Friday, December 25, 2015

Mary Pickford and Altadena's Christmas Tree Lane

In 1940, when Mary Pickford was to be featured in a broadcast starring Christmas Tree Lane, she made a mistake when addressing the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. She said Christmas Tree Lane was in Pasadena.

The Altadena Chamber was quick to respond, albeit light-heartedly:

The actress promptly apologized, and with everyone's ruffled feathers smoothed, the broadcast went as scheduled.

Even star of the big screen Mary Pickford couldn't get away with mistaking Altadena for Pasadena. Some things never change.

The Pickford letters are in the AHS archives. Our collection includes many thousands of documents. Come by and visit.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bridge from Altadena to Sierra Madre Built After 1934 Flood

The Eaton Canyon Bridge was built after the devastating 1934 flood that nearly wiped out Montrose and La Crescenta. The state-of-the-art metal structure connected Altadena to Sierra Madre via old New York Ave. and Sierra Madre Villa Rd.  

But the 1934 structure was washed away in an even bigger flood in 1969.  That was the flood that took out the El Dorado Inn

After that phenomenal rain, the county rebuilt New York Ave. with a concrete bridge. This is the roadway that exists today.

Note the proposed site for the future flood control debris basin
in this 1934 illustration.

The Altadenan, Thursday, April 12, 1934:
"Definite steps have been taken in the foothills area to guard against a recurrence of the terrible fire and flood disaster in La Crescenta and Montrose of several months ago.  Among those steps taken … is the establishment of a sub-station of the Arroyo Seco division, County Forestry Department. This substation is located at the mouth of Eaton Canyon on the new extension of New York Avenue from Foothill Blvd. to Sierra Madre Villa. 
The many fire houses in Altadena and Sierra Madre are given adequate protection by this department which has a 600 gallon tank fire engine.  This service is in addition to the new patrol station's real purpose which is the protection to valuable watershed in the nearby mountains. The protection of the watershed by the station is very necessary, according to forestry official. 
The recently completed road extension from Foothill Boulevard to Sierra Madre and the new bridge which crosses Eaton Wash are two of the things which make the new substation most effective." 

This 1934 map shows New York, the new bridge, and the L. A. County Forestry building. We added the red line to show where New York Ave. runs today.

The old bridge and old road are gone, but the County Forestry substation, a modest arroyo-stone shingle-style cabin-like structure, is still operating.  It's located on the east side of Eaton Canyon wash. You can still see remnants of the old bridge and road if you climb down into the wash directly east of the Eaton Canyon Nature Center.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Good Gift: Altadena History Book by Michele Zack

If your wondering what to get your favorite former Altadenan - someone who has moved away from our lovely community - consider purchasing Altadena: Between Wilderness and City by Michele Zack.

You can purchase the book online, or send a check to AHS, 730 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena CA 91001. The book is $53 and that includes tax. Add 5 bucks for shipping.

BUT …if you live in Altadena, your total cost is only $53 (no shipping) because one of our volunteers will drop the book off at your house! That's old fashioned service.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Meet the New Tournament of Roses Queen and Court

Saluting Altadena’s Seven Decades of  Participation in the Rose Parade

   The 2016 Rose Queen Erika Karen Winter and her Court of six Princesses will meet the public and inaugurate a new exhibit showcasing Altadena’s colorful history in the Rose Parade, at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6 at the Altadena Historical Society.

   The Historical Society is at the Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Drive, 91001.  The event is free and open to everyone.
Also present will be Madison Triplett, the 2015 Queen;
Ana Marie Acosta, 2014 Queen; and Kristina Smith,
1985 Queen, all of Altadena.

 The Queens and Princesses will form a receiving line after the 3 p.m. program, for photos and congratulations from the public. 

   The exhibit, “Altadena in the Rose Parade,” will be open from 2 to 5 p.m.  It features numerous vintage photos and articles about Altadenans’ key role in evolving the Rose Parade.

         “The Valley Hunt Club, which originated the parade and administered it for many years, was formed in an Altadena mansion.  
Hallie Woods, the very first Rose Parade Queen, was from Altadena--and helped build her own float. (1905)
 Kristina Smith, who is still an Altadena resident, was the first African-American Rose Queen in 1985.

The exhibit runs through June 30, 2016 and will be open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m., to 1 p.m., and on Saturdays from 2 pm to 4 pm through December and the first three weeks in January.

   The Historical Society website is, and the phone number is (626) 797-8016.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Tournament of Roses Parade Exhibit "Altadena in the Rose Parade" Opens December 6, 2015

Featuring documents, parade programs, photographs and clippings, the inaugural show in AHS' new exhibit space celebrates our community's seven decades of participation in the internationally known event. The exhibit will run through June 30, 2016.

Altadena's 1956 entry The Rose Tattoo
inspired by the Pulitzer prize winning play
of Tennessee Williams

A free exhibit open to members and the public

Exhibit Hours:
Monday, Tuesday and Friday, 9 am to 1 pm

Special hours: 
Saturdays January 1 and 9 from 2 pm to 4 pm

Altadena Historical Society is in the Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Dr., Altadena, CA 91001

Thursday, November 5, 2015

AHS Exhibit Features Mountain View Mausoleum

Mountain View Mausoleum
 was the most expensive structure in
L.A. County when it was built in 1925.
 The glorious architecture and artwork of Altadena's Mountain View Mausoleum are celebrated in an Altadena Historical Society exhibit in the back hall gallery at Webster's Community Pharmacy, 

Mezzanine stairway features windows
by L.A. Art Glass Co. and Arts and Crafts
 tile work, possibly by Grueby Faience
Co. and Catalina Pottery.
The dozen color photos in the exhibit show the exterior and interior of the 1925 landmark structure, located on Marengo north of Woodbury.

New Radiance Corridor
Designed by Jae Carmichael
Glass by renowned Judson Studio

The Main Gallery is 180 feet long

Exhibit continues through 
December 1, 2015
Where:  Webster's Community Pharmacy
2450 N. Lake Ave.
Altadena, CA 91001
Open every day but Sunday

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Program about History of Mt. Wilson Observatory

Monday Oct. 26, 7:30 p.m.
Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Drive

Don't miss this talk about the history of the world-famous Mount Wilson Observatory at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 26 at the Altadena Historical Society by retired aerospace engineer Christopher Purcell, from the Mount Wilson Institute.
Charles St. John, Albert Einstein and Walther Mather
Mt. Wilson Observatory 1931

Founded by astronomer George Ellery Hale in 1904 with funding by the Carnegie Institution, the celestial observatory is located on top of 5,710-foot-high Mount Wilson, above Altadena in the San Gabriel Mountains. It was at the Mount Wilson Observatory that famous astronomer Edwin Hubble was able to prove that the universe extends beyond the Milky Way Galaxy, and to the subsequent view that the universe is actually expanding.

Speaker Chris Purcell spent nearly 40 years in the aerospace industry, much of it related to spacecraft launch, trajectory analysis, and orbital control.  He has a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from UCLA and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from USC. He is a docent with the Mount Wilson Observatory, the non-profit organization that runs the observatory.  His talk will be accompanied by slides, and be followed by a question-and-answer session. The program is free and open to the public.

The Historical Society, with offices in the Community Center, is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays and can be reached at (626) 797-8016.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Altadena Bicentennial Quilt on Permanent Display

It's taken 39 years, but finally, Altadena's bicentennial quilt is permanently displayed at archives. Thanks in part to a huge discount from Aarnun Gallery and Framing in Pasadena, we ordered a professional UV protected plexibox for the quilt. Last week it was installed and Mary Smeritsnig (below right)  who made a square depicting Farnsworth Park's Davies building was there for the very informal installation.  

Sara Carnahan and Mary Smeritsnigh reminisc

The Altadena Library and Friends Bicentennial Quilt is the handiwork of twenty eight women. Completed in 1976, the 6'x6' quilt features 36 blocks, each telling one part of the Altadena story.

Historic Echo Mt. Trail Sign Installed in Altadena Community Center Courtyard

Efforts by Altadena Historical Society and Los Angeles County staff have resulted in the installation of the historic Echo Mt. Trail signpost in the courtyard of Altadena Community Center - a project 12 years in the making. 

The concrete sign with an arrow pointing to the trail head was found by Altadenan Jack Stivers after the Mt. Lowe railway was discontinued and the tracks torn out in the early 1940s. Jack donated the signpost to AHS in 2003, with the wish that it be erected at the new Community Center, a Los Angeles County facility.  The sign remained in storage until AHS and the county recently renewed efforts to get the artifact installed.

Front row left to right: AHS president Jane Brackman,
Mackone Development superintendent Raymond Gonzalez, Community Center staff Lorraine Contreras and Community Center and Senior Center director Liliana Garcia 

Monday, June 22, 2015

La Pintoresca Hotel

La Pintoresca (The Painter Hotel), built and managed by Altadena's Painter family occupied the northeast  corner of North Fair Oaks and Washington in what we might call historic Altadena.  (The hotel was built before Pasadena annexed the area.)  The Painters were close friends with the Gambles and the hotel, like the Gamble House, was very up-to-date for its time.  

Hotel Pintoresca in 1895
The hotel was built in 1888
and destroyed by fire in 1912.
The hotel offered sweeping views of the snow capped San Gabriel range and was popular with tourists and well-heeled Pasadenans.

Sid Galley wrote in an article for the Pasadena Star-News:
"At an elevation of around 1,000 feet and in an era when trees were lacking, there must have been a splendid view from the [hotel's] veranda.  
The Pasadena Star reported on January 15, 1912: "With the exception of the north wing at the west end of the building, containing the kitchen, dining room and servants' quarters, Hotel Pasadena, formerly known as La Pintoresca, located at the corner of Washington Street and Fair Oaks Avenue, was completely destroyed by fire that started at 10:45 o'clock last night. The guests escaped without injury."  
Defective wiring was suspected as the cause of the fire but it started above the room of guest E. Tallman who had just left to catch a train and might have discarded a match when lighting a cigar.  
The fire department arrived soon and fought the fire for several hours. Bellboys ran through the halls alerting guests who grabbed jewelry and other possessions as they left. The jewelry of a few guests was lost in the fire.  
In an editorial, the Star wrote: "Destruction of property by fire is always particularly regrettable. But the burning of Hotel Pasadena, better known as La Pintoresca, is especially to be deplored, because of the aroma of early-day romance that clung to this landmark. Before it was La Pintoresca, it was known as the Painter Hotel, from the Messrs Painter who built it in 1888 and owned and conducted it until a few years ago. In the early youth of the city many a delightful banquet and social function was held within its walls. Perhaps no structure in Pasadena had more romantic memories and associations attached to it. "That there was no loss of life is cause for thankfulness."  
The hotel contained antique furniture brought to the hotel by "Hetty" Green, said to be the richest woman in the world, who was an investor in the hotel. One valuable chair that was saved had been made for Francis Scott Key of Star Spangled Banner fame."
Check out Ann Erdman's informative blog post about La Pintoresca that features these rare photos:

Today the lovely La Pintoresca Branch Library, built in 1930 and named after the hotel, is situated on a small piece of the original property.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

Artist Mildred Scott Townsend

Our friend Richard Bale who recently lectured about growing up in Altadena sent AHS this information on artist Mildred Scott Townsend.  She had a studio in the Highview Avenue neighborhood where Richard grew up.  He sent this information:
Mildred spent many of her
Altadena years painting in the San Gabriels.

Born in Illinois, September 13, 1897, Mildred Scott (Townsend) graduated from Northwestern University, studied at the Chicago Art Institute and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. In 1921 she married Elmer Scott Townsend. She suffered a tubercular hemorrhage in 1926, then travelled to Southern California where she entered a sanitarium in Monrovia. Her recovery over the next few years was successful. 
"Hasting's Ranch"
In 1935, the couple moved to the area permanently. Elmer Townsend established a clothing business in Pasadena. They purchased a home in Altadena at 2677 Highview Avenue where they had a multi-windowed studio built atop the single-story house. 

2677 Highview
The house has fallen into disrepair although
it looks like some renovation work just started.

The upper story room (noted by oval)
was added by the Townsends to serve
as Mildred's studio.

As her health continued to improve, Mildred became increasingly active in painting.  
"Sierra Vista"
During the 1940s Mildred camped
and painted in the High Sierras.
In 1953 she studied at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, painting there and in Guanajuato. In the 1950s, through her studies with Richard Ruben, she moved strongly in to the abstract field. In 1958 she won the Pasadena Society of Artists McBride award and a first award with the Pasadena Art Festival. In 1959 she again won the McBride award and other firsts with the Woman Painters of the West. Between 1958 and 1964 her resume listed 16 awards. 
Mildred favored landscapes, working in
Altadena’s Millard and Eaton Canyons,
and Big Tujunga Canyon.
Mildred continued to paint after downsizing to a retirement home in Laguna Hills in 1971. She won a first award at the Laguna Hills Fall Show with a painting that was reproduced on the cover of the January 1973 edition of “Orange County Illustrated” magazine. She died January 29, 1985. 
Mildred in Laguna Hills, about 1970.
Note her painting "Hasting's Ranch"
is on wall to her right. 
Twenty-five of Mildred Scott Townsend’s abstracts, many of them award winners, are housed at the Bower Museum in Santa Ana. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Altadena's 1935 La Vina Fire

It's almost fire season in Altadena 
The 2009 Station Fire
Saving Mt. Wilson
And speaking of fires...
On the heels of the 1934 Brown Mountain fire that scorched 3,000 acres above Altadena, the 1935 La Vina fire, fueled by high winds, did substantially more damage. The La Vina fire was named after the sanitarium destroyed in the blaze. (The facility was located at the north end of Lincoln Avenue where La Vina housing development stands today.) 

The inferno swept through the foothills from Millard Canyon to Las Flores Canyon, almost destroying the home of Charles H. Cobb. His estate, elegantly appointed with imported exotic hardwoods was landscaped with combustible eucalyptus, palms and lodge pole pines. 
But the 83 year-old Cobb, with a 200,000 gallon reservoir he'd installed 15 years earlier, was prepared for the fight. (The reservoir is still there, about a quarter mile above the ruins of the house, and now belongs to Las Flores Water Company.)
Cobb's reservoir as it looks today.
According to the October 24, 1935 issue of the Altadena Press, "About two o'clock in the morning [Cobb] was awakened to find that not only his property… but his life and that of his household were endangered. Due to the water system installed on the Las Flores ranch 20 years ago, Mr. Cobb, with the aid of Andrew Anderson, was able to save all of his property with the exception of damage done to a few trees and shrubs. Mr. Cobb handled a water hose bearing 100 pounds pressure, playing it upon a blazing furnace with a few feet of his garage and other buildings, the point first threatened. Mr. Cobb stated that he has contended for many years that the canyons and foothills above Altadena should be periodically burned off by the forestry department to eliminate dangers to property and loss of life, this statement coming from a man who has spent a lifetime in the woods is significant and deserving of careful study."
Although this is the Station Fire behind JPL, 
you can imagine that the La Vina Fire 
looked pretty much the same.
Photo by Dan Finnerty
Charles Cobb made his fortune in lumber, starting off as a lumberjack in his home state of Maine and later Washington. Prior to retirement he served as president of International Lumber Company. In 1916 he and his wife, Carrie, purchased a substantial part of Las Flores ranch and built their dream home in the shadow of Echo Mountain.

Cobb died in 1939. About 20 years later the house was torn down due to neglect and vandalism. Cobb's estate, at the top of Lake Avenue, is now a park managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

See photos and read more about the history of the Cobb Estate.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Altadena's Miniature Golf Course

If you recall back 50 years, when the purple and white building on Lake Ave just south of Amy’s restaurant was The Venetian, you might remember the miniature golf garden that was built on the property in the 1920s.  The recreational attraction closed during the depression but the mini buildings dotting the little course were still there. In fact, a few of them remain to this day including the pint sized church featured in the photo below.  

Sidewalks still wind through the course ruins and remnants of a little water hazard remain.
The Altadena Golf Garden
piped in music over loud speakers.
More recently the location has served as a church.  The church sold the property a few months ago. Plans to raze the building (and the golf course) to build medical offices is on hold due to parking issues.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

AHS Map Collection

The AHS cartography collection includes more than 50 maps that chart Altadena’s history, progress and dreams for the future.  
Map from about 1940 shows where
New York Ave. cut across Eaton Canyon.
(Current road route is indicated by red line.)
Many are practical representations depicting the distance between places, demarcation of travel routes, and the location of boundaries. 
Realtor’s maps boast plans for future subdivisions. 

Others are whimsical graphic representations publicizing community sites, like businesses and parks. Maps tell darker stories as well, of racism, poverty, and economic downturn. Government tract maps show sub-divided pieces of land.   
Someone has indicated the location
of Camp Huntington on this old map.

Community booster maps, like those issued by the Chamber of Commerce, persuade  businesses and future home-owners to put down roots in Altadena. Reading a map is like reading a history book.  Best of all, most maps in the AHS collection are indexed for quick reference. Drop in and take a look.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Altadena Press

Before ALTADENA NOW and altadenblog, there was the...

COX-O-TYPE Schwart-Seymore 
Flat Bed Web Newspaper Press

The mammoth press was installed at Altadena Press, 750 E. Mariposa (today the building west of liquor store on south side of Mariposa), on Thursday, August 26, 1937. This is what the building looked like in 1937.

The Cox-O-Type Schwart-Seymore Press weighed 10 tons and  modernized newspaper publishing, speeding up printing and folding in one operation.  It changed the size, make-up, and copy style of the The Altadena Press, first published in 1928.  

The paper stated, "The Altadena Press will adopt the newer trend toward "streamlined" newspapers, which will make the paper more easily read and will present the news content in a smarter, clearer page make-up." The publishers felt sure that readers of the press would be pleased with the efforts that were made to "give Altadena only the finest type newspaper - one in keeping with the high ideals and conceptions of the fine southland community."

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Eliot Students 1947

Just a reminder – 
Monday night's Altadena Historical Society program (April 27, 2015) at the Altadena Community Center (7:30 p.m.) will feature 1940s Altadena, a story told by Richard Bale who lived here beginning in 1939.  

Don't miss this event – even if you come just for the photos.

Altadena Historical Society Program
Richard Bale 
Altadena in the 1940s
7:30 p.m.
Altadena Community Center
730 E. Altadena Drive
Altadena 91001

Free and open to public

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

AHS Program - Altadena in the 1940s

Calling all local history buffs! Here's a chance to take a sentimental stroll down memory lane this coming Monday night, 7:30 p.m. at the Altadena Community Center, 730 E. Altadena Drive. You'll see rare Images of Altadena in the 1940s and hear a personal memory of what it was like to grow up here.

Altadena Historical Society Program at Community Center 7:30 p.m. April 27

Richard Bale, 83, moved to Altadena with his mother and sister in 1939.  He attended Altadena Elementary, Eliot Junior High and John Muir High School before being drafted into the Korean War in 1951. He remembers that it wasn't uncommon to see horses and cows pastured on the west side of Altadena, and chickens and pigs in people's yards. Some remaining orange groves stretched for blocks. He also remembers a few small factories that helped supply America's World War II effort, including a home that had been turned into a   machine shop that spit out precision parts for Lockheed 24 hours a day.

Monday April 27, 7:30 p.m.  
Altadena Community Center
730 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena, Ca 91001 
The meeting is free and open to the public

         Celebrating its 80th anniversary, Altadena Historical Society has extensive archives of local history in the Community Center and is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and by appointment.  The Society can be reached at 626-797-8016.