Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Barkley

I've waited far too long to gush about The Barkley. Oh, there are other classic Los Angeles establishments that feel like something imagined by Raymond Chandler or Orson Welles. Musso and Franks is one. The Formosa Cafe is another. But those places are in Hollywood. The Barkley is right here in South Pasadena at the corner of Fremont and Huntington. From the moment you notice the sign promising live music and dancing, you get a feeling this restaurant is a blast from a distant past. The one before we thought about cholesterol, where everyone ordered a second martini before dinner arrived.

When you step into The Barkley, you get the urge to hear something by Tony Bennett. It's a classic mix of dim lights, dark wood and shiny brass with fussy chatchkas on the wall and neatly folded napkins on the tables. The Barkley menu is pages upon pages long, with dozens of classic dishes arranged under alliterative subject headings and fetched with elan by an old-school, professional wait staff that, honestly, should be the subject of a documentary. This not a hipster place inspired by great steakhouses. This really IS a great steakhouse. It's not a spot the Sex in the City characters would have ever appeared -- though they clearly missed out, because the wine glasses are more like fish bowls. But it is a place where the Sopranos would would have felt comfortable enough to argue loudly in one of the dark, leather booths before patching things up over cheesecake.

I recently had dinner at The Barkley with friend and fellow Southern California blogger Yakpate. We thought the New York Strip steaks we ordered were the best we'd ever had. No, they weren't unique or cutting edge or nouvelle -- just simple and delicious and perfectly prepared. And did I mention those fishbowl-size wine glasses?

You can read more about The Barkley here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Glory Days

For me, I suppose it was the medal I won in figure skating when I was 12 years old. Or maybe all those plaques with drama masks on them from back in high school. They were wonderful, preternaturally golden things, something plated over plastic, no doubt, but it didn't matter. They promised a big, gleaming future in a pearl-filled oyster of a world that I had barely begun to pry open.

I'm not sure where all of those things are now. Maybe in my mother's attic or in a taped up box in my garage. Maybe the trophies in this photo are destined for similar uncelebrated storage. No matter. The memories will always sparkle.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happiness in a Greasy Napkin

You probably would never know that something as simple as roasted corn could bring about states of pure bliss ... unless you've had the opportunity to sample the roasted corn at the South Pasadena Farmer's Market. All the joy in the world is as close as a few juicy, semi-caramelized kernels slathered in butter and lemon. If Nietzsche had ever gotten a chance to nab one of these corn cobs, he'd have ended up writing greeting cards and volunteering as a clown at kids' birthday parties. Seriously: it makes you feel that good.

I understand the corn vendors also have baked yams, but I've never made it past their star offering. Why trade rapturous delight for a yam?

Friday, March 27, 2009

South Pas Up Close #4

Yesterday, one of my rose bushes surprised me with this gorgeous first bloom of the season.

Fellow Los Angeles area blogger Kevin (at The Jimson Weed Gazette) and I recently had a brief email conversation that involved a reference to Max Von Sydow in Hannah and her Sisters. Von Sydow plays one of the best curmudgeons in cinematic history, and his character's crusty view is contrasted against a story line woven around an impossibly beautiful ee cummings poem.

Spring has a similar approach to storytelling. It juxtaposes all kinds of gaudy hope, promise and loveliness against the cold, grouchy bones of winter. How nice for all of us.

That cummings poem featured in the film has a lot to say about spring's first rose. (I'll bet it looked something like this one.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Waiting up...

I always wonder about the lights in houses when it's late and everyone else is sleeping. Teething baby? Broken heart? Missed curfew? Midnight snack? Page-turning novel?

Maybe it's just another tireless blogger staying up too late working on a post.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Springtime Tableau

Tilted blue cans through a greasy garage window, red geraniums, chalky white bricks and a purple curb...

(Not bad for a corner of the Arco Gas Station!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Want to learn about South Pas History? Just ask Jane Apostol...

While much of the Los Angeles cityscape changes with each new trend, South Pasadena revels in its history. Here, a few residents enjoy snacking at the old watering trough on Meridian -- a convenience for horses back at the turn of the last century and now an ideal picnic spot, especially during the busy Farmer's Market. In the background, you'll notice the historic Meridian Iron Works. This beautiful redwood building is the oldest commercial space in South Pasadena. Built in 1887, it has hosted a number of establishments including a grocery store, foundry and telegraph station. Now, it's home to the charming South Pasadena Historical Museum.

South Pasadena residents are used to walking around the structures of our city's past. We know these places are part of history. But we don't always know exactly what the history is. That's where Jane Apostol comes in.

Jane is one of California’s most gifted historians. San Gabriel Valley locals take note: Jane's 13 books include Painting with Light: A Centennial History of the Judson Studio and Vroman’s of Pasadena: A Century of Books.

But it's her first book that means so much to the residents of South Pasadena. Jane is the author of the definitive story of South Pasadena: South Pasadena: A Centennial History 1888-1988. Originally published in 1987, it quickly sold out and became a collector's item. (I recently got into a bidding war over a copy on Ebay!) Doyce B. Nunis of Southern California Quarterly summed it up best: "Occasionally a local history comes along which stands in a class by itself."

Now, we no longer have to fight collectors over the first edition. The South Pasadena Public Library and the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library recently published an expanded new edition: South Pasadena: A Centennial History 1888-1988, Second Edition with Chronology, 1988-2008.

Every South Pasadena resident should own a copy of this remarkable book. Sure, Jane gives us all the meat and potatoes of the city's chronology ... but she also includes a taste of delicious little back stories. Reading this book is a bit like reading South Pasadena's personal diary, with thoughtful examination of the many fascinating people who have lived here, and juicy details about South Pas society and culture. Forget any of the bland history books you may have been assigned in school. This one is filled with humor and insight -- and a staggering amount of detailed research. And did I mention the photographs? Jane's book is filled with rare images dating back to the founding of South Pasadena.

I was a little starstruck by the opportunity to interview Jane Apostol. She graciously agreed to let me pick her brain about her experience writing this book. Here is our conversation:

LA: As an historian, what prompted you to tackle South Pasadena as a subject?

JA: I am not a South Pasadenan, but my ties with the city date from about 1975, when a friend at the Huntington Library suggested that I write an article on Margaret Collier Graham: noted author, ardent feminist, the first South Pasadenan to be listed in Who’s Who, and the first woman appointed to the board of the South Pasadena Public Library. During my research I talked with City Librarian Mary Helen Collier Wayne, the grand-niece of Margaret Collier Graham. Mrs. Wayne mentioned that there was no book-length history of South Pasadena and asked if I would be interested in writing a history. I agreed to do some preliminary research but after learning more about the city and some of the interesting people who grew up there, I was inspired to begin writing. The result was South Pasadena, a Centennial History, published by the Library in 1987. The book was designed by former South Pasadenan Ward Ritchie and had an introduction by his old classmate Lawrence Clark Powell. Both men were proud alumni of Marengo School.

LA: What was the most challenging aspect of writing a comprehensive history of South Pasadena?

JA: I enjoy the research but find it a challenge to organize the material to produce a story line that engages the reader.

LA: What has surprised you the most about the city's history?

JA: In reading through old South Pasadena newspapers, I was surprised at how often the city considered changing its name so people wouldn’t think South Pasadena was part of Pasadena, and on the wrong side of the tracks at that. Among the alternative names proposed were Oneonta, Robleda, Calidena, Bajadena, San Pascual, Poinsettia, and Las Flores.

LA: Historians are said to "listen to the voices of the past." What's your favorite South Pasadena story? (Or favorite colorful character from our city's past?)

JA: One of my favorite stories is of the meeting held in 1888 in the dining room of Wynyate, the home of Donald and Margaret Collier Graham. At that meeting, the city board of trustees elected officers, named Donald Graham as mayor, and passed a prohibition ordinance. (Although not a prohibitionist, Graham did oppose saloons). After the board adjourned, he said to his wife in great amusement, “It would have been well to remove the wine glasses and the whisky bottle from the sideboard before meeting to organize a prohibitionist town.”

LA: What are you working on now?

JA: Currently I am doing some research on an English illustrated monthly, The Wide World Magazine, which published from 1898 until 1965. Readers were promised thrilling adventure stories and astounding photographs.

I'd like to thank Jane for giving us such a thrilling adventure in her well-woven tale of South Pasadena's history. I told her to expect a couple more questions -- but I thought it only fair to let my GOSP readers ask them! Just email me. I'll choose a few, pass them on to Jane and post them next week.

Read more about South Pasadena: A Centennial History 1888-1988, Second Edition with Chronology, 1988-2008.

To purchase your own copy, please check out The Friends of South Pasadena Public Library website or call the Friends bookstore at (626)441-5294.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I kind of wanted to hang around and see who this person was waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for -- but that would have been insufferably nosy. Still ... I wondered.

As I drove home, I remember a few lines of this John Burroughs poem:


Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
I rave no more 'gainst time or fate,
For lo! my own shall come to me.

I stay my haste, I make delays,
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways,
And what is mine shall know my face.

Asleep, awake, by night or day,
The friends I seek are seeking me;
No wind can drive my bark astray,
Nor change the tide of destiny.

What matter if I stand alone?
I wait with joy the coming years;
My heart shall reap where it hath sown,
And garner up its fruit of tears.

The waters know their own and draw
The brook that springs in yonder height;
So flows the good with equal law
Unto the soul of pure delight.

The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
Can keep my own away from me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


"Let a joy keep you," Carl Sandburg once wrote, "Reach out your hands/And take it when it runs by..."

Great advice.

(He would have loved this scene at the South Pasadena Farmer's Market last Thursday.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rush Hour

I snapped this shot at 5:08PM on a week day, just off the train platform at Mission Station. I still find it beautifully mind-blowing that life in South Pasadena can be a calm, unhurried experience -- when downtown Los Angeles is barely ten minutes away. The term "oasis" is overused. But wait... is that water I see up the street?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gilded Age Gem

History buffs, take note! I must pass along a couple of interesting websites...

The Victorian Web and Victoriana.com are two of the most comprehensive resources for all things 19th Century. I happily lost a few hours exploring these sites, after shooting pictures of a few more South Pas Victorian treasures.

Victorian homes are wonderfully complex examples of the 19th Century's broad and expansive age. No Victorian house is ever exactly what it appears to be from the curb. You'll always discover weird little details, and possibly a few secret passageways. That's what's so much fun about this period in history with its upheaval of hierarchical order and experimentation with so many artistic, philosophical and literary styles. The Victorian era was much more than corsets and smelling salts. It was the bridge from antiquity into modern times. Maybe that's why houses like this feel both old and new at the same time.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Roadside Attraction

I believe I finally have enough images in this series to make a calendar! This, however, is my first photo of a vintage South Pasadena station wagon. I can just imagine a group of cheerful girl scouts scrambling out of the back, as a Jackie Kennedy-inspired mom exits the driver's side, moving oversized sunglasses to the top of her head and squashing her Virginia Slim on the pavement with the pointed toe of her black pump. Oh, wait a minute: there's an AC/DC sticker on the back window. Well... that changes everything...

(A note about color: the light was doing interesting things when I shot this. It was about to rain, and everything was skewing slightly lavender. I increased the color saturation in this image by about 40% to showcase that magical purplish cast.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


It's not classic architecture. It's not even particularly interesting architecture. But the side of the office building next to McDonalds on Fair Oaks looked so gorgeous against the spring sky I thought it needed its picture taken.

I have no idea why the windows were glowing with Easter egg hues of purple, gold and green. (I guess Spring colors find their way into everything.)

Monday, March 16, 2009


Someone once asked me if I wanted some "old books" that had once belonged to his mother. I'm a bit of a fanatic when it comes to reading so I welcomed the opportunity to see what was in the collection. On the top of the stack was a first edition copy of Saki -- the pen name of H. H. Munro. If that wasn't enough, the book was signed by the author. Keep in mind, this was the author's final book of stories, containing some of his most famous works. The book's binding was dilapidated, and the pages were distressed by what looked like a large coffee stain and perhaps a cigarette burn. But my thought then was the same as yesterday when I came across this piano abandoned on the side of a driveway:

What would make someone part with something so special?

I know, I know ... this is just a beat-up old upright. And the people in the house probably needed to make room for a crib or an exercise bike.

But still.

It may not be a high-falutin' baby grand, but those little uprights have been known to make some pretty memorable music...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mint Condition

I'm fairly certain I've never seen another English-style cottage painted this shade of green. I smile every time I drive past it. (Daring to color outside the lines always make me happy.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bistro de la Gare: Redux

I've been sorting through my picture files lately and I came across this one I had forgotten about. It was taken outside of the fabulously romantic Bistro de la Gare. I have already waxed rhapsodic about how much I love this place, but it bears repeating. This restaurant gets better with each visit. Not only is the food fantastic, but the atmosphere is as warm and inspiring as a favorite film or painting. (Perhaps not as cinematic as the settings here, but every bit as charming and magical as this.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Gist of Things

Perspective is everything ... both in art, and in life. I was thinking a lot about perspective when I took this photo. My subject? A contemporary fountain in a neatly trimmed yard in the Monterey Hills section of South Pasadena ... the kind of fountain interior designers always install during hip shows on Home and Garden Television. It's a nice fountain. But up close, the fountain becomes something else. It's not even a fountain anymore. It's a circle on top of an inverted triangle. The water makes it look like wet plaster or unbaked clay. Without an explanation, we might not even know exactly what it is, but we'd be able to make out those shapes. And those shapes are pretty. And familiar. And comforting.

When minimalist artist Ellsworth Kelly presents a subject, he deconstructs it down to its most basic geometric shapes. His vibrant segments of color represent the structure of something. The gist. I think we could all take a lesson from Kelly and his abstract contemporaries. We've grown so used to viewing the high definition picture of the world we forget about the simple foundation. We can't see the big green block of forest for all those pesky trees.

Think about it: in our lives today, we're inundated with depressing details. We're told that we must judge our happiness by the numbers in our 401K or the equity (or lack of it) in our homes or the relative security of our jobs. We're told that even if we feel good, or happy, our blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride, homocysteine and bathroom scale numbers insist otherwise. We're told that things have never been more dire, even though we live in a time where we can fly from Los Angeles to New York in about 6 hours; when infections that not so distantly decimated entire populations can now be wiped out with a little Cipro; when the great libraries and museums of the world are as close as Google and the Eiffel Tower has a webcam; when we can buy a tasty bottle of wine for under $10 and put what we don't drink in a refrigerator where it will keep until we feel like drinking the rest of it.


Without being told how bad things are, we might just think things were pretty good. That's not to say we should ignore warnings or turn a blind eye to danger. But I do think we'd do well to get right down to the gist of things more often. Take a look at the foundation -- the pretty shapes and textures, the reality beneath the scary veil and spin -- and we might realize the bigger picture, the basic truth, is not so bad. Actually, it's quite beautiful.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Loquats in the Shade

As San Diego Farmgirl recently pointed out, citrus trees can be found in most Southern California yards. But this is the first time I've seen them in window boxes under an awning. Leave it up to one of my favorite restaurants, Wild Thyme, to make great use of this space. (I'll bet loquat jam would be great with those famous crepes...)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I've received a lot of email lately from former South Pasadena residents asking for more shots of the mountains as seen from Monterey Hills.

As you wish!

It doesn't take much arm-twisting to trek up and point the camera out at this view. And for those of you who live far away but still think of South Pas as home ... this is for you.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Low Maintenance

California is now in its third consecutive year of drought. Recently, Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency and ordered immediate action to manage the crisis. (You can read more about it here.) With water in such scarce supply, I'm glad I decided last year to plant succulents in many of my containers and flower beds. They thrive on being ignored ... and they look like otherworldly creatures from a science fiction movie. Who says you can't have a colorful garden with little water?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Good Life

The ancient Greeks called it Eudaimonia -- a melodic sounding, high-brow word that loosely translates to happiness, but that refers to an ideal existence where humanity is flourishing. Thriving. Living The Good Life. No matter how fortunate we are, we will always strive for the idea of something better.

Plato was convinced The Good Life could be found in walking a virtuous path, free of desires. Buddhists seem to share that line of reasoning. Thoreau insisted it was woven into the fabric of nature. Marx thought it could be found only after the end of capitalism. Milton Friedman believed it would happen at the hands of an ever-bountiful free market. Poets, musicians and artists have looked for it in any number sunsets and moonbeams -- and a few hookah pipes, wine glasses and pill bottles. The nightly news would have us believe that our economy -- sad, listless, terminal thing -- no longer offers any hope of The Good Life, that we are headed for another great Depression. (And that thought has given everybody great depression.)

Back in the late 80s, I worked for a writer who was born in 1900. She had been a struggling mother with a sick husband during most of the years of the Depression. I asked her once what it had been like to get through it. She laughed and said something like, "Well, we didn't sit around at the dinner table and talk about The Depression. We didn't even know that word. We just had fun and did the best we could. We got by during the bad times, and waited for the good times that eventually came." She was so optimistic, despite many devastating aspects of her life: losing a child to disease, losing a brother and a son in two different wars, losing a home during a hurricane, losing the sight in both eyes, losing her husband to Lou Gehrig's disease. But when I knew her, during the last of her many years, she always said, "This is the good life." And she was right.

I'm sure the little girl in this picture will look back on this time not as the year when the stock market fell apart and the sub prime mortgage crisis instigated a terrible economic downturn. Nope. I'm pretty sure remember it the year she was a princess at her birthday party. The one where she got the biggest pinata she'd ever seen, that spilled out more candy than she could eat.

Now that's The Good Life.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rock On

I don't know if it is a mystical experience like some insist, but stacking rocks certainly has become an unlikely Luddite-style pastime in these technological times. (YouTube has at least 27 videos dedicated to it!) I've seen these miniature Stonehenges on hiking trails, at the beach, in parks ... and here alongside a South Pas driveway.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Walking on El Centro...

On this stroll toward the Arroyo, you'll see a lot of familiar things: a couple of Craftsman bungalows sandwiched between two Victorian era American Foursquares, uneven sidewalks next to heritage trees, white picket fences, a smattering of river rock, citrus growing in a yard, and -- of course -- a palm tree. (The only thing missing is a vintage car...)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Just add water...

The brief rain yesterday may have kept me from taking many pictures ... but it also provided a lovely opportunity to indulge into my inner lomographer. If you'll recall, this philosophy of photography began with a simple point and shoot Russian film camera, and the motto, "don't think, just shoot."

I didn't think. I just shot out of my car's sunroof. And I like the resulting poetry of those elegant wet palms peeking through raindrops.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


If you ever need an excuse to skip your commute and play hooky, you might be tempted by that message on the platform. Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Spiffy Ride

And to think... before I moved to South Pas I used to go weeks and even months without seeing a vintage car.

I wonder how long I can keep up this trend?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Top of the World

Okay, kids. We know that South Pasadena has a lot of interesting home architecture. Let's review. Craftsman? Check. Victorian? Check. Spanish, Traditional, Midcentury Modern? Check, check, check. That leaves cool contemporary houses precariously clinging to the side of the hill...


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dark View (and Bright Glass)

"In photography," August Sander once said, "there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated."


But on nights like this ... why on earth would you want to?

The first of every month is Theme Day for those participating in the City Daily Photo blogging community. This month's theme is Glass.

And this month I completely spaced out and forgot about it.

I suppose I can pretend that I intended this image to be included because it showcases those pretty glass store windows playing with the shadows along the sidewalk. But who am I kidding?

So instead,Click here to view thumbnails for all participants of Theme Day who actually remembered to post appropriate pictures!