Friday, February 10, 2017

Memories about Altadena's Grocery Stores

We received so many memories from readers commenting on our January 2017 post about the closing of Ralphs, that we decided to include them here: 

Dick Bale wrote:
The store described in the blog as being on the southwest corner of Fair Oaks and Mendocino, was actually just south of Harriet. It was owned and operated by the McQuown family in the late 1930s through the ‘40s – perhaps later. Our home was just a few doors from the store and as a nine year old I liked to hang out with the man who operated the produce department. I’d help trim a crate of lettuce, pulling off any damaged leaves and rinsing the head in an outdoor sink behind the store. The McQuown’s also operated another modest grocery store on the east side of Altadena. I’m not certain but I believe it was on Altadena Drive near New York Drive or Washington St. Sometimes I’d go there with the produce man who let me ride on top of crates of vegetables in the back of his small stake truck. In the spring of 1942, when Roosevelt ordered all people of Japanese descent incarcerated, the Japanese produce manager signed everything, including his bank accounts and home, over to Mr. McQuown. When the war was over McQuown turned everything back to the returning Japanese family.
I don’t know when they got started or closed but throughout the 1940s there were two fairly large grocery stores on the Altadena side of Woodbury Road at Los Robles. A step or two east was a modern Safeway store with a conventional closed front. Nothing special. The more interesting store was the A&P with an open front – more typical of Southern California grocery stores of the period. Tall steel doors folded like an accordion into alcoves at the side of the building leaving the entire front of the store open. Gondolas about the size of a sofa were wheeled out on to the sidewalk at the front of the store. They were piled high with fresh produce. Bees and flies buzzed around but people seemed to deal with it.
There is a photo in the AHS files of the Market Basket on Mariposa at Lake. It was taken on a rainy January 9, 1949. As seen in the photo the accordion doors were kept closed because of the inclement weather. If you can't readily access the photo let me know and I'll email you a copy.
The accordion doors were opened each day to display fresh produce
Jim Walser wrote:
Thanks again for another interesting (but sad) newsletter. I remember taking my grandmother there many times. As a matter of fact, I hate to admit it, but I recall when Market Basket used to be there! Lots of change in Altadena, but there’s always Fox’s dining room to take me back in time!
Mary Molitar Casaburi said:
That Market Basket had a parking lot ... south of it (backing up to the Savings & Loan @ Lake & Calavaras) ... and some more parking behind (east of) it ... with some little hill involved. One day, our very embarrassed mother caught a very young - maybe 3 y/o son (my brother) Doug (& maybe even a younger Arvid) walking around the parking lot, slapping the cars (then solid metal) & mimicking Cal Worthington: "Who wants this '53 Plymouth with low mileage" etc. She flushed with embarrassment (& some pride?) and probably put both sons in the grocery cart for future shopping trips.

As young bike riders (on 2 wheeled bicycles) ... my nextdoor neighbor, Robin (2 yrs older than I) and I would ride our bikes over to the Market Basket ... we would leave our bikes where the lower parking lot and the one behind the store join ... with a hilly area ... We would each buy a 2 pack of Hostess chocolate cupcakes (must have been less than 10 cents/pack?!) then go back to the bikes on their slight hill and scarf down our cupcake treats (the kind with the white squiggle on top and white frosting stuffed inside). If we had any money left ... it might go into the machine that distributed little plastic things in clear plastic balls ... often they would be great little objects for my doll house dolls!

When I brought my baby son home to meet & visit my father and brothers in '79, I needed to pick up some stuff at the Market Basket. I packed my baby son into his stroller and headed 2 blocks east to the always faithful Market Basket. There turned out to be quite a few things that I needed and I piled that stroller very high. Having essentially not lived in Altadena for at least 10 years ... I didn't see anyoneI knew in the store ... until the mother of a dear friend spotted me ... "Mary Jane!" She met baby Jim and was appropriately complimentary & offered me a ride home. I politely declined ... but when she saw me dropping bags of stuff she insisted ... and I must say ... THAT RIDE WAS MUCHLY APPRECIATED! (even tho we couldn't obey child safety seat regulations!)
Webster's Pharmacy on the east side of Lake Ave @ Mariposa was a great place, too. If our doctor, Pediatrician, Dr. Hardy, (first living on Deodora then around the corner on Mendocino) prescribed a medicine (like the sweet tourquoise cold medicine ... or was it for Hay Fever?...), Webster's would fill it and deliver it by a VW "Bug" (car). They had great cards and Ginny & Barbie dolls.
The Altadena Library on the east side of Lake, between Mendocino and Mariposa, was another great place to visit. I remember very nice floors ... maybe tile?
The building on the north side of Mariposa between Lake and El Molino, still a hardware store? (was owned by our neighbors, the Paul Thomas family, for ages - Paul & Donny). Before becoming a hardware store, the building was a drug store (an early version of Websters?) and had a variety of things, including a freezer chest where you could find a ice cream bar ... then you had to talk your mother into getting it. There may have been a soda fountain area along west wall???  
The corner shop at El Molino & Mariposa did upholstery work at one time and might have sold fabric? The Five and Dime nextdoor had everything imaginable. We had hair cuts at the shop east of the hardware store & alley.
It was a real treat to go to eat at Juniors coffee shop at the triangle: Lake, Altadena Drive & El Molino.
Our family went to St. Mark's Church on Altadena Drive and Maiden Lane. I believe the church property included the house east of the church, at the SW corner of Altadena Dr & Maiden Ln ... I believe the clergy may have lived there. But to me the most interesting place was the "Markam House" which was downhill from the church at the NE corner of Maiden Lane & Madre Vista Road. It was a huge old house and I think the Markam family donated it and the land to St. Marks. We had Brownie and Girl Scout meetings and programs at the house. It was fantastic exploring the rooms, floors and yard. We lived on Mendocino Street. Altadena Elementary school was just behind the houses across from our house ... but we had to walk down El Molino to get to school. One of my best friends, whose name shall remain nameless ... was unable to walk with me and two neighborhood boys to Kindergarten on the first day. The mother had to take the child. When I was young, maybe up until I was in Jr. High, there was a huge old abandoned house at the corner of our street. It had been abandoned for years ... It was a terrific place to explore. There was a huge yard and and great climbing tree with a small tree house (we played with Ginny dolls up there ... probably lost all their shoes & socks as they fell down into the plants below. There was a fish pond that was full of toads ... at one point someone emptied the pond and we caught tadpoles and tiny toads. Not many survived ... but for years, we would see descendants of the toads hopping around on our patio ... and one or two would survive in our neighbor's swimming pool (left from the estate ... it was drained each winter).     
If you have memories of Altadena, please let us know and we'll do our best to post them on the blog. Our email is

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.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Free panel discussion on authors and cultural appropriation


A spirited talk between an Altadena publisher and three of her acclaimed authors will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday Feb. 2 at the Altadena Community Center (730 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena, California 91001) The event is open to the public free of charge.

The panel discussion will be among Naomi Hirahara, an Altadena native who is author of a mystery series set in that foothill community; Rachel M. Harper, author of 2016’s notable novel, “This Side of Providence;” Joyce Gittlin, television writer and director and author of numerous movie scripts for Disney, Paramount and 20th Century; and Colleen Dunn Bates, founder and publisher of Altadena-based Prospect Park Books.

Their talk will focus on issues raised in the play “Bee-luther-hatchee” by Thomas Gibbons, being presented at the Sierra Madre Playhouse through Feb. 18.   The discussion is sponsored and produced by the playhouse, and is hosted by the Altadena Historical Society.

The play follows a publisher, Shelita Burns, who seeks to meet a reclusive author whose “biography” of a 72-year-old black woman has won a major award.  To her profound shock, the author is not whom Shelita expected.  The play is a provocative look at cultural appropriation and who has the right to tell someone else’s story.

Hirahara, Harper, Gittlin and Bates will discuss whether an author of one sex, or race, may write as another.  Hirahara, as a Japanese-American, writes primarily about Japanese-American characters and Harper, an African-American, wrote about a Puerto Rican family in “…Providence.”

The production and public discussion programs are being made possible by a grant to the Playhouse from the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Altadena' Most Memorable Floods

Although earlier flooding had taken its toll on Altadena decades before the 1934 flood that devastated La Crescenta, it was this flood that motivated the building of new infrastructure.

The 1934 flood took out large swathes of La Crescenta and Montrose
but most of Altadena was spared.

The New York Avenue extension bridge was finished soon after the La Crescenta Valley flood. Built by the WPA, it crossed Eaton Canyon wash to connect New York Drive to Sierra Madre Drive.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Free program on Jan. 23 on famed architects’ Altadena homes

Tim Gregory

Building Biographer Tim Gregory presents free Altadena Historical Society program Monday Jan. 23 on famed architects’ Altadena homes

Today, homes designed by Altadena architects Wallace Neff, Kenneth A. Gordon, Harold Bissner, and Theodore Pletsch are much sought after. But where did the architects themselves live?

Building Biographer Tim Gregory will present capsule biographies of these, and other, famous Altadena architects and of the Altadena homes they designed for their families in a free, public program presented by the Altadena Historical Society at 7:30 p.m. Monday Jan. 23.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

History of Grocery Stores in Altadena including Ralphs

Bye Bye Ralphs

Competition from the new Aldi's store on the corner of Lake and Calaveras is the likely reason that Ralphs will be closing at the end of this month. And although many of us will miss the local market with its neighborhood ambiance, history shows that Altadena's grocery stores come and go as time marches on.

Now Ralphs, the building at 2270 Lake Ave., 
constructed in the 1950s, was originally Market Basket. The
building will be vacant soon.
Photo: Leon Ricks

In 1930 Altadena boasted 35 grocery and meat market stores. Altadena Grocery Company (below) catered mostly to mansions like those along Mariposa, keeping kitchens stocked with fresh produce.

Altadena Grocery Store (Now Ms. Dragon Printing)

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.

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.