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.


Mister Earl said...

Great photo, Laurie. Looks like a doll house or a puppet show.

I'll have to get that book today! Since the second edition goes to 2008, does it include the start-up of Glimpses of South Pasadena yet or will that need to wait until the 2018 edition?

Hilda said...

Oh Laurie, how wonderful that you got to interview her! I know nothing about South Pasadena except what I've learned through your blog but the book sounds like something even I would enjoy very much.

Your photo is beautiful, and your description of the scene helps me appreciate it even more.

Virginia said...

Well my friend, you just blew us all out of the water today!!! I LOVE the photo. The rock frame is perfect. The interview was so very interesting as well. Take a bow and a curtain call !

Mister Earl said...

Laurie: I just bought a reasonably- priced copy of the 1987 edition on Half.com, a great source for used books. This is cool! (PS - the remaining copies on Half.com are expensive!)

Judy Williams said...

Terrific interview and story. I remember sitting in that exact spot as Raine ate ice from the snow cone vendor. I can't wait to come and join in the festivities on another Thursday night!!


altadenahiker said...

Well I didn't know that. Any of that. Nice job!

Yakpate said...

Maybe all the world is a stage, but in South Pasadena, there are better props.

I wonder if Ms. Apostol can offer any insight into how the passionate love of community that defines South Pasadena originated. Personally, I think the city is situated on some kind of spiritual vortex that attracts good vibes.

Great shot, great interview, great way to start my day!

Cafe Pasadena said...

Nice pic interview, LA. I guess it's contagious.

Wayne said...

Mercifully, cooler heads prevailed back in the day and you didn't wind up living in Bajadena or Pointsettia.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a delight this interview.

To think, a moment before I read your post, I put Jane Apostol's history of the South Pasadena Library back on my shelf.

Trish said...

Laurie---many people have taken pictures of that trough, many have sat there and enjoyed a picnic. FEW know what it is, or the Iron Works building. You're right, those of us blessed to live (or have lived) in the town sometimes are oblivious to the history still standing all around us. Thank you for capturing and preserving what there is of the town on GoSP. It makes me proud and would my godfather proud, were he still alive--he grew up in a house on what is now Indiana--not in MH, but on the "town" side.

I think one of my favorite stories is of the ostrich races and farms. Can anyone imagine now having a neighbor with an ostrich farm?

I do laugh at the things SoPas thought about naming itself, or changing names to. There were a few others I've forgotten, but they were interesting. I don't think any of the 'dena names would have helped differentiate SoPas from other nearby towns and most of the other names are somewhat difficult to spell. I still swear they closed Oneonta school not just due to budget cuts and attendance, but because the grade-school kids had trouble spelling it! ;-)

Thanks sooo much for this interview with Jane. Taught me some things even I didn't know and has me interested in co-ercing my sweetie to allow another book into the family---we currently have a moratorium due to needing something the size of SoPas Library to hold all our books.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I may have that book. I'll have to give it a look. My father graduated from South Pasadena High School and used to collect local history publications.

Did you win the bidding war?

Ashley said...

Wow, I almost feel as if this post was written expressly for me! I have a warm admiration for Jane Apostol's South Pasadena history and love that she also wrote a book about Vroman's--I'll have to look that one up!

You see, one of my last "library school" papers was a biography of the early life of Lawrence Clark Powell. And, Oleg lately gave me little history volume as a gift.

And, here's my shot of the Meridian Iron works: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=41001179&l=1aa04cc853&id=2529392. Despite the no-smiles, it's one of my favorite pictures of my family and me, mostly because of the setting, and sharing it is just to prove to you how much I like this new post of yours.

Mister Earl said...

Cool photo, Ashley.

Steve Buser said...

Quite a nice walk through history and the people who keep it alive. Well done.

Petrea said...

Excellent, Laurie! Great interview, great post. Ms. Apostol is a gem.

USelaine said...

What a fun encounter! (I think I like Las Flores, but I seem to be in the minority).

Mister Earl said...

It is surprising how many people, when I tell them I live in South Pasadena, don't realize I'm talking about a separate city. Happens all the time. If they're from the Bay Area I say, "You know, it's a separate city, like South San Francisco."

Laurie said...

Thank you so much, everyone! I'm so happy to hear that many of you have purchased Jane's book.

Ashley, your photograph is wonderful. This is what I love about blogging. We have the opportunity to share our community and our lives -- and to bring in others from all over the world with shared experience.

Pasadena Adjacent, I did not win that particular bidding war on Ebay... but I was thrilled to find out about this new edition.

Mister Earl, I guess we all have the same experience. The conversatoin goes something like this:

"Where do you live?"
"South Pasadena."
"Oh! I love Pasadena!"

Ah well, we could have ended up in Bajadena.

Thanks again, folks. Until tomorrow...

Petrea said...

May I just add something here, Laurie? You're doing the blogging equivalent of what Ms. Apostol did. A daily entry about your city is a big deal. You put effort and research into so many of your entries. You maintain the interest in South Pasadena's individualism, character and history. You provide a place for people to come and share in that. So a chat between you and Ms. Apostol is more than fitting as she passes the torch to a new chronicler of your home town.

Laurie said...

Wow, Petrea, thank you! You know how I feel about you and your blog -- you inspired me to start this one! I really feel fortunate to be part of this ongoing people's history that is the blogosphere. We are all, in our own ways, leaving a time capsule of our age for future generations. The fact that it's collaborative makes it even better. I remember reading in a recent book by Al Gore that he was worried we no longer had a public square -- that television had taken away from the public forum. I thoroughly disagreed. Just look at what we have on our blogs.

Thank you, again, P.

Petrea said...

You are most welcome, L.

dbdubya said...

I saw Jane Apostl at the South Pasadena Library's Volunteer Recognition Luncheon last Friday. She was one of the many people honored for supporting the Library through volunteer work in 2008. I'm fortunate to have an autographed copy of the current edition.

In your introductory comments about Jane, you mentioned a review by Historian Doyce B. Nunis, Jr. Boy did that bring back a name from the past. When I was an undergrad at USC in about 1970 I took a course on the History of the American West from Dr. Doyce Nunis. I googled him and see that he's still a history professor at USC. In four years of undergrad work and 2 years in a Masters program, Dr. Nunis was one of the two best professors I ever experienced. The course was in a large auditorium. Even though there were probably 100 students, he brought history to life like no one else. At the end of the semester, we all rose to give him a standing ovation. It was the only time I've experienced that in a classroom. So, accolades from Dr. Nunis carry a lot of weight for me.

The other great professor was Dr. Lyle Knowles who taught Statistics in a way that anyone could understand.

Thanks for bring back a great memory from almost 40 years ago.

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Don Simkovich said...

I just came across your blog when I was looking for information on Raymond Hill in South Pasadena. This tie, or connection, with where each of us lives and the ability to communicate it well is probably one reason why James Herriot is one of my favorite authors.

Anonymous said...

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