Magazine article Sunset

Paradise in Pasadena

Magazine article Sunset

Paradise in Pasadena

Article excerpt

Raymond Chandler brought me back to Pasadena. I was reading The High Window, not the best known of his Philip Marlowe novels but classic Chandler-a stew of murder and greed. The High Window features one Mrs. Elizabeth Bright Murdock, a Pasadena widow who lives in a mansion so imposing that even detective Marlowe is rattled by its elegance.

Mrs. Murdock is a malign old character, but as presented in Chandler's pages, her mansion and her town are infinitely desirable. As always, Chandler gets the nuances of a Southern California locale dead right-in this case, the green lawns, stillness, and moneyed sense of self-regard that are the very essence of Pasadena.

Great cities are founded on ideals even more than on commerce. And from the start, Pasadena was not merely a place to earn a living but a haven for people attempting wonderful things. it began as a colony of orange growers, but by the 1880s, wealthy Easterners had discovered that the salubrious climate might benefit them as much as it did any orange. Brewing magnate Adolphus Busch enthused, I selected Pasadena as the winter home of my family because I consider it a veritable paradise." Up went grand hotels, and grander mansions. just outside the city limits, railway tycoon Henry Huntington created an oasis of fine art and coddled gardens.

But millionaires weren't the only people to shape Pasadena. The San Gabriel Mountains, which rise just to the north, lured hikers. Painters settled along the Arroyo Seco, the picturesque gulch on the city's west side. The Greene brothers blended Asian influences with an Arts and Crafts aesthetic to create masterpieces of Craftsman architecture.

Nor were the sciences ignored. In 1891, Throop University was formed; by 1920, it had become the California Institute of Technology, nurturing Nobel Prize winners. In the late 1930s, Caltech established the jet Propulsion Laboratory, at the upper end of Arroyo Seco.

Today's Pasadena is much changed from those early days, and yet is blessedly the same. The area bordering Colorado Boulevard, the main thoroughfare, has rebounded from decades of decline to become the heart of Old Pasadena-one of the most enjoyable downtowns in the country. Architectural treasures, such as the domed City Hall, have been restored. Late last year, the Norton Simon Museum-known for its collection of impressionistscompleted a $6.5-million renovation that includes galleries designed by Frank Gehry and a lovely sculpture garden by Nancy Goslee Power. Caltech still churns out Nobel Prize winners, and jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists track probes sent deep into the solar system and beyond. In this way, Pasadena remains the center of an expanding universe. As any true Pasadenan-from Mrs. Murdock on-will tell you, that is just as it should be.


Area code is 626 unless noted. Bungalow breakfast. in both setting (a quaint cottage) and menu (American standards done right), Marston's Restaurant (151 E. Walnut St.; 7962459) embodies Pasadena traditions. Burn those calories. Work off breakfast with a hike in the San Gabriel Mountains. The 5-mile (round-trip) jaunt on the fairly easy Lower Sam Merrill Trail begins at the north end.lof Lake Avenue. Park on the street, walk through the gates of the old Cobb estate, and continue 100 yards to the trail, which zigzags 21/2 miles to Echo Mountain. Carry water and watch for snakes. For trail conditions, contact the Angeles National Forest's Los Angeles River Ranger District (818/790-1151). Take along the seventh edition of John Robinson's essential Trails of the Angeles (Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 1998; $14. …

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