By Lee Perottini
With seven National Register Historic Districts and twice as many locally designated landmark districts, Pasadena is obviously a city that celebrates its past. This doesn’t mean that it’s old-fashioned. A visitor is quickly disabused of that idea by driving through its many beautiful neighborhoods or the central business district—the latter buzzing with street life, the result of a vigorous application of mixed-use zoning that encouraged the development of more than 2,000 condominium and apartment units at its core. Add the Gold Line, which transports you to Los Angeles’s Union Station in 20 minutes—and from there by shuttle to Disney Hall, the Music Center, live theater or MOCA—and you have a recipe for a great weekend in Southern California.
As Pasadena grew during the post-WWII years, businesses began relocate from its historic commercial center—now known as Old Pasadena. By 1971 the 18-block district had fallen into disrepair and disrepute and was targeted for demolition. As the first retail district, Old Pasadena’s historic buildings were connected by a system of alleyways, making it ideal for walking and shopping—a fact not wasted on city preservationists.
Saving it was a major effort, involving participation of the city, business owners and operators and the nonprofit Pasadena Heritage, as well as state and federal agencies that provided additional funding. The district was re-zoned as an historic overlay zone and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making owners who restored buildings eligible for substantial tax credits.
Today, shops range from The Gap to Tiffany’s, as well as locally owned businesses, including galleries, movie theaters and restaurants. Don’t miss The Castle Green (1899), originally a grand hotel and now 50 condominium units with an eclectic combination of Moorish and Mission Revival architecture. You must see it to believe it. In Old Pasadena, you’ll find enough entertainment to occupy an entire day and more.
There are many fine neighborhoods with architectural gems to appreciate, but for the first-time Pasadena visitor, why not enjoy the iconic Pasadena residence? A tour of The Gamble House—a National Historic Monument—provides you with a virtual education in the craftsman aesthetic. Charles and Henry Greene not only designed residences, but nearly every detail inside and out—furniture, rugs, lamps and leaded art glass included.
A half block from the home is the Arroyo Terrace neighborhood; there you will find an assortment of craftsman-styled homes—one, the former residence of Charles Greene. A walking guide for the neighborhood is available at www.pasadenacal.com/visitors (click Greene & Greene and Friends under Architectural Tours). To book a tour, call (626) 793-3334.
Few cities offer the array of fine art museums that Pasadena provides. Just two blocks south of The Gamble House is Norton Simon Museum of Art, arguably the most significant private collection of European, American and Asian art in the world. It it’s lunchtime; the museum’s Patina Garden Café is worth a visit. The setting, in a lush sculpture garden, makes it the perfect place to relax.
Traveling east, you’ll discover two museums within a block of each other. Pasadena Museum of California Art at 490 E. Union St. exhibits the state’s art, architecture and design from 1850 to the present. Close by is Pacific Asia Museum at 46 N. Los Robles Ave., housed in a beautiful Qing Dynasty-inspired building. The museum’s 14,000-piece collection contains representative examples of art and artifacts from Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Pasadena’s little secret is that the world-renowned Henry E. Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens is not in Pasadena at all, but in nearby San Marino and well worth a side trip. A visit of any consequence requires an overnight stay, for “The Huntington” will take a full day to appreciate its extensive collections and the 120 acres of gardens. Facilitating an all-day visit is the Rose Tea Room—reservations required (626/405-2100)—and the more casual café to sustain you.
Where to Stay
Bissell House Bed and Breakfast, 201 S. Orange Grove Ave. If a bed and breakfast is your style, look no further. 800/441-3530 or visit www.bissellhouse.com.
Courtyard Marriott in Old Pasadena, 180 N. Fair Oaks Ave. For reservations, call 800/321-2211 or visit click here.
The Westin Pasadena, 191 N. Los Robles Ave. A well-appointed hotel conveniently located adjacent to Pasadena’s historic Civic Center and Old Pasadena’s shopping, dining and entertainment. For reservations, call 626/792-2727.