA Weekly described the first 626 Night Market as “Southern California’s first Asian night market,” there have been at least two earlier examples. Monterey Park hosted a small night market back in 2004 that occurred on Saturdays in the summer for a couple of years before disappearing. Santa Monica apparently had a one-off Malaysian night market in 2010. (Update: As of 2014 there's also the KTown Night Market in Koreatown, the Little Saigon Night Market in Little Saigon, the OC Night Market in Costa Mesa.) 

For the returning 626 Night Market, the location has been moved to Centennial Square, in Pasadena’s Civic Center District (100 N. Garfield Ave, Pasadena). Thankfully, it will this time be allotted more than 4 ½ acres (18,580 square meters) -- about six blocks. It will take place from 4:00 pm – 11:30 pm and for all you people who hate looking for parking, the Gold Line’s Memorial Park Station is located within the area covered by the night market.

Unable to get any closer to the food

And for those that complained that there weren’t enough vendors at the last 626 Night Market (how do they even know? I couldn’t even get to most of them), this one has the following (including three times as many food vendors as last time): 626 Movemeant, 8 Ate 8's K BBQ, AFC Soy Foods, AK Lashes, ANP Design, AU79, Addicted to Phones, Akbar Cuisine of India, Alltronics, A-sha Dry Noodle, Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches, Astro's Donuts, Aunty Merry, Bao Style, Beatnixx, Beyond the Olice, Black Persimmon, Bling Bling Dumpling, Boba Avenue, Bowls LA, Bowtique Envy, Crepe 'N Around, Cafe 18, Cal Fresh Vikon, California Museum of Art, Cannan Restaurant, Cha Cafe, Chala Handbags, Chare's Import, Charmy Charmy, Chines & Korean BBQ, Christina Liu, Comien Silk, Covina Tasty, Creative Twist, Creme Carmel LA, Dr. Cellular, Dragon Whiskers Candy, Evike, EWC Group, Eddie B Games, Fighting Fish, Flour + Tea, Fluff Ice, Fresh Roast, Fruit King Juice, GG_Infinite, Ginger Bread Man's Asian Roots, Gippentarp, Green Cube Gourmet, Green Cube Tofu, Grilled Cheese Truck, Haven Gastropub, Heo Cuisine, Hollywood Fodder, House of Bonz, Indonesia Satay, It's a Snap!, J Noodle House, JHL Style, Java Cafe, Jessica, Juba, Kawaii Foods, Kebab Brothers, Komodo Food Truck, Korean Contacts, Las 3 Hermanas, Leapfrog, Lee's BBQ, Liang's Kitchen, Little Rain, Lobsta Truck, Lotus Circles, Lucky Bamboo Garden, Mama Go's Fil-Cuisine, Mama Masubi, Mandoline, Michelle Lee, Mighty Boba Truck, Miniemall, Momochai, Molla Space, Moni Moni, Ninja Sox, OMG Blings, Offal Laffo, Optic Remix, Oscar Enterprise Company, Overseas Commercial Group, Ozero, Papa Lee, Pasta Joe, Patricia Huang, Peppers Thai, Pet Lover Cafe, Phuonghang, Pie n Burger, Q-Zone, R2 - Ray Rays, Raw Cane Super Juice, Ready Artwork, Rock n' Roll, Rocxten, Roll Up, Savana Electronics, Sculpster, Seoul Sausage, Shaosi Ye Valdez, Shinano, Silver Panda, Slammin' Sliders, Solpoint Services, Soyumi, Spices n' Rice, Store13, Supreme Vege Cuisine, T-Square International, Takken, Takoyaki Tanota, Tan San, Tangy Choices, Tarami Patisserie, Taxco, Tea Bar Starry, Tealicious, Ten Ren's Tea Time, The Boat Restaurant, The Candy Chef, Ton Ten Ko, Unfindings, Underestimate, V & R Thai-Chinese Food, Wok Master, Yiming Ou, Yirin Grill, Yogurtland, Zummy Road, Zarlito's Family Kitchen, and Zeta Epsilon Tau.

See you there and bring your appetite!

Update: The second 626 Night Market was a vast improvement over the first one. It was still well-attended and there were far more (and diverse) food options. While the main complaint this time seems to have been that stinky tofu is stinky, mine would only be that the lines (at least there were lines this time) were still long. I had to wait 30 minutes for a grilled cheese -- again, at least this time I got to eat -- at multiple places. Hopefully the apparent success will lead not only to more 626 Night Markets but more night markets throughout LA!


California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Altadena, The Community of the Deodars

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 17, 2012 11:18pm | Post a Comment

When people hear the disyllabic sounds, “alta” and “dena,” I would wager that most of them think of the well-known City of Industry-based Alta Dena Dairy, which was started by the three, Missouri-born Stueve Brothers in Monrovia, California in 1945. Oddly, more than five minutes of internet research haven’t helped me figure out why they named their dairy after a fellow San Gabriel Mountains community located some miles west of their hometown. Nonetheless, I based my map's "typeface" on their logo.

For a community that's never bothered incorporating, Altadena seems to have a very strong sense of pride, place and community. The first time I think I visited Altadena involved walking there from my workplace in Pasadena. Although my journey involved little more than crossing a freeway, once I arrived I felt as if, proverbially speaking, I was no longer in Kansas.


Undoubtedly part of Altadena's unique vibe is owed to its particular racial and ethnic demographics. The population of roughly 43,000 people is 40% white (mostly English and Lebanese), 27% Latino (mostly Mexican), 24% black, 6% Asian – making it noticably less Asian, and much more black than most of the San Gabriel Valley. Indeed, it feels very different from most of LA. Within the community the vibe varies greatly too. Laidback, working class West Altadena feeling worlds rather than miles away from wealthy, woodsy East Altadena, which convincingly enough (for some) stood in for Beverly Hills on the series Beverly Hills, 90210. The foothill neighborhoods swing between eye-searingly dull suburbs and rustic, bohemian and slightly creepy enclaves. 

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Altadena

Like Pasadena, Altadena's neighbor to the south, most of Altadena is situated on a broad alluvial slope at the mouth of the Crescenta Valley, partially separated from the San Gabriel Valley proper by the Kinneloa Mesa at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains in the east and the low, rolling hills of San Marino and South Pasadena to the south. I’m assuming that this is why it’s most often considered to be part of the San Gabriel Valley but The Verdugos region by the LA Times – despite the fact that none of it is located in the Verdugo Mountains or their smaller geographical siblings, the San Rafael Hills and Shadow Hills

To many, Altadena has a reputation as a high crime area. In researching for this blog entry I’ve read descriptions stating that it’s “gang infested" or "the ghetto." As with all of LA, people tend to perpetuate, exaggerate and overstate how dangerous an area is. The average amount of violent crimes reported in Altadena per month is 1.8. Its violent crime rate is lower than that of neighborhoods like Chatsworth, Eagle Rock, Silver Lake, West Hollywood and plenty of other places less-often (or never) characterized as ghetto. While any and all violent crime is lamentable, fear of it should not factor into one's exploration and enjoyment of any neighborhood. The sad fact of the matter is that "gang infested" and "ghetto" are thinly-veiled code words for young, black men and Latinos.

There seems to be a bit of a buzz about Altadena as of late (click here to listen to an "Off-Ramp" segment) and in this episode I was accompanied by Maryam Hosseinzadeh, who spent a large chunk of her childhood there.  It was a hot day and the air was really fragrant. Walking around I inhaled the scent of huge evergreens and even a tiny clove cigarette butt on the ground. 


We started our exploration at the Altadena Historical Society, a non-profit founded in 1935 by 
Marsh. Although at the time the community was only a few decades old, they published their first history in 1938. Today the society offers lectures on historical subjects, tours of historical sites, and boasts a large collection of fascinating artifacts and materials from Altadena’s surprisingly rich history. ($25 membership buys newsletters, program announcements and discounts on events. $50 buys all that plus 4 limited edition reproduction vintage post cards of Altadena).

Upon our arrival we met Sherry Cavallo, an Altadena resident who moved “from out east” some 35 years ago. We also procured an invaluable guide to locals sites of note which we used to determine much of our day’s course. The next place we checked out was accessible from the Historical Society’s parking lot, the Woodbury-Story House. The house was built in 1882 for one of Altadena's founders, Captain Frederick Woodbury, and his wife, Martha. More on them later. First a bit of history.


For approximately 7,000 years, the area that now makes up Altadena was home to the Hahamog'na band of Tongva. Hahamog'na was the leader of the band which lived in two villages -- also named after him -- in the upper Arroyo Seco area. Hahamog'na encountered the Spaniard Gaspar de Portolà on his 1770 overland expedition through the area, a precursor to the Spanish Conquest. The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was established in 1771 in present day Montebello before relocating to modern day San Gabriel a few years later. Hahamog'na’s lands were stolen by the mission and claimed for Spain. Hahamog'na was converted to Catholicism and re-named “Pascual.”


In 1834, Mexico (including California) gained independence from Spain and the lands that now include Altadena (along with present day Pasadena, San Pasqual, South Pasadena and parts of San Marino) became part of the 58.29 km2 Rancho el Rincon de San Pascual. It was granted to retired artillery lieutenant Juan Marine by José Figueroa. Marine passed away in 1838 and the land passed to José Pérez and Enrique Sepúlveda. They died in 1841 and 1843, respectively, and the land was granted to Manuel Garfias.


In 1848, following the US’s victory in the Mexican-American War, the old land grants were honored by the victors. Garifas sold off portions of his land to finance the building of his home. By 1858, all of the lands had been purchased by Benjamin Wilson, who in turn sold to John S. Griffin in 1860. Griffin sold a portion to Dr. Benjamin S. Eaton, who developed water sources from the Arroyo Seco and Eaton Canyon later in the decade, allowing for a development he, Griffin and Wilson called the San Pasqual Plantation. The project failed by 1870. In 1873, Wilson negotiated a deal with Daniel Berry, who represented a group from Indiana who founded “The Indiana Colony” in Pasadena. The portion that became Altadena was sold to two brothers from Marshalltown, Iowa -- Fredrick and John Woodbury – in 1880. Fred had his mansion – the Woodbury-Story House – built in 1882 and still there today. (It's been featured in commercials, episodes shows like Ghost Whisperer, LXD, of and music videos by the likes of Debbie Ryan, Lost Prophets, Nicole Sherzinger, Shwayze, and films like Dark Reel).


One of the first homes built in the area is Virginia-native Eliza Griffin Johnston's on her Fair Oaks Ranch which, built in 1862. Englishman Walter Allen established the 502-acre Sphinx Ranch in 1878. His home, despite its historical distinction, was demolished in 1928. In 1882, the Johnstons' house was moved from to its current location to make way for the construction of the James Crank House ( featured in Catch Me if you CanMatilda, and Scream 2). The Eastlake-style Lewis Schumann House was built in 1888 for the Coloradan family who’d moved to the area in 1883. Scott and Kay Way moved into a Victorian farmhouse then-surrounded by ten acres of exotic gardens they named “Idle Hour.” Las Casitas Sanitorium was built in 1887 (it became a private home in 1895).  


The Mountain View Mortuary & Cemetery was established in 1882 by another early resident, Levi Giddings. Over the years, 14,000 people have been buried there including Charles Richter, Eldridge Cleaver, George Reeves, Octavia Estelle Butler, Wallace Neff, Wilbur Hatch and obviously, many others. On the day of our visit a scene was being filmed, presumably for a movie, involving an LAPD funeral. Extras in cop uniforms lounged around comfortably and upon passing, we noticed that many of the LAPD cars were painted sloppily and therefore presumably not meant to be filmed in close-up.  


In 1883, after a trip to Italy, John Woodbury brought Deodor Cedar (Cedrus deodar) – indigenous to the Himalayas – to Altadena and had 135 of them planted them along Santa Rosa Avenue (where Woodbury was planning to build his mansion). The work was carried out by a labor force made up of Chinese workers who also lay the open river-rock gutters that line the street. Woodbury abandoned the construction of his home in 1888 when the boom busted.


In 1920, after the trees had matured, one fourth of the 1.1km stretch was lit for Christmas following the efforts of then-president of the Pasadena chapter of Kiwanis, Frederick Nash and advertised as the "Mile of Christmas Trees." In 1927, an Altadena chapter of Kiwanis formed and the Avenue of Deodars came to be nicknamed Christmas Tree Street (later Christmas Tree Lane). Over the years, especially in the mid-20th century, Christmas Tree Lane was the subject of many colorized postcards. In 1990 it was listed on the US National Register of Historic Places in 1990 and designated as California Historical Landmark No. 990.  


In 1887, the Woodbury Bros formed the Pasadena Improvement Company and attempted to sell lots of their Woodbury Ranch in a subdivision they called The Woodbury Subdivision --just as a great land boom was about to bust. Earlier, in 1875, a nursery had been established in the foothills by Byron O. Clark, who’d named it Altadena Nursery before moving away. The Woodbury’s contacted him and he gave them permission to rename their subdivision Altadena.


Although abolitionist Owen Brown (son of famed abolitionist John Brown) died of pneumonia in Pasadena, he was buried on Altadena’s Little Roundtop Hill near El Prieto Road. A memorial plaque was later added that stated “Owen Brown, Son of John Brown, the Liberator, died Jan. 9, 1889.” The monument also included two iron ornaments meant to represent freedom from slavery. Mysteriously, after the land was purchased by new owners in 2002, they were removed.


Despite the presence of the aforementioned settlers, Altadena's population was spread out, sparse and devoted primarily to agricultural concerns until a group of mostly Midwestern millionaires began to build mansions along Mariposa in what became nicknamed Millionaire’s Row. One of the earliest to establish a home there was Irish-born Chicago map magnate Andrew McNally and his friend, Colonel George Gill Green – a veteran of the War Between the States and patent medicine entrepreneur. Another printing magnate, William Scripps, moved to Millionaire’s Row from Detroit, Michigan in 1904, to his home known as the Scripps Estate.


The Scripps Estate is a three-story Crafstman-style “Ultimate Bungalow” designed by architect Charles W. Buchanan and built in 1904. In 1979, the home faced the threat of demolition and was saved when purchased by the Pasadena Waldorf School in a deal negotiated by Altadena Heritage. Renamed Scripps Hall, it was was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Scripps also opened The William A. Scripps Home for Aged People in 1913 in a home originally built by one Thaddeus Lowe (more on him in a paragraph), for his son, Thad Jr. Its name was changed to “The Scripps Home” in 1962. It closed in 2007. All of the facilities except the small Gloria Cottage (built in 1914) were demolished in 2008 by developers and its residents were relocated to facilities in Alhambra. Today the old Scripps Home sign hangs at the Altadena Historical Society.



New Hampshire-born aeronaut, adventurer, scientist, inventor and dreamer, Professor Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe, famously scaled Oak Mountain (bragging he was the first white man to do so), planted an American flag atop it and re-named it Mount Lowe after moving to Los Angeles in 1887. His friend and fellow Altadenan, Andrew McNally, ensured that the new name stuck when his Rand, McNally & Co. maps labeled it Mount Lowe on their maps. Lowe, formed the Pasadena & Mt. Wilson Railroad Co. in 1891 with a Canadian-born engineer David J. Macpherson, who’d drawn up plans for a scenic, mountain railroad. Unable to obtain the rights to scale Mount Wilson, the duo turned their sites to Oak Mountain, near Lowe’s new home in Pasadena, where he'd moved in 1890. The first section of the Mount Lowe Railway opened on 4 July, 1893. Ultimately the line would grow to include three sections: the Mountain Division, the Great Incline, and the Alpine Division. The Mountain Junction railway station was located at the corner of Lake and Calaveras.

Part 1: The Mountain Division

For the Mountain Division the railway used a trolley that traveled from Mountain Junction Railway up Lake Avenue before passing through the Poppyfields District and ended in Rubio Canyon, at the base of Echo Mountain. At the Rubio Canyon terminus stood the 12-room Rubio Pavillion guest house and station.

Part 2: The Great Incline & Echo Mountain

The second stretch of the railway required passengers to transfer from the trolley to a funicular train which took them to the summit of Echo Mountain. At the mountain’s peek there was the 40-room Echo Chalet hospice. In 1894, it was joined by the addition of the 80-room Victorian Echo Mountain House. Ultimately the site included an observatory, a casino, a dancehall and other structures which came to collectively be known as White City.

Echo Mountain is separated from its neighbors by Las Flores Canyon, Rubio Canyon, and Castle Canyon. Boy Scouts assisted in development of the mountain by locating "sweet spots" where people yelled for entertainment – in some cases aided by the use of “echophones.” Today, with the train long gone, it’s primarily accessible by the Sam Merrill Trail and a fire road that begins in Millard Canyon.

Part 3: The Alpine Division & Mount Lowe

The third section of the railway opened in 1896. After crossing Los Flores Canyon, rounding the “Cape of Good Hope,” and passing through Millard Canyon and Grand Canyon, the train arrived at Crystal Springs. At this terminus there was a 12-room chalet called Ye Alpine Tavern, which had been built in 1895. Mule rides were conducted from there on a trail known as Mount Lowe Eight (for its figure eight shape) and there were tennis courts and a wading pool as well. Mount Lowe is primarily accessible by Chaney Trail as well as a fire road.

The End of Mount Lowe Railway

From the very, start Lowe’s adventure was, in most ways, a disaster. The train operated at a loss from day one. By 1899 Lowe was in receivership to Jared S. Torrance. A whole series of disasters struck over the years to come. The Echo Mountain House was destroyed by fire in 1900. Henry Huntington's Pacific Electric Railway took over in 1902. A 1905 fire destroyed more structures. The Rubio Pavillion was destroyed by a flood in 1909. Having lost his fortune, Lowe moved into his daughter’s home in Pasadena and died, aged 80, in 1913 and was buried in Altadena’s Mountain View Cemetery. In 1928, a wind storm felled the observatory. A 1936 fire destroyed the tavern. In 1938 the railway was abandoned and today, all that remain are ruins. Lowe’s life was dramatized in the 1972 Walt Disney miniseries, High Flying Spy, part of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.

The last remaining vestige of the lower part of the railway, the Pacific Electric Railway Substation #8, was used for retail from 1942 (after the electrical switching equipment was removed) until 1979. It was restored and repurposed for offices in 1980.


Zane Grey Estate - photo credit: Alex Tarr

The large, Mediterranean Revival-style home known as the Zane Grey Estate was originally built in 1907 for a Chicago business machine-manufacturer, Albert Herbert Woodward from designs by Elmer Grey (no relation) and Myron Hunt. In 1918, western author Zane Grey moved to Southern California. Two years later they purchased the Woodward home and made several additions. Grey died in 1939. 


The Altadena Town and Country Club was formed in 1910 by five members of the Altadena Improvement Association. In 1911 they purchased two acres of a former dairy farm and built a small bungalow-style clubhouse. It was damaged by a storm in 1913 and subsequently enclosed by a new, larger clubhouse. The current building was designed by club member, David A. Ogilvie. It acquired its current name in 1946, when it was reorganized and incorporated as an equity owned member club.


 The Cobb Estate in 1930

                                                                  Haunted Forest" 2009 - photo credit: Kansas Sebastian

At the northern end of Lake Avenue sits the 107-acre Cobb Estate – nicknamed the Haunted Forest. Lumber magnate Charles H. Cobb and his wife, Carrie, had a large, Spanish-style mansion built for them in 1918. Cobb, a Freemason, died in 1939 and his will stipulated that his estate be given to the Scottish Rite Temple in Pasadena. The Freemasons sold it a few years later and it went through a succession of owners over the next few years – including the Sisters of St. Joseph. It was purchased by the Marx Brothers in 1956 but gained notoriety as a hangout for juvenile (and adult) delinquents. In 1959, most of the home was demolished. The Marx Brothers’ estate sold the land in 1971 and local preservationists purchased the land. Sometime later, stories involving the usual cast of KKK members, Satanists and murdered children began to circulate. In 1978 the gates were deemed sufficiently spooky and were filmed in the movie, Phantasm.



Chicago doctor Henry B. Stehman opened a hospital in Pasadena in 1909, a colony of 17 bungalows, after moving to California to recover from tuberculosis. Shortly thereafter, he and the newly-formed Pasadena Health Camp Association purchased Eugene W. Giddings' 160-acre vineyard in the hills and named their new hospital La Viña. The help cover operational costs and patient treatment, the hospital raised horses, chickens, turkeys, and cattle; grew orange trees, grapefruit trees, and vineyards and operated its own post office. In turn they sold eggs, grapes and milk. A children’s wing was added in 1934. The Las Flores Canyon fire destroyed it all in 1936. A new Myron Hunt-designed building opened on the site in 1937. In its final incarnation it operated as a respiratory hospital. In 1978, its offices served as those of the Warren County Sanitarium in the film Halloween. In 1992, after a lengthy battle, the La Vina McMansion gated community replaced Hunt’s building.

Many of Altadena's historically significant homes were built in the 1910s. Other significant homes from the era include the Frank Keyes House and the Mount Wilson Tollhouse (both built in 1911), The Chambliss/Benzinger House (built in 1914), and The Frederick Popenoe House (1919). There’s also a small neighborhood of Crafstman homes dating from the period on the 1900 block of Mar Vista Avenue.


The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City in 1875. The Altadena building was completed in 1920. The esoteric society is supposedly an altruistic one devoted to seeking hidden knowledge but there’s a creepy vibe that made me feel like I’d stepped into a Giallo film – probably just a combination of eerie silence suddenly shattered by the arrival of a noisy flock of ravens.


photo credit: I Am Not a Stalker

Ronnie’s Automotive Service is a gas station built in 1920. It's supposedly been featured in many commercial and movie shoots although all I could find on imdb was Dodgeball - A True Underdog Story (2004), where it is listed as having been the site of something called “hot girls’ car wash." I Am Not a Stalker says it also appeared in Crossroads (the Britney Spears one), Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, and Transformers.


The 15 acre Farnsworth Park was purchased by Los Angeles County in 1921 and initially used as a tree nursery. In the 1930s, General Charles S. Farnsworth successfully lobbied to have it turned into a park. In 1934, the impressive, stone William D. Davies Memorial Building was completed by the WPA. The park was named Farnsworth Park in 1939. For the last fifteen years it has hosted an annual summer concert series.  


Between 1924 and 1926, developers LG and MA Collison oversaw the construction of buildings on the 900 block of East Altadena that constituted Altadena’s first commercial district. It later grew to include Altadena’s first fire station, first sheriff station, an architect’s office, a grocery store and a beauty salon.



Between 1924 and 1926, a number of English-styled cottages were built – largely by Elisha P. Janes -- supposedly to attract World War I veterans with a new taste for the Old World. I've never been to England so I can't really say whether or not Janes Village really evokes Albion or not but for those that have but that's the kind of charming simulacrum that makes Southern California turn.


The home now known as the Balian House was built in 1922, originally for Burnell Gunther and his mother, Jennie. Its current owner is ice-cream magnate George Balian. Since 1955 the house has been widely known for its increasingly over-the-top Christmas displays which transform the pink Mediterranean into something of a Yuletide playhouse that would turn Pee-Wee Herman's bow tie green with envy.


On par with the Craftsman neighborhood and Janes Village is the La Solana Spanish Revival neighborhood. The Spanish Revival-style homes designed by B.G Morriss and built by the BO Kendall Company in the 1920s.


Built in 1922, the Boulder Manor was the first home built on Boulder Road as a wedding present for Howard Edgecomb’s wife, Thelma. Its grounds used to also include a stocked, artificial stream. 


Webster’s is really a complex of connected six buildings and a beloved landmark to locals. The original, central building was originally Bailey’s Drugstore, constructed in 1926, and later purchased by Harold Frank Webster and his brother. After buying out his brothers share he opened Webster’s Soda Fountain. The next building, to the north, was added in 1930. In the past, the six buildings were connected by an open segment wall and operated as separate departments. Sections included Webster’s Liquor Beer & Wine, Webster’s Health Mart Pharmacy, Webster’s Fine Stationers, and Webster’s Shipping & Supplies. At one point there was also a video rental store.Webster's was featured in at least one episode of The Wonder Years. In 2010, the pharmacy was sold by members of the Webster family to Michael and Meredith Miller, former owners of South Pasadena’s Fair Oaks Pharmacy, who remodeled, reorganized and renamed it Webster's Community Pharmacy. The rest of Webster's -- including the liquor store, stationers and thrift store are still Webster family operations.


Though born in La Mirada, Andrew McNally’s grandson Wallace Neff began his architectural career in Altadena with his design of the St. Elizabeth of Hungary, completed in 1926. Influenced by Mediterranean and Spanish architectural schools, his synthesis came to be known as the California architectural style.


Altadena was formerly served by The Altadena Press, who released their first issue on 21 November, 1929. It ran until 1944. A complete set of the papers can be found at the Altadena Historical Society. It was succeeded by The Altadenan, which ran between 1944 till 1977. The Altadena Chronicle was printed from 1977 till 1983. From at least 1936 - 1954 there was also the Altadena Weekly. Beginning in 1922, Paul F. Johnson briefly broadcast Altadena’s only radio station, KGO, from his home (Sagemont).


photo credit: Altadena Historical Society

Altadena’s first miniature golf course opened in 1930 at the intersection of Lake and Foothill. Live musical accompaniment scored the golfing, broadcast throughout the park. The park closed after just two years of operation. There’s still a remnant of the course, however, behind Lifeline Fellowship Christian Church.


Armenian Jirayr Zorthian immigrated with his family to New Haven, Connecticut. As a teen, he attended Yale's school of fine arts. After graduating, he spent part of the 1930s travelling and studying in Africa and Europe. Returning to the US he rose to prominence as a muralist with the WPA -- mostly painting in the South and East. During World War II he designed propaganda posters. After the war's conclusion, Zorthian and his wife, Betty Williams, moved to Altadena where they bought a 27 acre ranch in the foothills which they named Zorthian Ranch.

Charlie Parker at Zorthian Ranch (best audio available)

After a divorce, Zorthian married his second wife, Dabney, and added an additional 21 acres to their holdings. On the ranch, Zorthian experimented with building techniques, erecting many structures and making sculptures and objects out of found materials. The Zorthians also organized music events and threw parties/bacchanalias for their eclectic assortment of bohemian friends/luminaries (Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Buckminster Fuller, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, John Lautner, John C. Lilly, Richard Feynman, William Saroyan and others). Charlie Parker recorded a live set at the ranch, released as At Jirayr Zorthian’s Ranch, July 14th, 1952.

Additionally, the ranch has been used as a shooting and filming location. Jirayr passed away in 2004, at 92 years of age. Dabney passed two years later. It's currently inhabited by one of their five children. Today it hosts an annual New Los Angeles Folk Festival.


photo credit: Root Simple

Tim Dundon (aka "Zeke the Shiek" aka "The Guru of Doo Doo" aka "The Sodfather") was born in Altadena in 1942. His family lived adjacent to Mountain View Cemetery. In his 20s, as a plasterer, he fireproofed buildings. He later got into ironwork... and boxing... and pill-popping (bennies, reds, Percodan and more). He raised snakes, had a pet coyote, and hung out at Zorthian Ranch. It was only after dropping acid that he graduated to the so-called "gateway drug," marijuana. A weed shortage in 1967 led to a new found interest in gardening. Gardening was the gateway to composting. That interest in composting turned into an obsession.

He was arrested in 1985 for cultivation, sales to a narcotics officer and possession of mushrooms with intent to distribute. Out on bail he was arrested for possession yet again. He defended himself in court as his alter-ego, Zeke the Sheik, and ended up serving eighteen days. In 1990 his huge compost pile (located on land owned by Mountain View Cemetery) burst into flames -- bacteria and fungi give off considerable heat as they feast on compost. In 1999, his pile had grown to a height of more than forty feet and he ran afoul of zoning officials. The cemetery was faced with possible fines and the pile was bulldozed. Dundon still lives and composts in Altadena in the Mountain View home that grew up in that is now full of lush vegetation growing from rich soil and shared with geese, ducks, chickens.


Photo taken from Sazanka (who do NOT represent Nuccio's, it should be noted)

In 1935, Joseph and Julius Nuccio opened Nuccio’s Nurseries in Alhambra and specialized in Azaleas and Camellias, they sell over 600 species of the latter. In 1946 their father, Giulio Nuccio, bought forty acres of land in Altadena at the nursery’s present location. Today it’s managed by Tom and Jim Nuccio.


As greedy, gourmandizing Pasadena grew, it steadily devoured chunks of its neighbors through annexation. In 1888, South Pasadena incorporated as its own city, protecting it from obliteration. East Pasadena and Altadena never did. Today East Pasadena has been almost entirely annexed by Pasadena but Altadena, despite never incorporating, successfully fought off the attempted wholesale annexation in 1956 after decades of small annexations. (As a result, Pasadena pulled the plug on Christmas Tree Lane which resulted in the foundation of the Christmas Tree Lane Association in 1957 to take over).


Ain, Johnson, and Day's Park Planned Development was begun on Highland Avenue in 1946. Some people (well, maybe a couple) may know that Gregory Ain is one of my absolute favorite architects (I’ve mentioned Silver Lakes’ 1947 Avenal Cooperative Housing Project and Mar Vista’s 1948 Modernique Homes in previous entries).



The Bass House - photographed by Julius Shulman 

Buff, Straub and Hensman's Case Study House #20 was built in 1958. The famed USC trio of architects built the residence for the great graphic designer/filmmaker, Saul Bass. The man had an eye for modernist beauty.


David Oliver Green's "The Tree of Life" (1969)

Altadena’s first library operated out of a classroom beginning in 1913. The Altadena Library District was formed in 1926. The first structure built specifically to be a library was completed in 1938. The Bob Lucas Memorial Branch Library was built on Lincoln Avenue in 1957. The Main Library was built on Mariposa Avenue in 1967, designed by Boyd Georgi. It is located at the former site of Colonel George G. Green’s home, which was demolished to make way for the library.

Green's carriage house, built in 1889, remains.


As a result of the extension of the 134 and 210 Freeways into Pasadena in the 1960s, and following the desegregation of the Pasadena Unified School District in 1967, much of the area’s white population moved away from the area. Whereas before 1960, the black population had been only 4%. By the 1970s it was much larger, with some neighborhoods having black majorities for the first time in their history. As Altadena went through sometimes tumultuous changes, its sense of community seemed to grow. In 1975, five Altadenans formed the Altadena Town Council. Though it has no legislative or legal authority, it continues to attempt to express consensus opinions of Altadenans to the County of Los Board of Supervisors.


The International Banana Club® Museum opened in 1976 – about 20 years after the Panama Disease devastated the staple (and, I'm told, vastly superior) Gros Michel banana resulting in our now eating slushy, almost-flavorless Cavendish bananas (thanks Science Friday!) . Anyway, I may dislike the fruit but the museum must love them as the museum has, with over 17,000 pieces, the world’s largest collection of banana-related objects. It's listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as “the world’s largest collection devoted to any one fruit.” Sadly for local bananaphiles, (but boon to banana-lovers in the Inland Empire) it moved to Hesperia in 2006. 


Charles White Park was dedicated and named for Altadena artist Charles White in 1980 after he died in 1979. White was also well-known for having served as Chairman of the Drawing Department at the Otis Art Institute in the 1960s and ‘70s. From 1980 till the early ‘90s the park hosted the Charles White Memorial Arts Festival. The Altadena Arts Council and White’s son, artist C. Ian White, have recently focused their efforts on trying to bring the festival back.


Altadena got its first town hall in 1991 when a structure originally built as a barn in 1891 (with several additions and remodelings and a stint as a home) was moved to its current location from its original site at Lake and Sacramento.


In February 2011, the Arroyo Time Bank and teamed with Mariposa Creamery owners Gloria Putnam and Stephen Rudicel to host the Altadena Urban Farmers Market at the Zane Grey Estate. I was there to help set up. It was done underground but obviously not very secretly and issue with permits, fees and neighbors resulted in its being shut down not long after. In 2012, the famers market returned as the Altadena Certified Farmer’s Market returned to Loma Alta Park (right next to the Altadena Community Garden) with necessary permits.  



In addition to the aforementioned TV shows and films, there are at least a few other times Altadena has appeared on screen -- though often as somewhere else.

On Beverly Hills, 90210, Minnesotan parents Cindy and Jim Walsh moved with their teenage daughter, Brenda, and their 31-year-old son, Brandon to a home in Beverly Hills… which was actually in Altadena (1675 E Altadena Ave). Their friend Dylan McKay moved a couple of doors down the street, to a bungalow at 1605 E Altadena.

Though named after a Valley community with a long-established and large black enclave, Neil LaBute's Lakeview Terrace, is based on events that happened in Altadena, concerning John and Mellaine Hamilton, an intteracial couple who were terrorized by a black LAPD officer, Irsie Henry. It was, however, mostly filmed in Walnut.

Currently, Kentucky-born director Allison Anders (Gas, Food Lodging, Mi Vida Loca, Grace of My Heart, &c ) is planning on filming her next film, The Amorous Humphrey Plugg (named after a Scott Walker song) in her Altadena home.


I’m sure there are more musicians from and bands who’ve formed in Altadena – that’s where you, the reader, hopefully comes in. Maryam pointed me to The Moore Brothers and The Sundowners. The internet pointed to R&B singer Major James.

Photo credit: Altadena Above it All

I also don’t know of any traditional live music venues. As I mentioned, Zorthian Ranch, somewhat regularly hosts musical events. There’s also The Folly Bowl, Susanna Dadd and James Griffith’s backyard amphitheater where they’ve hosted music events and other follies, since at least 2007.


The Underground Art Society is an Altadena art gallery owned by Ben McGinty. Its permanent collection includes works by over 65 artists. They have art show/parties on the first Friday of every month that take place between 7:00 and midnight. McGinty is (or at least, was) also a member of the Altadena Arts Council – established in 2003 and whose Altadena Community Arts Center is located in the Loma Alta School Center


We did not use the guide to determine our next destination, which was to be lunch. Maryam suggested Oh Happy Days Natural Food and Café. Normally I wouldn’t be opposed to a vegan restaurant but I’d had a great, late night and awoke hungry as a horse and was desirous of something heavy to be washed down with copious amounts of coffee. We tried to go to Fox’s – an old school, family-owned joint that opened in 1955 and is known for breakfast and lunch and homey atmosphere. Unfortunately they were closed. So we ventured over to Amy’s Patio Café – a gruyere asparagus omelet sounded amazing. Unfortunately for us, they were also closed. Across the street is El Patron, situated in a tiny, triangular building constructed in 1951 that has hosted a succession of eateries including the Echo Café and most recently, CJ’s Wing Café.

My eyes proved to be a bit larger than my stomach and I ordered both a mushroom quesadilla (which, though listed as an appetizer, would’ve been sufficient on its own as a meal) and nopalitos con huevos. I thought the chips and salsa were so-so. The chips, I suspect, were store bought and the tomatoes in the pico de gallo hadn’t ripened sufficiently to the point where discernible flavor had emerged. The other dishes, however, were good and our waitress was great.

Overall, Altadena has a relatively small restaurant scene (and one surprisingly and thankfully short on chains). Other places to grab a bite include Bill’s Chicken, Bulgarini Gelato (which Maryam extolled the virtues of), Coffee Gallery, Dutch Oven Bakery, Everest Restaurant, Fair Oaks Burger, Jim’s Burgers, Mota’s Mexican Food, Pasties By Nancy, Patticakes the Dessert Company, Pizza Joe’s, and Poncitlan Meat Market.


Photo credit: Bill Qualls

With Altadena extending into the lower San Gabriel Mountains, hiking is one of the best pastimes one can take enjoy in Altadena. The Altadena Crest Trail, Gabrielino Trail, Rubio Canyon Trail, The Sam Merrill Trail, and the Ridgeline Trail all reveal stunning views of the San Gabriel Valley and access places like Millard Canyon Falls, Inspiration Point, the aforementioned ruins of Lowe’s misadventure, and other treasures. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time in our day to hike at all so I look forward to coming back another time. 


We did have time to check out Altadena's “gravity hill” at a bend where E Loma Alta Drive becomes Rubio Canyon Road. Apparently, a school bus full of children drove off the road killing everyone on board and if one puts their car in neutral, the tiny ghosts of the dead children push your car uphill, against gravity. Another explanation is that the various angles of landscape such as trees, streets, homes and landscapes interact in such a way as to make it appear that one’s car is rolling uphill when, in fact, it’s rolling down. During our visit, neither youthful ghosts nor landscape angles conspired to make us feel like we were rolling anywhere but down... something I didn't feel warranted commemoration of with a picture.


There are very few places to grab a drink in Altadena. Although not a bar, George's Drive-In Liquor seems like a popular place to grab some liquor, take it outside, transfer it to a cup and hang out on a heavily-tagged bus bench. We stopped by to grab something non-alcoholic and a group of young men and a woman sipped from their styrofoam cups, nodding politely and seemingly attempting to appear nonchalant. The liquor store also offers incense in scents including Ghetto Love and Chronic Killer. There's also Johnny's Liquor.

It wasn’t until we concluded our day that we decided to go to a bar, forsaking the Altadena Ale House for the only other bar in down, Rancho Bar. Back when I worked in Pasadena, I occasionally headed up to Rancho to join a group of Pasadenan friends. However, it wasn’t until having spent the day exploring the neighborhood that I noticed how much it’s covered with clippings and artifacts about Altadena – like a the historical society if it had beer and was packed with regulars. Our bartender was cheerful and her pit bull was friendly.

Coyotes and pickup trucks in Altadena

After waiting a bit, we headed back to our homes. Physically, it’s a short distance between Altadena and Silver Lake but Altadena’s distinct vibe serves as an example of just how much variety is packed into the wonderful Southland of ours.


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