Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Altadena's Notable Residents - Mabel Normand

In 1922, silent film screen actress and comedian Mabel Normand  (1892-1930) lived in Altadena, residing in a house on Foothill Blvd (now Altadena Drive).

Normand began her film career making a name for herself in slapstick comedy. She helped Mack Sennett launch Keystone Studios where they produced Keystone Cop comedies. Normand also wrote and directed many of Charlie Chaplin's earliest shorts, often acting in them as well. In 1916, she opened her own production company and studio.

Troubled by drug use, depression, and deteriorating health from pulmonary tuberculosis, the actress was a frequent victim of scandalous rumor. In 1922 the violent murder of her close friend and likely lover director William Desmond Taylor brought on a despondency from which she never recovered.  To this day Taylor's murder remains an official cold case.

Seeking recuperation and rest, Normand moved to Altadena in 1922. Noted for its healthful climate, Altadena had a fair share of sanitariums including private homes converted to long-term care for people with chronic disease.

The silent movie actress eventually fell into obscurity and today her name and contributions are rarely mentioned in film history biographies. Normand died in Monrovia, California from pulmonary tuberculosis in 1930.

Find out more about the remarkable Mabel Normand. Her story is featured in the AHS exhibit Interesting Altadenans - Then and Now
Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altaadena Drive, Altadena, CA 91001

The Altadena Historical Society was founded in 1935 and is a tax-exempt non-profit whose mission is to gather, preserve and present information about the people, places and events that have shaped the community.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Historian Michele Zack to Speak at Altadena Historical Society October 24, 2016

October Program Focuses on Illness as
A Southern California Immigration Driver

Historian Michele Zack will speak on illness as a Southern California immigration driver at the 7:30 Monday Oct. 24 program of the Altadena Historical Society.

The program will be held at the Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Drive. The event is free and open to the public.

Zack, an Altadena resident and author of histories of Altadena and Sierra Madre, says that her research shows “The importance of the illness legacy has been underestimated as an influence of how we think of Southern California today.”

Indeed, many health seekers who suffered from tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases moved to California and other Western states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for their then-dry, unpolluted air.

Altadena was home to a number of TB sanitariums and hospitals, as were other communities in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills.

The Altadena Historical Society was founded in 1935 and is a tax-exempt non-profit whose mission is to gather, preserve and present information about the people, places and events that have shaped the community.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Exhibit at AHS Showcases 51 Accomplished Altadena Residents

New Exhibit at Altadena Historical Society Showcases Scores of Accomplished Altadenans Then and Now

Fifty famous and fascinating Altadenans--movie stars, artists, authors, scientists, athletes and more--are highlighted in a new exhibit at the Altadena Historical Society.

“We’ve had great fun researching and producing this exhibit,” said Jane Brackman, Society president.  “The trouble has been choosing those to include, as we have far more than our gallery can accommodate.”

The show--which opens Monday Oct. 3--is in both the Historical Society’s gallery and in the lobby of the Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Drive, just west of the Sheriff’s Station.

It is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, and by appointment for groups and others, (626) 797-8016.  It is free of charge, but donations toward the Society’s work are welcomed.

“Many of the people featured are our current neighbors and gave their kind permission for us to include them, while others have passed on,” Brackman said.  “In fact, we didn’t include several Altadena residents who are major stars in their fields, but cherish the privacy they have by living here.“

Current or former Altadenans included in the new exhibit include:

*The Smothers Brothers.  Singers, musicians, comedians and television stars; as boys, Tom and Dick Smothers lived with relatives on Santa Anita Avenue.

*Noted contemporary authors Miles Corwin, Naomi Hirahara, Jervey Tervalon and Michelle Huneven; deceased best-seller Zane Grey.

*Entrepreneur Horace Dobbins.  Dobbins proposed an elevated bikeway between Pasadena and Los Angeles, some of which was built.  His beautiful and innovative home was near the top of Lincoln Avenue.

*Tennis great Stan Smith, who trained at the Altadena Town and Country Club, winner of the 1971 U.S. Open and 1972 Wimbledon, and LPGA golfer Mo Martin, winner of the 2014 Women’s British Open.

*Mary Colter.  One of America’s first and most celebrated female architects, designing and overseeing construction of iconic tourist attractions and hotels at the Grand Canyon and throughout the Southwest. 

*Famed seismologist Charles Richter; legendary astronomer George Ellery Hale; and brilliant physicist, exuberant adventurer and best-selling author Richard Feynman.

*Octavia Butler.  A science fiction writer who received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 1995 and was a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Butler’s work is still selling.

*Johnny Otis. Called “The King of Rock and Roll” and “Godfather of Rhythm and Blues,” he was a singer, musician, composer, arranger, bandleader, talent scout, disk jockey, record producer, television show host, artist, author, journalist, minister and impresario.

Society President Jane Brackman said the most frequent comments overheard from people viewing the exhibit are “No kidding!,” “Oh, really!!,” and “Come look at this!,” which is her invitation to the public: “Come look at this!”

The Altadena Historical Society was founded in 1935 and is a tax-exempt non-profit whose mission is to gather, preserve and present information about the people, places and events that have shaped the community.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tim Rutt's altadenablog now accessible through AHS home page

They may say "Old news is no news," 
but here at archives we believe old news is priceless.

Altadena Historical Society has successfully archived Tim Rutt's award winning altadenablog, Altadena's local news source that ran September 2007 through January 2014. Additionally, we're almost ready to launch Tim's Altadena Point published January 2014 to April 10 2015.

Remember When…
  • Fires? Helicopters? Sirens? - all you had to do was open the blog to find out when, where and why it was happening.
  • Curious about neighborhood bears and bobcats? You could fire up the blog to see the alta-critter map, a source that showed locations of all recent sightings.
  • At the touch of a button you could find out about local events, crimes, art and music happenings, elections, emergencies, pets lost and found and even read about the good news going on in Altadena.  

Other categories included: 

Both blogs, although active and searchable, are now historic documents that will round out our archived collection of Altadena newspapers going all the way back to 1928. 

Want to take a look? Go to the AHS website, find the Links pull-down menu where you'll see altadenablog.

Thank You
  • Thank you Tim Rutt for dedicating seven years reporting the Altadena story. And thanks for giving us permission to archive the blogs.
  • Thank you Brenda Harlow of Harlow Technologies, for graciously volunteering your time to make the blog accessible through our website.
  • Thank you donors for responding to our special appeal.

Please forward this link to your 
Altadena friends and neighbors who remember Tim's blogs.

And if you haven't visited the AHS blog in a while, these are a few of the 87 posts you've missed: JR's Coffee Shop (now El Patron); brief history of Devil's Gate dam; Altadena Woodlands 1920-30s subdivision; the 1935 La Vina fire;  and our miniature golf course

Sign up to receive monthly local history blogposts in your mailbox.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

JR Coffee Shop - An Altadena Icon

Although this little pie-shaped building on North Lake Avenue has served as a real estate office and seen its share of struggling restaurants, in the 1960s it was the successful "J.R. Coffee Shop". The diner was one of three restaurants that made up a small chain called "The Headliner" on Pasadena's Colorado Street between the old Star-News building (hence the name) and the Presbyterian Church. 

Matchbook Cover
A second restaurant was located on the southeast corner of Altadena Drive and Washington where McDonald's is currently located. And the smallest in the chain was in Altadena - thus the Junior moniker. (Some locals refer to the diner by its initials, J.R.)

A long time Altadena resident said "It was a hamburger, fries and milk-shake kind of place, much like Bob's Big Boy. I ate there often with my family. It was so nice to have a local diner."

Today it's the location of the popular restaurant, El Patron.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Altadena's Building Boom

This photo is from our archives. The workers are posing with horse-drawn road grading equipment.

The street sign says Piedmont and Glen Avenue.  Piedmont was renamed Foothill, and finally Altadena Drive.

The citrus orchard was being graded for the Orange Blossom Homes subdivision.

If you go north on Glen Avenue from Altadena Drive, the houses on the street are part of the Janes' development, built after World War One. Glen Avenue is a few blocks east of Lincoln.

Below is a photo of the same shot as it appears today.

Circa 1920s

Monday, May 9, 2016

Altadena's Devil's Gate Dam

Built in 1920 by the Bent Bros Company, the Arroyo Seco's Devil's Gate Dam, was the first flood control dam in L. A. County. Its construction followed the devastating 1914 flood that sent dozens of homes down the arroyo.

The dam under construction 

The Devil's profile is downstream from the dam and
except for graffiti looks the same as in this photo.

The view before JPL was built
The dam soon after it was built in 1920.

The dam as it appears today.
Connecting Altadena to La CaƱada Flintridge, the structure spans the narrowest place in the Arroyo Seco watershed at Devil's Gate Gorge named after the shape of the rocks.

The watershed begins at Red Box Saddle in the Angeles National Forest near Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains. Although the dam was primarily built for flood control, the reservoir was used for recreation until the Sylmar earthquake compromised the integrity of the concrete structure in 1971.

Photo taken soon after the structure was completed.
When the first section of the 210 freeway opened in 1966, the road was largely circumvented. Today the old road is closed to motor vehicles and is enjoyed by recreational enthusiasts and dog-walkers.

A series of plans to manage the Arroyo Seco watershed near the dam have been established. The Los Angeles Times published an informative article about the controversy surrounding the cleaning out of the debris basin.

(Photos in this post are from the AHS archives, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Wikipedia.)