Greater Pasadena

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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The core of Greater Pasadena is Pasadena itself, most specifically the Old Town shopping district which draws in crowds from the surrounding region.

Greater Pasadena is united by history. Originally under the vast control of Mission San Gabriel, the land was then split up into various secular Mexican ranches. These were later incorporated into the Indiana Colony. The land was divided into separate cities in the late 19th century, but remains a larger cultural unit. The maximum extent of Greater Pasadena is Pasadena, South Pasadena, East Pasadena and Altadena.

Indeed, government is the only time you'll find adamant distinctions between the cities: why would a promotional brochure for Pasadena list businesses in Altadena?

Also, there are some regulatory difference: Pasadena mandates 15 feet of lawn, while Altadena does not. The latter has patios, vines, fences, lawns, a variety that contrasts with the unintentionally hideous lawns of Pasadena. But for someone who lives here, the most important divisions are between various informal neighborhoods, many of which flow across city boundaries.

The Arroyo Seco forms a natural western boundary.

The Arroyo Seco River runs through Pasadena, forming a canyon which contains Upper Arroyo Park, Brookside Golf Course, Rose Bowl Stadium and Arroyo Seco Park. At Pasadena's north, Devil's Gate Dam causes the Arroyo Seco to flood out the Hahamonga Watershed; JPL and the Angeles Forest are adjacent. At Pasadena's south, the Arroyo Seco Canyon is bordered by treasures such as the Gamble House, Fenyes Mansion and many more.

Areas of Greater Pasadena
Old Town PasadenaOld Town hugs Colorado Blvd between Pasadena Ave and Los Robles and has luxury hotels, boutique shops, big-box retailers and upscale and casual fine dining. But go east of Allen Avenue and Colorado Blvd has deadened into a concrete heat-sink with occasional strip malls.
FoothillsCloser to the foothills are the wealthiest homes, and their culture of expansive lawns and big Craftsman architecture is continuous all the way to the Arroyo Seco.
Kings VillageThere is an established Black community with the Kings Village Projects as its heart, at Fair Oaks and Washington.
Pasadena JapaneseAdjacent to it is a small, fading Japanese community centered around the Pasadena Buddhist Temple. The Japanese and Black communities go south, tightly hugging Lincoln Avenue and its loud churches, ending at the Japanese Cultural Center by the Post Office.
Rose BowlHomes immediately around the Rose Bowl soak in its lovely views and high prices.
San MarinoA wealthy area with the incredible Huntington estate and the lesser-known, lovely El Molino Viejo.
Things to do in Greater Pasadena

Pasadena Arcade Block Building
Old Town Pasadena

Gamble House

Pasadena Norton Simon Museum
Norton Simon Museum

Pasadena Fenyes Mansion
Fenyes Mansion

The Huntington

San Marino El Molino Viejo The Old Mill
El Molino Viejo

Pasadena City Hall
Pasadena City Hall

Arroyo Seco

LA County Arboretum peacock
LA County Arboretum

Native Americans

The valley now known as Pasadena was once covered in oak woodlands crossed by a riverbed. It was first inhabited by the Tongva and Hahamonga tribes, later collectively called the Gabrielino Indians by Father Serra. The natives relied upon gathering acorns and hunting deer and rabbit, and lived along the banks of the Arroyo Seco.

Spanish Mission Era (1770 - 1833)

The Spanish had first landed in the 16th century, but the Spanish era began in Greater Pasadena in 1770 when Misión San Gabriel Arcángel was established. Native Americans were decimated, with deaths doubling births, due to dysentery, tuberculosis and venereal disease. The remaining natives were converted to Catholicism and worked growing crops and tending cattle for the Mission.

At this time, the entire region of the mission's land holding was known as San Gabriel; today, just the area immediately around the mission is known as San Gabriel. The mountains were known as the Sierra Madre mountains, though now they are now called the San Gabriel mountains. The Arroyo Seco still carries the same name. There are streams which later were the basis for the names of the ranchos. Per the custom, streams and rivers were named after saints: Arroyo San Jose (later Rancho San Jose, forming Pomona); Arroyo Santa Anita; and Arroyo San Pasqual (named for Saint Paschal).

Greater Pasadena is in a relatively distant part of what was the Mission's landholdings, in a corner bound by the San Gabriel mountains and the Arroyo Seco river. From the Spanish Mission era, the Mission itself is found in San Gabriel and El Molino Viejo is found in San Marino. The center of life in the region was the Mission.

Rancho era

The region was characterized by few people owning enormous tracts which were used for pasturage. The main economic activity was herding sheep and cattle.

Mexican Rancho Era (1834 - 1846)

When the Mexican government took control, it abolished the mission system and divided the lands into secular private ranches. Greater Pasadena is almost entirely contained within Rancho San Pascual's historic boundaries. Rancho San Pascual was a 14,403 acre grant bounded by the Arroyo Seco to the west. After the grantee died it was granted to Garfias (his descendants would later challenge this unsuccessfully). link From the Mexican Rancho era, Adobe Flores is found in South Pasadena. link

The San Gabriel Valley Orange Grove Association was located in the westernmost area of Rancho San Pascual, and likely so was Pasadena when it first became a city. However, the modern-day City of Pasadena is larger and includes JPL, which is across the Arroyo Seco and would have hsitorically been Rancho San Rafael; and easterly, to include parts of what would have been Rancho Santa Anita.

American Ranch era (1846 - 1860s)

The ranches continued to flourish. However, this soon came to a crash. Plummeting cattle prices and unkind weather that devastated crops (especially the 1864 drought; and also a flood) forced cash-strapped ranchers to subdivide and sell of their land to the growing influx of American settlers. Greater Pasadena was being re-settled by the American farmer-merchant classes of the Midwest, who wanted to enjoy the outdoors more than two or three months each year. From the American Rancho Era, the Stoneman adobe is found in Los Robles link

Rancho San Pasqual

By Perez or something then Manuel Garfias. Garfias' patent was confirmed, after what appears to be a dispute from the descendants of the original grantee's widow. Benjamin Wilson gained part of San Pascual in 1852 and the rest of it in 1858. In 1860, Wilson sold a half interest to John Griffin. Rancho San Pascual gave rise to Pasadena and Altadena, and parts of South Pasadena and San Marino. The rancho era ended with the 1860s drought.

Around 1863, Benjamin Davis "Don Benito" Wilson from Tennessee, Los Angeles's second mayor and a three-term California state senator, and Dr. John Strother Griffin from Virginia, chief army medical officer, acquired for $1,800 the 13,500-acre Rancho San Pasqual granted to Manuel Garfias. Their land sale launched Pasadena's land development. Mount Wilson looms over the San Gabriel Valley, and Wilson Avenue crosses through Bungalow Heaven. Delgado & Ripley 2012, p 10

Rancho San Rafael

Rancho Santa Anita

Subdivision era

The land-owning class in California's Rancho era had mostly been Spanish-speaking Spaniards and some Mestizos. But with the drought, their cattle- and sheep-grazing economy collapsed and the gates were thrown open to a new land-owning class seeking the rock-bottom prices on vast, undivided lands the Rancheros could not afford to retain. The new land-owners would irrigate the lands; a water supply was the first step for any development in the arid terrain. These irrigatd lands would give these new land-owners a bountiful real estate and agricultural windfall through parcel subdivision and by planting expansive vineyards and citrus groves.

The new land-owning class was comprised of wealthy English-speaking Western Europeans who came to Southern California either from wealthy families in the eastern and mid-western United States, or in some cases immigrated themselves from Western Europe. The labor force for the massive irrigation and other necessary feats had a large Chinese component and other non-European ethnic groups. It is possible that their descendants provided the servant population in the next era, when bourgeois populated the area with resorts and seasonal homes.

Los Robles Ranch

Stoneman's 400 acre acquisition for his Los Robles estate.

Craig Ranch

The story begins in the 1860s with James Craig, an Irish engineer trained in waterworks. From a wealthy Belfast line of linen merchants, Craig had already traveled the world when his steamer arrived in San Francisco. With backing from his family and friends, including Alexander Grogan, one of the city's influential founders, he headed south to improve his health and dabble in real estate. In 1869, Craig purchased 5,000 acres from local pioneers Hon. Benjamin D. Wilson and Dr. John S. Griffin of the old San Gabriel Mission land that had become Rancho San Pasqual. In the eastern end of the valley, the Craig Tract, later renamed Grogan when the loans were settled, including Craig's homestead, called "The Hermitage." The rest of his arid property, suitable at first only for grazing, was soon subdivided, sold off, and transformed into lush vineyards and citrus groves with water that flowed down from the mountains into an efficient irrigation system. Delgado & Ripley 2012, p 7 - 8

Craig, an Irish hydrological engineer, obtained water rights and bored the first artesian well. His adobe on his 143-acre ranch in the Grogan Tract, "The Hermitage," is the oldest standing house in Pasadena. By 1899, Craig had become a citrus authority and managed the Precipice Canyon Water Company incorporated in 1887 but died in a tunneling accident in Eaton Canyon. Delgado & Ripley 2012, p 11

It was surveyed for subdivision in 1876 and entirely under cultivation by 1894. Delgado & Ripley 2012, p 10

Three parcels along Hudson Avenue are still legally described as part of the Grogan Tract; however, most of the area was subdivided for development at a later date. link

A transplanted New Yorker and one of the city's enterprising pioneers, Romayne "Barney" Williams, owned its central gathering place, Williams Hall. To make his fortune in the real estate boom of the late 1800s, Williams sold off his nearby homestead, the land that is now Central Park, and purchased 80 acres in the Grogan Tract far from the city's bustling downtown. His Queen Anne mansion built by friend and local architect Harry Ridgeway near the corner of Hill Avenue and Mountain Street, aptly named "Hillmont," still struts at the eastern edge of Bungalow Heaven as a reminder of Victorian-era splendor. When the boom burst, Williams lost his fortune, eventually leaving Pasadena forever.Delgado & Ripley 2012, p 8

Fair Oaks Ranch

In 1865 Harvard-educated Judge Benjamin S. Eaton acquired from Eliza Griffin Johnston the 260-acre Fair Oaks Ranch, located west of his namesake falls and canyon. An irrigation expert, he planted 35,000 grapevines and helped broker the $25,000 land sale from his brother-in-law John Griffin and Don Benito Wilson to the California Colony of Indiana that founded Pasadena. Railroad developed James Fillmore Crank bought Fair Oaks in 1876. Delgado & Ripley 2012, p 11

Monk Tract

In 1870, Wilson and Griffin sold a tract to Henry G Monk of Boston; this includes Monk Hill, the highest point in Greater Pasadena. Monk's tract is to the west of Grogan Ranch.

Indiana Colony (1873)

The heart of the Greater Pasadena area today is traced to the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association. In 1873, a remarkably harsh winter in Indianapolis prompted a group of friends there to gather and discuss moving to a moderate climate. They were led by Dr. Thomas Elliott, whose wife's suffering health started the discussion. Calling themselves the Indiana Colony of California, the group sent Daniel Berry to prospect for suitable fruit-growing land in southern California. Berry chose the western land of San Pasqual Ranch, a decision which would shape Pasadena.

San Gabriel Orange Grove Association (1874)

Now consisting of 27 people from Indiana, Ohio, Iowa and Michigan intending to specifically farm citrus, especially oranges, the group was renamed the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association. The Association bought 2,500 acres from Wilson and Griffin (owners of the ranch), who tossed in an extra 1,500 for free. That area is today Altadena. The Indiana Colony's land was bound in the north by what is today Mountain Avenue; in the south by the Monterey Hills; in the west by the Arroyo Seco; and in the east by what is today Fair Oaks Avenue. The north-south axis was a street that would soon be called Orange Grove Blvd. The center of life was at Orange Grove and California, though the center soon shifted to The Corners at Fair Oaks and Colorado.

The San Gabriel Orange Grove Assocation distributed the land on Jan 27th 1874. The group gathered across the street from the future site of the Fenyes Mansion and held a picnic and lottery to choose who received which of 100 fifteen-acre lots at $250 each. They employed mostly Mexican, Chinese and Japanese migrants to pick and pack the fruit. This labor force, and the several profitless, fruitless years after initially planting trees, highlights the Association's wealth.

What is unique is that this formed a commercial center in the area. It was a catalyst and the surrounding areas were very soon irrigated and developed for agriculture, just like the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association. Even areas that were not part of the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association may still today be known as Greater Pasadena, because they were developed with an eye, awareness and orbit on and around Pasadena. This is evidenced most clearly by the fact that the City of Pasadena in fact comprises an area much larger than the original San Gabriel Orange Grove Association. And it is no coincidence that many surrounding areas -- City of South Pasadena, City of San Marino, East Pasadena and Altadena -- are often similar in name.

Pasadena (1875)

During the winter, the growing colony's citizenry decided to open an independent postal station instead of registering as part of the greater Los Angeles area. Several names were considered -- Orange Grove, Muscat, Buena Vista, Hesperia, Indianola and even New Granada -- and Pasadena was eventually chosen. The name Pasadena originated from a Chippewa Indian name meaning Crown of the Valley. The Chippewas were native to the Midwest, so the Indianapolis families derived the name Pasadena from their aborigines rather than researching the native Southern California natives. It was chosen April 22, 1875. Forty houses and 10,000 orange and lemon trees had been erected by the end of the year.

1875A schoolhouse (on the west south of Orange Grove Avenue, south of present California St) and a blacksmith's shop were both opened. The first wedding was performed.
1876Lake Vineyard Land and Water Association development began, thereafter shifting the center of the community to The Corners at Colorado and Fair Oaks. A literary society was organized and published the first newspaper, a handwritten sheet titled The Reservoir. The community's first church was completed on California, east of Orange Grove, and serviced First Presbyterians. Most other denominations of Christianity also had organized congregations by the 1880's.
1879Lake Vineyard House, Pasadena's first hotel, opened at Marengo and Florence. Pasadena's grand resorts had not yet begun construction.
1880Pasadena's population was 391.
1881Joseph Wallace's Pasadena Packing Company brought industry to Pasadena, as the first firm to serve local fruit growers. Also called Wallace Cannery, it was the first firm to serve the local fruit growers. Also, a taxidermy business titled Wakely Novelty Works opened.
1882The Giddings' organized the Pasadena Cemetery Association and purchased 23 acres of land near the mountains in what is now Altadena. Most pioneer Pasadenans are buried there at a graveyard now called Mountain View Cemetery. The first photographic studio was George Weingarth's Ferndale Gallery.
1883The first telephone was in Williams' store -- the first Hello spoken by Wesley Bunnell.
1884The first bank was the Pasadena Bank and P. M. Green was President.
1885The first train arrived in Pasadena on lines built by the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad. This route connected Pasadena with East Coast. Pasadena Republican Club and Pasadena Democratic Club organized. First express office was Well, Fargo & Co. Gas light was introduced to Pasadena.

Lake Vineyard Land and Water Company

This was to the east of the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association. Benjamin Wilson had planned out Alhambra, sold off the Pasadena lands, and this was a new undertaking of his. He owned the land east of the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association all the way to Santa Anita Avenue, except the Grogan Land. link

In 1876, Benjamin Wilson, spurred by the success of the Indiana Colony, subdivided a large portion of his land as the Lake Vineyard Land and Water Association. The Lake Vineyard Tract bordered the San Gabriel Orange Grove Ave on the east. Growth of Pasadena proceeded steadily, and the center of the town shifted from Orange Grove and California in the former Colony too the intersection of Colorado and Fair Oaks. link

Woodbury Ranch

937 acres north of the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association's developed land (Pasadena) was purchased by the Woodbury brothers in 1880.

Nearby developments

Alhambra. Sierra Madre.

Residential era

Real estate boom busts in 1888. The agricultural labor force was incorporated into gardening and janitorial servant classes that serviced the extremely wealthy households. These households -- whether directly or through hiring agencies -- also imported Western European servants from abroad and other regions of the United States.

City of Pasadena

What were the City of Pasadena boundaries when it first incorporated? The modern-day City of Pasadena has expanded greatly by annexing adjacent areas.


Without an administrative, local heart it remained spread-out with relatively lax code enforcement.

City of South Pasadena

San Pasqual


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