Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Paging Norman Rockwell...

The only element missing from this scene is someone on the porch reading The Saturday Evening Post! I figured we could all use a little taste of alternate reality. What financial crisis? From this vantage point, everything looks peachy keen...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Enduring Classic

This is the entrance to the Mission Apartments in the historic Alexander Building. The structure was built in 1910 and stretches across a block of downtown Mission Street. It has street level shops, with apartments on the second floor. In my usual habit of associating places with scenes from movies, I have always thought this classic early 20th century building looked like it could have been one of the places where Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff might have rigged a card game in The Sting.

So, I felt compelled to post this photo today as the world mourns the loss of another 20th Century classic. So long, Paul Newman. You will be missed.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Indian Summer

Hot days linger, and the leaves begin to fall. See Southern California's autumn color palette? It's filled with red, brown and green. (Also blue ... like our fair weather skies most days, regardless of the season.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

South Pas Up Close

If you look closely at South Pasadena – and I mean really closely, sometimes with your nose right up to the surface -- you’ll find some historic little details. While much of Los Angeles (and much of the United States) has boomed with the philosophy of “New is Better” -- South Pasadena and much of the neighboring San Gabriel Valley have stuck to the idea that old is cool.

Look closely around here and you might notice an Eastlake door hinge or some innocuous Batchelder tile around a fireplace. You’ll walk across a segment of sidewalk marked 1928, visit neighbors whose kitchens sport 1930s Wedgewood ovens or Roper stoves. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a porch with an authentic Stickley chair or spot a perfect Judson stained glass window. For our friends around the world who live and work among centuries old buildings, pointing out a tiny detail left over from last century may seem slightly absurd. But for those of us weary of seeing a new GAP take over a corner bookstore, places like South Pas are a haven. Even the town improvements are kept within old style guidelines. Mission Street has new reproduction “antique” streetlamps, and it is a city violation here to install vinyl windows.

That’s why this little sign on my range hood makes me smile. We’re modern here – of course we are – just spelled with an old fashioned font, with a little paint peeled off and a little rust showing through…

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Almost five at Mission and Fair Oaks

This is definitely a love it or hate it building on the corner of Fair Oaks and Misson. I'm fairly certain it used to be a bank -- just notice the depository slot in front. Now, from what I can tell, it houses some sort of furniture or interior design showroom. I keep meaning to investigate --but I always get caught up in the unusual aquamarine tile exterior. Many of you have probably realized by now that I have a soft spot for structures with unexpected colors. I just love this place ... in all its flashy blue splendor.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mission Station Nocturne

Train platforms at night are right up there on my list of favorite things to photograph. Besides all those wonderful angles and glowing lamps, there is something hopeful and expectant about an empty train platform. (A chance to escape? A long-awaited homecoming? Both?) An empty freeway just doesn't have the same poetry.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Baranger Studios

This is one of my favorite buildings in South Pas. Built in 1925, it was the home of Baranger Studios -- makers of delightful electric motion displays for jewelry stores. What were electric motion displays? Imagine a blend of dollhouse, small gauge train set and highly detailed music box complete with a dancing ballerina. Throw in some clever generic jewelry marketing slogans prominently featured in the design and you get the idea. These animated wonders were produced from 1925 to 1959, but they were never sold. Instead, jewelers all over the country leased them on a monthly basis. The studios designed 169 different models, often in the art deco style, and produced only 30 of each type. Each motion display had a different theme – from fairy tale to western motif, from zooming rocket ships to dancing honeymooners. Jewelers would rent one display for a month, and then rotate it out for another model.

Those were the days… instead of just looking through a sterile glass case at a few baubles on black velvet you would have been treated to something whimsical like this.

From engineering to shipping, all means of motion display creation and distribution were housed under this one small roof. The company stopped production in the late 1950s, but continued to rent existing motion displays to jewelers until 1977 when they went out of business. Today, the building is home to Stanislawski and Company, Certified Public Accountants.

(And to stay in the tradition of yesterday's post... check out the topiary!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Living Sculpture

Keith's post over at Gem City Images inspired me to present this photo. Say hello to a particularly whimsical Los Angeles area phenomenon: over-sculpted geometric yard topiary! When I moved to LA many years ago I was charmed and amused by the rampant use of hedge trimmers in neighborhoods all over the region. You might have noticed some gallant attempts at shrub artistry in this recent post, too.

My daughter calls these dandy boxwoods on El Centro "the big green teacups." Edward Scissorhands, eat your heart out...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Street Dancers

Another Arts and Crafts fair brought festivities to Mission Street yesterday. Regional artisans spread out over several blocks, offering a variety of jewelry, textiles and works on canvas. If beautiful objects weren't enough, the city set up a fun fair at one end of the street with just enough vertigo-inducing kiddie rides to make this parent wish she'd stayed back with the batik tapestries. (My daughter convinced my husband and me to ride the little rollercoaster three times.)

This smooth ensemble performed hip hop dance routines-- and a way to work off all that kettle corn, soft-serve ice cream and roasted peanuts.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

In lieu of Wall Street

Though I frequently grumble at the TV while watching CNBC, I'm no economics expert. So, rather than attempt half-baked analysis of the burgeoning financial catastrophe, here's my humble contribution.

Now, I guess we all just have to hold our breath and watch what happens next.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mod Squad

Check out one of the South Pasadena Police Department’s T3 Personal Mobility Vehicles. When I first saw one, I thought it was a souped up Segway – but the third wheel up front indicated something else. A little sleuthing uncovered that these babies are some of the cleanest vehicles around: all electric, costing a mere 10 cents a day, with a 4 hour battery life, a zero degree turning radius and a high platform that provides visibility in a crowd. All that, plus they’re so cool they look like something out of The Jetsons. Unfortunately, high speed chases are off-limits. Even with special order models, the top speed is 25 mph. (Here's an obvious place to make the joke: "Stop! Or I'll scoot!")

Kudos to our police department for being so cutting edge. Patrolling with these has low impact on the environment and high maneuverability within the community. I think they're great. (Although it doesn't look like this officer thought I was great for snapping a picture…)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

But does the postman ring twice?

There is something wonderfully 1940s noir about these old apartments behind the bus stop on Mission Street. South Pas is known for its stunning homes -- Craftsman, Victorian, Spanish, Tudor, Traditional, Transitional -- but it only has a handful of these simple post-War structures so prevalent in the rest of LA. Los Angeles county had a pretty big housing boom in the years right after World War 2, and it is evidenced in the scads of cozy, slightly tattered little places that look a lot like this.

I can just see Barbara Stanwyck or Veronica Lake bursting through that door and running down the steps to meet Robert Mitchum...

But then again, I tend to think like that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Frozen Delights

Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain proves that Busters isn't the only place on Mission Street to grab some ice cream. And it's a good thing, since our hot September days are dragging out summer's length as far as it will stretch. Watching this little girl almost made me regret ordering a coke float instead of a cone.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008


This little guy was decidedly unimpressed with yesterday’s Cruz’n For Roses Hot Rod and Classic Car Show. He must have been the only one there not wowed by the stunning collection of automobiles on display. Mission Street was filled with over 400 examples of exactly why human beings are addicted to the gasoline powered internal combustion engine. All eras of classic motoring were represented – from a 1929 Model T to a 1993 Alfa Romeo Spider convertible. (My husband drooled over the pristine 1969 Z-28. I was too busy ogling the marshmallow-white ’61 Corvette convertible…)

Funds raised from the show will contribute to South Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses float – the oldest self-built float in the parade.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

South Pasadena Skate Park

Here's a fun vantage point I just discovered...

If you drive along Arroyo Drive and pull over right before you get to Mission Street, you can gaze west and take in a gorgeous sunset. But if you look down the embankment, you'll get a great view of the South Pasadena Skate Park. Our thoughtful city planners even put a couple of benches there to make it comfortable for taking in the whole scene.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Far from the storm

We are accustomed to almost ever-fair conditions here in Southern California. There is an old joke about local weather forecasters not actually needing any credentials because “75 degrees and sunny” is an accurate prediction about 95% of the time.

But as I post this, Hurricane Ike is battering my beloved home state of Texas. I remember the many tropical storms that passed through when I was growing up in Austin. The sky would fill with black clouds and the horizon would glow with an eerie, almost neon shade of green before water fell in sheets and countless lightening bolts zapped at least one old live oak into burning embers. Trees were uprooted. Neighborhoods were flooded. And those storms weren’t even hurricanes.

I don’t know what the dawn light will reveal along the delicate Texas coast where I spent so many languid, dreamy summer days as a young girl, or in Houston where loved ones now brace, batten down and bail water.

I can only send hope.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Little Pink House

This cheerful cottage in the historic Mission West area always makes me smile. Like the boldly colored apartment buildings on Mound Street, this place happily flaunts its unexpected paint choice amid more subdued neighbors. (Hey, I think I hear John Mellancamp playing right about now…)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ready for her close up...

A few days ago I showed a little section of the wonderful Rialto Theater. It’s one of greater Los Angeles’ last remaining historic movie palaces, and it closed its doors last year. You can still rent it out for parties and fundraisers but its future as a real cinema is very much undecided.

The South Pasadena Downtown Revitalization Project includes the Rialto in the proposed redevelopment zone, though it doesn't specifically address revamping the theater. The project itself has recently met with opposition and the voters will decide in November whether the city has the right to move forward. (I’ll post more about this controversy soon.)

I can't bear to think of another architectural treasure ending up a crumbling relic. The Los Angeles area has lost far too many historic buildings through a combination of carelessness, economic strain and pure ennui. In this age of multiplexes and IMAX stadium cinemas, I’m not sure what it would take to bring The Rialto back to its former glory. Even though I’ve lived in LA for two decades, I never managed to see a film at The Rialto—but I know a number of people who would drive from the Valley or the west side just for the experience of seeing a film here. And then there were the regular midnight Rocky Horror screenings. I’m sorry I missed those.

For now -- with the exception of special events -- the Rialto is dark. Let’s hope there is a way to light its silver screen again. After all, Hollywood loves a good comeback.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The Cold Case production company descended upon our neighborhood at 6:00AM this morning with all the animation and excitement of a carnival. Even though I’ve been around the entertainment industry for 20 years, I still get a little jolt when I see the dream machine at work.

Dozens (and dozens) of crew members wheeled in equipment, set props, bundled electrical cables along the sidewalks, set up sound boards and placed spot lights. Within no time our little Southern California village was transformed into Philadelphia, 1968, complete with costumed extras and at least a dozen vintage muscle cars. Around 2:00PM, the team was ready for the explosion scene.

“Wow,” I said to my daughter as we stepped out on the porch to watch, “They really have thought of everything.”
“Excuse me,” a crew member interrupted, “May we borrow your hose?”

Well, maybe not everything.

By 4:00PM we were offered free ice cream with the cast and crew and by 11:00PM, the last truck had pulled out. That’s show business...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Light play

I walk through this little shopping center on Fair Oaks quite often. Fedex and Starbucks are here – two necessities of modern life. The other day, the walkway was transformed by the drama of September’s changing afternoon light. Autumn always casts objects in such high contrast and draws such elegant shadows. (Show off!)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Special Effects

I love the angles and textures of the historic Rialto Theater and I tend to take a lot of pictures of sections of it. But whenever I do, my camera almost always captures an impossibly blue sky. It happened again yesterday when I shot this.

Really, now. We have lovely blue skies here in Southern California but this is preposterous. This is an exaggerated, unreal, electric koolaid blue sky. If the sky were really this blue, people around here would never go to work. We’d just spend long days lolling on the grass looking up.

So why is the sky so blue over the Rialto? Is it because I get lucky with camera settings and just happen to shoot during the right time of day? Probably. But that’s way too tedious and pedestrian an explanation for a place as mysterious and wonderful as this old theater. Me? I’m going to keep an open mind that there are extraordinary forces here. Who knows… some say the place is haunted…

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Settings: Part 3

Another film crew is coming to our neighborhood next week. We signed the permission for the production to shoot exteriors of our property and we cashed the unexpected check from Warner Brothers. We met several of the people on the location team and we had a crew member tell us what to expect from an explosion scene down the street. (Explosion scene?!)

So of course, I have now slipped back into my inner Spielberg/Chaplin/Hitchcock/Welles/Capra... and suddenly every place I see looks like a shot for a scene in a movie.

So humor me...

In reality, this is simply a little white house near Busters and the train station. But it could be a great setting for any number of stories. If this were a movie setting... what do you think would happen here?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Barrister's Garden Center

If you take the Gold Line train to South Pas, you’ll notice a profusion of greenery and flowers just below and around the side of the platform. It’s worth it to explore the source of all this seemingly incongruous vegetation: Barrister’s Garden Center. I still haven’t figured out how they appear to have arranged an acre’s worth of plants into that tiny space next to the train station, but I don’t want to understand it. The place is magical. When my husband and I first walked through -- winding around the narrow curving pathways, past fountains and topiary and exotic foliage -- we decided it seemed kind of like something out of Dr. Who. (It didn’t hurt that a couple of San Gabriel Valley’s wild parrots were hanging out in a big ficus lyrata.)

You can get the reliable impatiens and rose bushes here, but this place is definitely NOT Home Depot. As an amateur gardener, I love to find unusual plants that I have to look up on Google, and Barrister’s hasn't let me down yet. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, too.

Friday, September 5, 2008

For All Ages

I’ve mentioned the abundance of children in South Pasadena, but I haven’t yet noted the many elders of our tribe. Southern California isn’t exactly noted for its warm embrace of graceful aging. There are areas of greater Los Angeles where you will rarely even see anyone over 50. (If you do, they -- and their plastic surgeons -- wouldn’t dream of admitting it.) But here in South Pas, many silver threads are woven through the city’s tapestry, and I think they not only add to the elegant beauty of the place but make it stronger.

A sense of history is here in the people, not just the buildings. Some residents were born in the very houses where they will spend their retirement. A lot of folks who moved here many years ago to raise a family have stayed for decades past their last child’s high school graduation. South Pas also has several assisted living facilities as well as a convalescent hospital. Since the city itself only spans a few square miles, it is a manageable community for people of all ages.

I like being in a place where the local breakfast joint has a row of strollers as well as walkers. It feels like a big family where every generation is included. I hope I’m lucky enough that when greater society says I belong in a museum – I’ll be like this gentleman: proudly living with everyone else on the outside of it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

South Pasadena High School

Forgive me, but my inner sci-fi geek just can’t resist: this looks for all the world like it should be part of the Superfriends Hall of Justice. No, that’s not quite right. It might be an intergalactic embassy for planet Krypton! Or maybe, when ET phoned home, this is where the call came in…

Actually, it’s one side of South Pasadena High School – an art deco treasure and undoubtedly the coolest school in Southern California. I didn’t know they had schools like this anymore. (My old alma mater in Austin, Texas looks like a minimum security prison. Seriously.) This is more like something from a Bauhaus drawing board or a 1930s film with Greta Garbo. And after dark, the glass-brick cylindrical sections look like they might just be warming up to transport the entire structure to another dimension.

At the very least, it harkens back to another, highly stylized era -- which is probably why our home of the fighting Tigers has been the location for so many movies. Halloween, Back to the Future, Mr. Deeds, Old School, American Pie and Legally Blonde are just a few of the films that have included scenes here.

In 2006, SPHS celebrated it's 100th anniversary at this spot -- though this building has only hosted about half those years. Famous alumni include William Holden (class of '36) and Bronson Pinchot (class of '77.) If you drive behind the school, past the football field, you’ll see the school’s motto inscribed on one of the buildings: Scholarship, Leadership, Strength, and Fair Play. Inspired words. Inspiring architecture.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

South Pasadena Post Office

The South Pasadena Post Office looks about the same as when it was built in 1932. With the exception of the handicap-access ramps out front, not much has been added or altered. You can even see the wonderful original mural inside next to the old post office boxes. Located on Freemont Street at El Centro across the street from Calvary Presbyterian Church, it has several of the things I love in a building: a cool deco transom over the door, ridiculously beautiful vintage street lamps along the walkway, and enough contrasting dark and light to, um, simply force me to present this photograph in black and white!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ton of Bricks

Calvary Presbyterian Church offers up an inspiring Old World backdrop to any stroll along Freemont Avenue. Whenever I see beautiful brickwork like this in Southern California, I always wonder how it has survived decades of seismic activity. I lived in Venice Beach during the Northridge Quake. Almost all of the brick chimneys in the area fell down, and many of the old brick facades on the boardwalk buildings were damaged or outright crumbled. Along the main streets in neighboring Santa Monica, it looked like stores had been bombed: the sidewalks were strewn with broken bricks and shattered glass. All over the greater Los Angeles area, friends saw giant cracks form in their ceilings and walls, and almost everyone had something made of brick that just fell down. If this lucky church managed to stand up against that kind of periodic Southern California shaking…well, maybe I should consider joining the congregation!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Big Sister

Today is Theme Day for those of us participating in the City Daily Photo blogging community. Today's theme? Sister Cities. South Pasadena does not have an officially designated sister city. How could it? Everyone around here knows South Pas is the little sister of neighboring Pasadena – with big, all-encompassing Los Angeles our (sometimes overbearing) mom.

Poor South Pasadena. People who don’t live in the LA area often assume that South Pas just means the southern part of Pasadena. Here’s a conversation I’ve had a lot recently:

Friend: “So, where did you move?”
Me: “South Pasadena.”
Friend: “Oh! I love Pasadena!”

Talk about living in the shadow of a big sister. South Pasadena is quaint and small-time … Pasadena is flash and big city. South Pasadena has exactly two bars that serve hard liquor. Pasadena has all of Old Town, plus any number of nightclubs in other parts of the city. South Pas has a high school football rivalry with neighboring San Marino. Pasadena has the Rose Bowl! When South Pas residents go to the hospital, it’s usually at Huntington Memorial in – you guessed it – Pasadena. Pasadena will be where my daughter sneaks off with her friends when she's a teenager because there's just nothing to do at home. There is one place where little sis South Pas seems to best Pasadena: we have one of the best school systems in the entire state. (Then again, I was the bookish one in my family, too…)

Here’s a picture from Pasadena’s Old Town, driving west on Colorado shortly after sunset. It’s nice to know it's just a short drive away. (You never want to be too far away from your big sister…)

For the best insider views of Pasadena, check out Daily Pasadena Photo and the sky is big in Pasadena – two great blogs and the inspiration for me to start this one.

The City Daily Photo community has some interesting images from sister cities around our diverse and wonderful world.
Click here to view thumbnails for all participants