Cultivating Pasadena
From Roses to Redevelopment
By The Labyrinth Project

Writer-Researcher's Statement

Cultivating Pasadena: From Roses to Redevelopment (excerpted from the original catalog copy)
– Karen Voss, Writer/Researcher

Pasadena history can unfold in a series of intoxicating landscapes – if viewed from certain vantages. Imagine arriving in Pasadena for the first time in the late 1880s as a wealthy Easterner, when you would have been dumbstruck by the aroma of blooming poppies and the majesty of the San Gabriels – in the middle of winter. Imagine picking oranges year-round. Imagine a sprawling, blooming rose garden on a private estate – not as the owner but as the one who worked it and lived in a tent. Pasadena's unique reputation for horticultural splendor and technological adventure is reinforced each year as the Rose Parade unfurls on New Year's Day. It is also reinforced in the names and courtyards of its civic monuments, landmarks, and achievements. From the Rose Bowl to each year's new, genetically engineered rose displayed in the garden beside the Wrigley Mansion on Orange Grove Avenue to the Mars Rover originated at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory – this is brave terrain. But this is not all there is. In many ways, Pasadena history reveals striking superimpositions: robust oranges photographed against snow-capped peaks; lavish private estates maintained by a shadow workforce; and scientific progress pursued as zealously as wilderness preservation.

In selecting images for this project, we wanted to reveal as much of this history as possible while simultaneously emphasizing the complexity of capturing the complete historical record in photograph or text. Ultimately these photographic "befores" and "afters" should provoke as many questions as they answer. The nexus of forces that make a city, change a city, brand it with a particular reputation, open it up to a new era of redevelopment are complex and slippery. While informed by prolific historical texts, local publications, walking tours, and word on the street, the final Big Picture will always remain just outside our grasp. To invoke as much "history" (both what's been preserved and what's missing), however, we have [in the larger project from which this piece is excerpted] organized the photographic couplings around broad categories of recurring civic processes – initial acts of colonizing, landscaping, installing transportation, developing the city and canonizing its landmarks.

Neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive, the categories should suggest vantages, each prompting different angles and focal points. Some of the image-pairs suggest epic narratives. Some don't. Some pairs align with the historical record. Some imply much is missing. All are involved, however, in a series of complex processes that have made cities in Southern California start, grow and change.

Pasadena history, in particular, is a strange landscape to grasp fully, both physically and culturally, in terms of how it looked in the beginning and what successive populations did with it. As historian David Lowenthal puts it, "the past is a foreign country," strange chronologically, culturally, and spatially, Pasadena's especially so. As one of Southern California's oldest enclaves just beyond the pueblo of Los Angeles, Pasadena's formation, growth, and reluctant acceptance of cityhood coincided with the rise of American recreation, "leisure activities," and souvenir photography. When the Auto Club generously opened its photography archives, allowing glimpses of earlier, seemingly open vistas with citrus outposts, it became clear that one way to tell the history of Pasadena was to tell it in the opposite way that city histories are usually told. For Pasadena is the result of a succession of land subdivisions (big pieces of land cut up into increasingly smaller parcels) more than it is the result of a master plan.

From San Gabriel Mission territory to the orchards to the resort destinations to the concept of private property, the spaces of Pasadena filtered down through inconsistent layers of imported cultural ideals, speculative land ownership and the collision of native, migrating and conquering populations. What follows should expose as much of Pasadena's history as it does about the complex forces of cultural, political and topographical change that frequently go unnoticed. Spatial choices represented in the photos — from the subdivisions of "open" mission territory to exploiting horticultural opportunity to building fantasy estates to zoning landmark districts — are important indicators of civic maneuvering in Pasadena. These processes built a city and simultaneously sustained an anti-urban ethos. Ever ambivalent about fully embracing urbanism, Pasadena represents Southern California's most sustained attempt to adorn the Machine with flowers.

The Rose Parade, and the annual building of colossal floats (one of Pasadena's most globally famous endeavors), is just one embodiment of Pasadena's particular mélange of exotic horticulture, competition, technological showmanship, and decorative nature display. How did it happen? How did it get this big? It started with bragging. On January 1, 1890 Pasadena's Valley Hunt Club (men on horses with bugles and dogs) decided to host a winter procession of flower-laden horses and carriages, eventually formalized as the annual Tournament of Roses. In addition to escalating spectacle, the message meant to flow eastward from Colorado Boulevard to the snow-laden Midwest was: Why deal with seasonal discomfort when we've got a bed of roses in the dead of winter? Mansions lining Orange Grove Avenue, one of the parade route's main arteries, bore the names of magnates such as Wrigley, Busch and Gamble. Lavish resorts, an incline railway, ostrich farms, and an elevated cycleway to connect Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles, were similarly meant to communicate a culture of splendor and innovation.

But this is merely one of the more familiar historical vantages on the city's past. And just as photographers painstakingly search for the correct spot from which to re-photograph a specific location, so, too, will we mark our particular vantages from which we gauge how the photographic pairs we have assembled invoke Pasadena's complex development over time. The degree to which some locations have changed, even vanished, while others have been preserved, communicates as much about the challenges of capturing the totality of urban history as it does about the sites themselves.


Transportation: Progress, Technological Showmanship and Flights of Fancy

In addition to parades and railroads, Pasadenans generally liked a good ride. In keeping with Southern California's overall reputation as a health resort, early visitors hiked and camped prolifically, seeking wilderness. Pasadena's unique geography provided a canvas and enabled a culture for technological experimentation in transportation. As Pasadena evolved from a resort to a residential enclave, the wealthy eventually accepted formalized boulevards, street names and addresses. As Ann Scheid points out, the development of specific boulevards and civic axes can be overlaid with the old borders of the missions, many of which in turn coincide with natural boundaries such as the Arroyo, river beds and mountains. The natural geography inspired several cultural responses that remain hallmarks of the Western mentality to this day.

New residents who got off the Santa Fe railroad and put down roots, benefited from a series of "unnatural" acts: building a transcontinental railway, "reclaiming" enough water to sustain orchards and gardens, and blasting through geologically challenging land (full of rock and seismically active) to build dream resorts. By 1920 Pasadena was served by three interurban railway systems and two transcontinental railroads. As the automobile grew popular, what may have started in exploratory hiking evolved into exploratory motoring. When the Arroyo Seco Parkway was completed in 1940, it was, in many ways, the culmination of Pasadena's penchant for the combination of transport and progressive engineering. Pasadenans accepted what is considered the first freeway in the West, at least in part because this artery of unprecedented proportions was nestled between grassy park areas. Driving the curvaceous 110 through the Streamline Moderne tunnels (if there's no traffic) is a particularly Western delight. And there were precedents.

Pasadena had more than its share of landscape daredevils. Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe – "Professor Lowe" – was an "aeronautical enthusiast," who excelled at balloon travel and reconnaissance, a common method of gathering information before mechanized aviation. Lowe arrived in Pasadena at the age of 55 after he had made and lost several fortunes. In what would become a pronounced tradition of "scientific showmanship," Lowe formed the Pasadena & Mount Wilson Railway Company in 1891 to build an incline railway to the top of Mount Wilson. Since it had become common to hike the foothills and gather poppies, Lowe argued successfully to potential investors that establishing a mountain incline with a grand pavilion or chalet at the top of the mountain, along with a colony of private cabins, would make money. After numerous failed attempts at situating the railway, Lowe and partner David J. Macpherson, an innovative engineer, decided to attempt the impossible: build an electric railway up Rubio Canyon that would rise to an altitude of 3,500 feet in about eight minutes. Steeper than anything previously attempted, the railway would be an astonishing engineering feat. The two main "Opera Box Cars," named Rubio and Echo, began operating on July 4, 1893 in an opening celebration festooned with American flags and Japanese lanterns. Even though the Mt. Lowe railway looks precipitous in the early photos – hanging from the mountain by the proverbial thread – there wasn't one accident in the forty-four years the railway operated.

No less ambitious was the elevated cycleway begun by Horace Dobbins in 1897. At the time there were an estimated 30,000 bicycles in Pasadena and Los Angeles, and, as Henry Markham Page asserts, "it is almost impossible to grasp the importance and popularity of bicycle riding in Pasadena." In fact, a significant body of municipal law at the time detailed how bicycles and horse-drawn carriages would share the right-of-way on public thoroughfares. According to Catherine Karp's pioneering work, the popularity of public bicycling even played a role in the advent of women's emancipation. When Dobbins incorporated the California Cycleway Company, he pitched a conservative estimate to investors: even if only part of those 30,000 bikers used the elevated cycleway once a month at a toll of 10 cents, the enterprise would be exceedingly profitable. Nothing like it had ever been proposed:

The plans called for a ten-foot wide elevated roadway running from a point near the Hotel Green to just west of the Raymond Hill and from there following the Arroyo Seco to the Plaza in Los Angeles. The average height of the road would be about fifteen feet but of course the actual elevation would vary because of the topography of the land and the necessity of maintaining a gentle and even grade. The structure was to be built of wood with a railing of wire. Lights placed every 200 feet would provide ample illumination for those traveling at night. In order to prevent the possibility of its being an eyesore, the entire cycleway was to be painted a pleasing shade of green.

Dobbins' timing, unfortunately, was just off. Bicycling peaked, giving way to rising interest in the "horseless carriage." Although the cycleway made it only to a length of 1-1/4 miles, the striking beauty of the idea remains in the tenacity of local resident, Dennis Crowley, who is leading an effort to build a completed version to downtown Los Angeles.

No account of space and transport in Pasadena would be complete without referencing the innovations and the culture of technological optimism associated with the California Institute of Technology, originally Throop University, then Throop Polytechnic Institute, and currently nicknamed Caltech. As Pasadena gradually accrued urban features – a main street, arterial boulevards, a post office, and utilities, among others – the realization grew that it would also have to accrue cultural institutions such as schools, museums and universities if Pasadena's status would ultimately exceed that of an outpost.

By 1904, George Ellery Hale had built the Mount Wilson Observatory, established the new discipline of astrophysics, and invented a number of instruments to observe the stars (celestial, not cinematic). An M.I.T. graduate and member of the Royal Astronomical Society, Hale wanted to open up the heavens. And he just about did it, transforming provincial Throop University into the definitive, global leader for the study of astronomy. Socially and scientifically astute, Hale marshaled sufficient resources to establish The Carnegie Observatories, headquartered in Pasadena, which continue to mount telescopes across the globe to allow for a better look; he also had a hand in building some of the world's most powerful looking-devices, including the 200-inch Hale Telescope.

By January of 1931, Hale had assembled a scientific dream team, including Albert Einstein, in a technological ferment that would "completely revolutionize our concept of the universe" as well as providing the scientific scaffolding for the atom bomb. A cooperative wind tunnel, completed in 1942 in Pasadena, convened Douglas, Lockheed, McDonnell, Convair, North American and of course, Caltech, to find out everything there was to know about objects at high velocities. Around the same time, Howard Hughes "skywrote" the outline of Jane Russell's figure over Caltech to promote his film The Outlaw.

In addition to completing numerous scientific milestones, Hale was civic-minded. He convinced Henry Huntington to donate his estate – what would become the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens – to the public good. The Pasadena Civic Center also emerged, in large part, from Hale's participation in the Pasadena Planning Commission.

As this exhibit attempts to communicate, the traces that remain of a city's past, whether in photographs or other sources, suggest more than one explanation. They also reveal what has been systematically, or unintentionally, omitted from the official history and mythos. The content of each photo-pair cultivates a series of speculations about the past: why were these images made in the first place, why were they preserved in an archive, and why were they selected for comparison in this exhibition? These questions are purposely left open to some degree, inviting an interactive response from visitors.