Friday, July 15, 2016

South Pasadena Portrait

Take a look at the faces of South Pasadena

One of the things I love the most about my 116-year-old house is the large beveled mirror above the mahogany built-in.  There are a few dings in the frame, but the mirror is crystal clear, and the bank of nearby windows offers the kind of soft-glow lighting that makes every day a good hair day.  In the century since my home was built, a lot of people have looked at themselves in that mirror.

So how, exactly, has South Pasadena's reflection changed?

The earliest inhabitants of our region were members of the Hahamog-na, a branch of the Tongva Nation.   These were a wealthy, powerful, peaceful group of tribes displaced by the Spanish and absorbed into the San Gabriel Mission system in the late 1700s.  By 1834, Mexico had gained its independence from Spain, turning California into a Mexican province.  The oldest home in South Pasadena (an adobe on Foothill Street at the base of Raymond Hill) served briefly as headquarters for Mexican general Jose Maria Flores in 1847.  In fact, the humble South Pas adobe is where Flores and others drew up plans to surrender to the United States.

In 1873, word of the West Coast paradise had reached the northeast, seducing many winter-weary Americans with promises of mild weather and abundant water along the lush Arroyo Seco.  Indiana doctor Thomas B. Elliot wrote about a gathering of "warm blooded and adventurous persons who could not endure the frigid cold of northern winters." That group formed the California Colony of Indiana, which eventually led to the founding of Pasadena and South Pasadena.

By the turn of the 20th Century, South Pas was beginning to boom.  Population grew from a mere 1001 in 1900. (That's the year my house was built!)  The population was 4659 by 1910, and by 1920 it had almost doubled to 7652.  In 1930, the population doubled yet again to 13,730, as more and more people -- mostly white -- sought the good life along the Arroyo Seco.

Unfortunately, the good life was not available to everybody.  For more than two decades, in a chapter of our city's (and country's) less-honorable history, many of South Pasadena citizens openly campaigned to prevent non-whites from purchasing or renting any property here.

But the 1960s brought change to the face of our city.  The new subdivision of Monterey Hills had been built with a federal loan, which meant it was open to qualified buyers of any race, color or creed.  By 1968, 21 African-American children and 57 Asian-American children had enrolled in Monterey Hills elementary school.

And the rest is beautiful, diverse history.

For more South Pasadena history, check out the Book section of this blog.

For the latest demographic statistics (as of 2011) check out a longer version of this article published at Patch.

Want to leave a comment or tell a story from your own South Pas history?  Don't be shy!  Head over to the Glimpses of South Pasadena Community Forum to start a conversation.