- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

PASADENA, Calif. — Pasadena is Chippewa for “crown of the valley,” and it’s a perfect fit for this city, settled by a group of Midwesterners who arrived in Southern California in 1873.

The settlement grew rapidly during the land boom of 1886 and incorporated that year. Four years later, eager to celebrate their good fortune, residents draped garlands of fresh flowers over teams of horses and across their buggies. The “battle of the flowers” ended with a gala Roman-style chariot race.

A quarter-century later, the chariot race was dropped; Pasadena invited two unbeaten college football teams to play on New Year’s Day; and the great bowl tradition was born.

Pasadena’s Rose Bowl is the granddaddy of them all, and without Pasadena, we would never have had the Refrigerator Bowl, the Salad Bowl, even something called the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl and dozens of others.

A hundred years ago, Pasadena was to the wealthy in America’s Eastern cities what the Riviera was to the haute bourgeoisie of England, France and Germany: a beautiful, warm and sunny place to winter.

Pasadena wasn’t at the seaside, but the Pacific Ocean wasn’t far away, and the orange groves and bougainvillea perfumed the air as deliciously as the pines perfumed the south of France. The San Gabriel Mountains in the background and the clear air were added attractions.

The air is not quite as clear today, and the city is no longer a farming community, but Pasadena has retained its charm and continues to be a delightful place to live, with fine museums, an old town, excellent restaurants, good shopping and numerous remnants of the century past. It’s also a great place to visit.

The streets are lined with jacaranda trees that flower in June, their lavender-blue blossoms vying with the sky for brilliant color. The tall, skinny palm trees sway in the wind, and the Craftsman houses are shaded by California oaks and magnolias.

Although Old Pasadena no longer has a maze of funky shops, the old-town section has been transformed into an attractive area of small shops and restaurants. The original buildings with ornate carved stone fronts on Colorado Avenue, the main street, have been given over mostly to national clothing chains and sidewalk cafes.

Despite the chains and department stores such as Macy’s and Saks, Pasadena has dozens of delightful, unique shops, including the Folk Tree (217 S. Fair Oaks Ave.), which specializes in Mexican crafts, and the Folk Tree Collection (199 S. Fair Oaks Ave.), which shows crafts and textiles primarily from Asia.

The antique shops that once clustered around Old Pasadena have been scattered through town and on Main Street in neighboring South Pasadena, incorporated two years after Pasadena as a separate town to settle an argument over the sale of liquor. On the second Sunday of every month, the area’s best flea market takes place at the Rose Bowl.

During its heyday, Pasadena had several grand hotels to house Eastern visitors. The Hotel Raymond, high atop Raymond Hill, is no more, and the view once enjoyed by Eastern guests has become the privilege of condominium dwellers. Hotel Green, in the center of town, is still here but has been converted into apartments.

The Huntington Hotel, in a beautiful residential area of imposing mansions, remains in a new incarnation as the Ritz-Carlton. Opened in February 1907 as Hotel Wentworth, it was renamed when it was purchased in 1911 by Henry Huntington, a railroad tycoon (Southern Pacific) and art collector, who transformed it into a winter resort.

Today, the elegantly renovated Ritz-Carlton Hotel & Spa is a resort within the city, winter and summer. It is surrounded by graceful gardens and ponds and has an almost Olympic-size swimming pool, an excellent spa, a first-class restaurant, alfresco dining on the terrace, and luxurious guest rooms. A charming covered wooden bridge adorned with painted scenes of early California days connects the main hotel with the cottages.

The hotel is a perfect base for exploring the town. Though Pasadena has no shortage of hotels, the Ritz-Carlton Huntington is special, a combination of Pasadena’s romantic past and vibrant present.

The Pasadena Playhouse, perhaps the country’s first repertory theater and training school for serious actors in the West, offers locals and visitors an excellent selection of contemporary plays. The playhouse began producing plays in an old burlesque house in 1917.

In 1928, the director of the playhouse opened a theater school, and by the early 1930s, the Pasadena Playhouse had become a showcase for Hollywood. Many silent-film stars attended to prepare themselves for speaking roles in talkies.

The playhouse continued to serve as a training school for actors through the 1940s and ‘50s, but competition from newly opened university theater departments overwhelmed the school. The playhouse and school closed in 1969; the playhouse reopened in 1986 and remains an active theater company, often showcasing Hollywood stars in stage roles.

One of the country’s outstanding institutes of higher learning, the California Institute of Technology — Caltech — is in the center of Pasadena. Graceful Spanish-style buildings, fountains and shaded walkways abound.

The public is welcome to stroll on the campus and visit the little science museum in the Beckman Institute, named for scientist and inventor Arnold O. Beckman. His life is illustrated in a short video in the museum, which also houses the re-creation of a 1920s chemistry lab. The mission of the scientists working in the Beckman Institute is to invent new methods, material and instruments for fundamental research in biology and chemistry.

Outside the institute is a pretty pool of water that students and staff call “the gene pool.” A double helix is painted on the bottom. Nearby Beckman Auditorium is the site for Caltech performing arts events, which include concerts, dance and theater productions, and special performances for youngsters throughout the year.

Caltech’s Athenaeum, an imposing building furnished with antiques and landscaped in Mediterranean style, is modeled after the Athenaeum Club in London, whose members were men and women noted for their scientific or literary attainments; artists; noblemen; and patrons of the arts, science and literature.

Caltech’s Athenaeum was inaugurated in 1931 when Albert Einstein arrived for a two-month sojourn at the institute. The suite of rooms where he and his wife stayed is called the Einstein Suite. The Athenaeum, a members-only club for outsiders and university professors, operates a restaurant and rooms for its members.

Architectural tours of the campus, beginning at 11 a.m. in the lobby of the Athenaeum, are conducted on the fourth Thursday of each month except for December, July and August. In November, tours are conducted on the third Thursday. Reservations are required.

At 3:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month from October to December and from February to June, the seismology center offers a one-hour tour for visitors. The Caltech Media Center, where tours begin, monitors earthquakes on a continual basis, registering about 30 quakes daily. Journalists gather at the Media Center for information when major quakes hit the area.

Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab is 10 miles away. It’s managed by Caltech for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and is the leading U.S. center for space exploration. Tours for visitors are given several times per month, usually at 1 p.m. on a Monday or Wednesday. Reservations are required for the tours, which last about two hours.

Perhaps the glory of Pasadena is the magnificent Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, a legacy of Henry Huntington and his second wife, Arabella. Although not technically in the city of Pasadena but located a few blocks into neighboring San Marino, the Huntington Library is a center of research for “qualified scholars,” which usually means academics writing or teaching.

The heart of the Huntington is the collection of more than 5 million books, manuscripts and photographs in the fields of American and British history, literature, art and science, about 200 of which are on public display. The collection includes one of the original Gutenberg bibles, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” early editions of Shakespeare and original letters of Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

The gallery reflects the British and American specialty of the library, although not exclusively. The Huntington collection includes such famous paintings as Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” and Thomas Lawrence’s “Pinkie,” as well as paintings by John Constable, J.M.W. Turner, George Romney, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper and Robert Motherwell. Temporary exhibits are regular parts of the Huntington’s programs.

Pasadena’s climate is a boon to the Huntington’s gardens, which are divided into sections such as Japanese, Rose (where English tea is served), Shakespeare, Jungle, Palm and a spectacular 11-acre Desert Garden that encompasses almost 5,000 species of desert plants.

A new Chinese garden is being developed.Chinese gardens are naturalistic in style and poetic in meaning and usually are composed of five elements: water, mountain, buildings, plants and cultural arts. The Huntington has brought rocks from China for the new garden — and artists to place them correctly.

The Conservatory for Botanical Science is an intriguing center separated into three habitats: tropical rain forest, cloud forest and carnivorous bog. Interactive exhibits are available throughout the conservatory as an excellent source of knowledge for children and adults.

A delightful Children’s Garden, divided into earth, air, fire and water, each with wonderful learning discoveries for the little ones, stands next to the conservatory.

Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum, formerly the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, is world-class, too. European painting, sculpture and works on paper range from the 14th to the 20th centuries, and the museum’s collection of South Asian sculpture is extensive.

The museum has a celebrated collection of impressionist and postimpressionist paintings as well as outstanding collections of photographs and contemporary art. Its delightful sculpture garden is graced with lily ponds and trees shading the garden cafe.

A small jewel in downtown Pasadena is the Pacific Asia Museum, founded in 1971 and housed in a Chinese-style building. On exhibit are its collection of Himalayan arts, including personal religious objects, an exquisite collection of Southeast Asian ceramics, and Chinese arts. The museum is undergoing a program of renovation and has opened a new gallery of Japanese art.

Virtually synonymous with Pasadena are the houses designed by architects Charles and Henry Greene, who established themselves in Pasadena in 1893. Influenced by the Spanish missions; the grace of Japanese architecture; and the British arts and crafts movement, which celebrated simplicity and the natural order, the brothers created a uniquely American style of architecture, developing a distinctive treatment of wood, stone, shingle and brick.

Like the great European architects and designers of the art-nouveau movement, the Greenes designed not only the buildings, but the furniture, lamps, fabrics and decor of the houses. The Gamble House, built in 1908, was designed by the brothers as a winter retreat for David B. Gamble of Cincinnati, son of a co-founder of the Procter & Gamble Co., and his family. It’s the only Greene house with the original furnishings intact.

The Greenes paid attention to every aspect of the house. They commissioned local craftsmen who created furniture, rugs, woodcarvings and gorgeous leaded stained glass. Seventeen different woods were used in the house. The Gamble emblem, the rose and crane, appears throughout it. In the garden, brick walls were made of clinker brick, misshapen bricks usually discarded.

The elegant fabrics, beautiful detail on furniture and fireplaces, pegs covering screws, wood joined so it will not crack with weather-caused expansion and contraction, the spacious sleeping porches, elegant bedrooms, beautiful paneling throughout the house, maple built-ins in the spacious kitchen and inlays of semiprecious stones in the furniture of the master bedroom all create a harmonious ensemble.

The house was put on the market in the 1940s. A couple looked at the house and liked it. When the wife turned to her husband to ask his opinion, he said he thought the wood paneling made it a bit dark. “Never mind,” replied his wife, “we can always paint the wood white.” The Gambles took the house off the market, and it was never sold.

In 1966, the Gamble House was donated to the city of Pasadena and the University of Southern California.

Annually since 1967, two architecture students from the university live in the house. The Gamble House runs a junior docent program, inviting 16 to 18 seventh- and eighth-graders from public and private schools in the area to attend six to seven weeks of training as docents. The youngsters then act as docents for third- and fourth-graders. Public tours are held from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

A number of the Greenes’ other houses can be seen in the streets around the Gamble House, and a self-guided tour is available.

South Pasadena has its own cultural landmarks and walking tour of Greene houses. Its commercial district resembles what Old Pasadena looked like a few years ago, with several funky antique shops, the old-fashioned Rialto movie theater and Buster’s Ice Cream Shop.

The ostrich farm is no more; the 1888 Meridian Iron Works building with its false-front Old West construction has been turned into a charming little museum. The stone watering trough with its wooden roof still stands across the street from the ironworks building, but it is no longer filled with water. Close to the Pasadena line is Adobe Flores, built in the 1840s, which served as temporary headquarters for the Mexican army in 1847.

From Pasadena, it’s just a 15-minute drive along the Pasadena Freeway, said to be the first freeway west of the Mississippi, to downtown Los Angeles, Disney Hall, Olivera Street, Chinatown and Japantown. A visitor also can ride the light rail from several stations in Pasadena to Los Angeles’ downtown Union Station. Thirty minutes farther are the sands of Santa Monica, but once you are in Pasadena, you may not want to leave.

• • •

Several airlines fly nonstop from Washington Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles, including United and American. JetBlue flies to Long Beach Airport, and Southwest flies from Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International to Los Angeles.Alaska Air flies nonstop from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to Los Angeles. From the airport, there is bus connection to the Pasadena hotels. By car, the trip to Pasadena takes about 30 minutes.

The Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa, 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena; 626/568-3900

Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino; 626/405-2100; www.Huntington.org

Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; 626/449-6840; www.norton simon.org

Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena; 626/449-2742; www.pacificasia museum.org

Gamble House, 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena; 626/793-3334; www.gamblehouse.org

California Institute of Technology, 1201 E. California Blvd., Pasadena; 626/395-6327

Jet Propulsion Lab Public Services Office, 818/354-9314; fax 818/393-4641; 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena

Caltech Beckman Auditorium Events, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena; 888/222-5832 or 626/395-4652; www.events.caltech.edu

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; 626/792-8672

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