The City on the Hill: Temperance, Race, and Class in Turn-of-the-Century Pasadena

By James, Michael E. | California History, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The City on the Hill: Temperance, Race, and Class in Turn-of-the-Century Pasadena


James, Michael E., California History


It was clear and cold the morning of December 9, 1886, as Amy Bridges, a young, precocious college girl from a wealthy New England family, rushed to the station to catch the westbound train to Chicago. Nearly two dozen sorority sisters came to see Amy off as she boarded the train with her mama, papa, sister, and more than one hundred twenty-five other tourists. Amy had in her possession a small journal from the Harvard Co-operative Society in which to describe her adventures. As the train pulled out of Boston's station that early morning, Amy made her first entry:

Many friends came to see us off. Such a party of the college girls.... How I did hate to say good-bye to them for so long, as they crowded about our window. We had some lovely hyacinths given us--They shall be the first flowers I press here.... a sweet memory of the girls--also they gave us a pretty little paper book of selections of Browning which will give us so many happy thoughts while we are gone.... It is very hard to leave our dear home and friends. (1)

This was the family's second trip west in as many years, each member eager to revisit the soft, tranquil Mediterranean winter of southern California that had become such a draw for those who could afford such extended periods of leisure. The Bridges, from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, were part of a throng of Easterners assembled by Walter Raymond of Raymond and Whitcomb Tours, the forerunner of what we might today call the all-inclusive travel package. (2) Their destination was a string of elegant hotels from San Diego to San Francisco. Amy's favorite, though, would be Walter Raymond's flagship hotel and namesake, The Raymond of Pasadena.

When the Bridges arrived at Pasadena, they stepped off the train at the base of what the locals had begun to call "Raymond Hill." A mere bump compared to what Amy had seen on her tour through the mountainous West, Raymond Hill was nonetheless a defining piece of real estate that marked the southern boundary of the village of Pasadena. For the next few months while her college sisters shivered in the Eastern deep freeze, Amy and her family would stroll through fields ablaze with red-orange poppies so brilliant they could be seen fifty miles away from Santa Catalina Island. Her walks took her under huge sheltering oaks she came to call cathedrals and through lush rose gardens that by mid-February would be fragrant with bloom. The climate of southern California, thanks to writers such as Charles Frederick Holder, was becoming world-famous and would soon draw tens of thousands of visitors. (3) In a few years, wintering tourists in southern California would watch a parade of flower-adorned carriages advertising ro se blooms in January. By the middle of the twentieth century when television took the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl football game into millions of homes nationwide, the standing joke in Pasadena would be: "what sound is that?" The New Year's Day reply: "the packing of a million suit cases."

The Bridges had arrived that tourist season of 1886-87 to find their quaint Pasadena in the euphoric rush of a great land boom. (4) What was once a village that marked the center of a quiet collection of mid-Western gentry farms was now fully involved in the "bustle and business" of urbanization. If Amy had cared to record what she surely saw at the bottom of Raymond Hill, we would have more than her romantic descriptions of warm, winter blue skies, lush green tree-lined streets, and tales of bargaining with Ah Wong, the silk-stockinged Chinese peddler. We would also have a picture of the squalor of the city's South Raymond slum with its assorted tents and shacks, home to a mix of transient central and southern Europeans, African Americans, men from China, and Mexican traqueros, laboring as section hands for the newly arrived Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads. Pasadena, a village once, now by the end of the 1880s a booming metropolis of nearly ten thousand that had begun to craft a vision of city-buildi ng that might reconcile the needs of rapidly accumulating capital with the needs of a growing, ethnically diverse laboring-class.

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