Every year they sprout up in yards all over town like mushrooms: little orange and black signs with the cryptic letters of SPEF.
When I first moved here, I saw these signs and wondered what they meant, and why so many good people supported them. South Pasadena Exciting Friends? Silly Putty Exotic Fantasies? Some People Enjoying Fountains?
All good guesses, but no.
SPEF stands for the South Pasadena Educational Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity designated by the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) as the official private fund-raising organization for the support of the district's educational programs. Donations to SPEF support all of the schools in South Pasadena, providing funds for academics, books, arts, technology, sports and much more.
'Tis the season for giving, and what better way to give than in support of our future?
If you walk through the gates of the historic Baranger Studios today, you're probably seeing your CPA or ophthalmologist. Back in 1925, however, the site was home to makers of "electric motions for jewelry stores."
Electric what for what?
Jewelers went all out to be competitive in the original decade of bling. In order to lure more customers into their stores, they relied on mechanical displays that were as imaginative and quirky as the jazz age itself. It wasn't enough to have diamond bracelets worthy of Theda Bara. Those bracelets needed to be displayed with something like this or this.
Baranger Studios produced these wondrous machines from 1925-1959. It's just another example of South Pasadena's whimsical and unusual past. (You can read more about Baranger Studios here and here.)
And thus, I close the gate on my Week of South Pasadena gates. I definitely need to revisit this subject. There are so many more to explore!
Today's Ostrich Farm is a collection of live/workspace loft condos ideal for artists, but back at the turn of the last century it was a destination so unusual, exciting and fun it has been called "the Disneyland of its day."
In 1896, The Cawston Ostrich Farm opened and quickly became a world-famous tourist attraction. In retrospect, it seems a little weird that people would travel from the far reaches of the globe in order to walk around a garden with 100 ostriches. Although, to be fair, the adult birds were over seven feet tall and the baby chicks were really, really cute.
Advertisements at the time boasted a bucolic setting "free from any boisterous element and strictly first-class." It only only cost a quarter to visit the farm, but the chic ostrich feather boas, capes, muffs and parasols at the gift shop could set you back more than a few dollars.
One of the highlights of a visit to the farm was the opportunity to feed an ostrich an orange picked from one of South Pasadena's many orchards. Imagine what happens when a large citrus fruit goes down a slender ostrich neck. Can you see it? It's a less-violent version of a snake eating a rodent. The fruit could take quite a while to make its way down and, apparently, watching it was considered great fun for the Victorian set.
Who am I to judge? Our generation made curling an Olympic sport!
Given the Ostrich Farm's famous past as well as its artistic present, I have to say: these gates need some serious improvement.
For a fantastic history of Cawston Ostrich Farm, check out our pal Petrea Burchard's article here. For some great historical shots and vintage postcards, click here.
This week, I take a look at some of South Pasadena's gates.
The problem with gates is that they hold in as much as they keep out. It's nice to think of keeping your life private -- building walls, tending hidden gardens, closing off the things beyond your control -- but it's also a bit lonely. (I should know. I tend to gate up and go into emotional lockdown when things get too hectic.) With gates come locks and with locks come keys and with keys come questions of who gets one, can it be copied and what happens if you lose it?
I once lived in an apartment that had an exterior gate with a padlock. If you got in the gate, you had to walk across a pretty big garden to reach my front door. There was no doorbell, no buzzer, no possible way to get my attention. If someone was coming to visit they'd arrange a time and I'd open the lock. Otherwise, it stayed closed and absolutely impenetrable.
It was great at first. There were no Jehovah's Witnesses early on Sunday morning. There were no kids selling magazine subscriptions for school fundraisers. Neighbors didn't bug me to borrow sugar and UPS guys didn't make me sign for someone else's Amazon box. There was absolutely no interruption of whatever it was that I found so important to be doing alone behind a padlock.
But after awhile I started to feel a little like Rapunzel. No interruptions meant, well, no interruptions. I had plenty of alone time in that place. I had lots of time to write the great American novel and learn to meditate -- neither of which I did. There was nothing spontaneous or unplanned. No trick-or-treaters, no Christmas carolers, no hopeful little ones holding Unicef donation cans for Jerry's Kids. There were no girl scouts to brighten a depressing day with lifesaving thin mints. No old boyfriends stopped by with flowers. No new friends introduced themselves.
Now, my family lives in a house with no front gate. Some days the doorbell rings six or seven times which delights my social butterfly daughter to no end, even if it's just a meter reader asking me to tie up the dogs in the back yard. We are utterly powerless to keep people from intruding and, oddly, it feels more cozy that way.
This week, I examine some of South Pasadena's more picturesque gates. (And possibly use the photos to get a little philosophical.)
South Pasadena is a far cry from a gated community. Okay, there's that one weird fortress of a neighborhood near the high school. (I confess, I've never explored it. Could I even manage to sneak in without a passcode?) But the rest of the city is beautifully accessible.
That doesn't mean there aren't some mighty fine gates to admire and, in my case, photograph for all of you.
Here is one of the two historic Oaklawn portal gates. (You can read about the portals and see a wider shot here, and find out even more about the entire Oaklawn neighborhood here.)
Join me this week I take a look at some of South Pasadena's interesting and photogenic gates.
South Pas has always struck me as such a technicolor city. Lately, though, I've enjoyed revisiting familiar locations with an eye toward black and white. It definitely changes the tone of things. In fact, in this shot our happy little Eddie Park seems a bit too austere. (Quick! Somebody kick a red ball out there into the lawn!)
I know it's rather early to mention this, but history lovers need to mark their calendars now for an upcoming library event. On January 19 at 7:00 PM, the Friends of the South Pasadena Library will host Author Night with historian Kevin Starr at the library Community Room.
Those of you who know me well have undoubtedly listened to me wax with rhapsodic wonder about Dr. Starr's incredible books on California. Seriously, this man makes California's wild, mythical and outrageous past come alive in ways that most novelists can only dream of.
His Americans and the California Dreamseries is like a time machine ride through the grand-sweeping saga that created our state. (Embattled Dreams is my favorite in the series, covering the tumultuous 1940s.) Dr. Starr leaves nothing out of his narrative -- from big ideas to the smallest details of California's epic story. He's a scholarly historian to be sure, but he has the heart of a poet, not to mention the literary chops of a master storyteller. (Can you tell I'm a gushing fan?)
I'll mention this again as the date approaches, but make a note now! And for those of you who haven't already done so: go out and buy Dr. Starr's books. You'll thank me when I see you at the event.
If you walk along the south side of Mission, you'll notice this unassuming little marker for a former South Pasadena ice cream parlor. For almost forty years, Fosselman's served up homemade frozen treats in the historical Ong Building, on the corner of Mission and Fair Oaks across from Fair Oaks Pharmacy.
When the lovely glazed-brick building opened in 1911, it was hailed as the pride of the South Pas merchant community -- noted for being the largest, most opulent business structure in town. Although the building served as an address for institutions as diverse as South Pasadena Savings bank and Chaffee's Basket Grocery, one of the most beloved tenants was Fosselman's Ice Cream and Coffee Shop.
When Fosselman's opened its doors in 1937, Depression-weary South Pas residents could treat themselves to a double dipped cone for only a nickel. (Those who wanted to splurge could order a large malt for a dime.) For decades, San Gabriel Valley ice cream lovers flocked to the South Pas shop for frozen confefections made by hand.
In 1974, the Ong Building was demolished, giving way to the unremarkable bank building that still stands.
I'm always surprised by the examples of contemporary architectural design in a city known for its historical buildings. This one sort of blends into the trees just south of Huntington, offering a nice mirror for those old-fashioned telephone poles.
Today is the first day of the month, and that mean's it's Theme Day for participating City Daily Photo bloggers. Today's theme is Fences.
It's a shame that someone swapped concrete blocks for wood in this historical Oaklawn fence, but you can still admire the handpicked river rock in the pillars. Learn more about the history of this Greene & Greene designed South Pas neighborhood at my Patch column here, or get the Cliff Notes' version from this blog post.
In December of 2007, after many years on the west side of Los Angeles (and at least a third of those years spent stuck in traffic on Pico Boulevard) my family settled into a happy little house in South Pasadena. This daily blog covered almost 5 years as I put down roots in my new home town -- and almost 5 more as I settled in and became a South Pas old-timer. Here it is...my time capsule of South Pasadena.
You can always find the blog at its original address:
For 2 years I covered ethical fashion and breaking style rules at chiccontraire.com. Check out my blog archive for those who wear what they want, not what they're told. Timeless looks, ethical style, slow fashion, fashion history, curated picks and more. I really loved blogging here, and left the best, evergreen posts up!
Thank you Charlie's Coffee House for hosting my photo exhibit, South Pas: Observed. From October 2011 through January 2012 my pictures graced the walls of the best place in town to get a cup of coffee!
Read the nifty story on photo bloggers Petrea Burchard, Ben Wideman, Kat Likkel and little old me featured in the September, 2011 issue of Pasadena Magazine.