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Notes on the Geography of The Western United States: Los Angeles 4

A look at Pasadena and--jump way over to the southwestern corner of the San Fernando Valley--Calabasas.

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Although it can be traced back even beyond the San Gabriel Orange Growers' Association, Pasadena was not incorporated until 1886. That was a year after it was connected by rail to Los Angeles, and it was the same year that the lavish Raymond Hotel began attracting eastern tourists in search of pleasant winters. Sunshine and oranges spurred growth--Pasadena tripled from 10,000 people in 1900 to 30,000 in 1910--and the city entered what people remember now as its golden age. The Great Depression hit hard. Compounding difficulties, the ironically named Arroyo Seco flooded disastrously in 1938. The flood-control channel shown here, built by the Army Corps of Engineers, was the response. Parallel to it, and barely visible here, is the Arroyo Seco Parkway, built at the same time. It was the West's first freeway and a mixed blessing, because it made Pasadena a Los Angeles suburb.

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An older vision of Pasadena--and California--was threatened if not destroyed by the growth of the automotive metropolis. That older vision is suggested by El Alisal ("the Sycamore"), the Arroyo Seco house built by Charles F. Lummis between 1896 and 1910. Lummis had walked from Cinncinnati to Los Angeles in 1884, become city editor of the Los Angeles Times, and founded both the Southwest Museum and the Arroyo Seco Foundation. Today his house is a museum, open a few hours weekly. You can hear the parkway traffic as it speeds by.

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The famed Gamble House was commissioned by David Gamble of Procter and Gamble. In search of California sunshine in his later years, he commissioned Charles and Henry Greene to build a winter home close to the Arroyo Seco.

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Unpretentious but full of teak and mahogany, the house cost a fortune. It stayed in the family until 1966, when it was deeded to the city after a potential purchaser started talking about how much some white paint would help.

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Less spectacular but more representative of Pasadena's Golden Age: houses on the campus of the Fuller Theological Seminary.

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The City Hall, completed in 1927 at the height of Pasadena's appeal to snowbound easterners. The architects were Bakewell and Brown of San Francisco.

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A generation after the parkway was completed, Pasadena risked becoming like the rest of Los Angeles.

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It had a downtown mall to match, the Plaza Pasadena. That center was demolished. In its place on Colorado Boulevard: the new Paseo Colorado.

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It's another venture in the New Urbanism, with shops developed by Trizec of New York and, above them, expensive apartments developed by Post Properties of Atlanta.

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Ads speak of a "renaissance."

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Reality falls short of the rhetoric, but the lighting at night--no small thing--is exceptionally good.

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Some of the apartments overlook a supermarket loading dock. But, yes, the supermarket is a good one.

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We've slipped 30 miles west to Calabasas and its new Commons, "a charming Mediterranean-style retail and entertainment village... combining 'Old Town' aesthetic charm with modern shopping...."

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What do you think the bell sounds like?

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No need to traipse off to Spain to see the Giralda. It's here, ready for our class in the poetry of Lord Byron. Please turn to "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," Canto I, Stanza LXV. "Fair is proud Seville; let her country boast / Her strength, her wealth, her site of ancient days."

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A few miles away, and tactfully located off the highway south to Pepperdine University, is another cultural adventure, in this case not the entrance to a shopping center but the gopuram of an actual Hindu temple.


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