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.