Tuesday, August 16, 2016

South of Huntington

Check out the neighborhoods south of Huntington

When I first moved to South Pasadena, I thought the city's southernmost border was Huntington Drive.  It's a logical assumption: Huntington is a major thoroughfare.  It seems like some kind of line of demarcation.

As it turns out, the corner of Huntington and Fair Oaks was once the junction of the Pasadena Short Line and the Monrovia Line -- two important Big Red Car trolley routes.  After Henry E. Huntington incorporated the Pacific Electric Railway Company in 1901, he began work on what would eventually develop into the largest interurban electric rail system in the world...
 The mission-style depot at Huntington and Fair Oaks was named Oneonta Station, after Huntington's birthplace in New York.  The Pasadena Short Line connected Pasadena to Los Angeles, the Monrovia Line connected Monrovia to Los Angeles, and the two routes met at Oneonta Station.  Needless to say, Huntington and Fair Oaks became an important transportation hub, and the surrounding residential area became an early 20th century version of "freeway close."

In 1903, the Huntington Land and Improvement Company created the subdivision of Oneonta Park to take advantage of location, location, location.  This South Pasadena neighborhood targeted potential residents who not only wanted the convenience afforded by the Big Red Cars, but who longed for "what is artistic" and who might "appreciate the opportunities here afforded for home building."

William R. Staats, one of Huntington's colleagues, made a prediction:

"Gardens shall bloom here," he said.  "Rioting with roses and passion flowers; beauty shall prevail -- and hundreds of home seekers will be eager to seize upon this opportunity of finding such a resting place from the turmoil and stress of business life."

As it turned out, Staats was right.  "Watch us Grow!" was South Pasadena's official city slogan, and it was fitting.  In 1901, South Pasadena had a population of 1,001 people.  By 1910, the number had increased to 4,659 -- a rate of growth exceeded only by three other cities in California.  By 1920, the population nearly doubled to 7,652.  Many South Pasadena homes were built during this boom period, and you'll find hundreds of them south of Huntington Drive.  

If you think the Marengo area has cornered the market on Craftsman houses, you haven't explored the southern blocks of Fletcher, Primrose and Bushnell.  You'll find magnificent examples of bungalow architecture here, on streets overflowing with lush, mature trees.  Some of the trees date all the way back to the late 1880s, when a group of South Pasadena residents made it their goal to plant 1000 trees.  

You'll notice the streets running parallel to Huntington are aptly named: Spruce, Laurel and Oak.  Those aren't the only varieties of trees you'll find here.  There are also hundreds of camphors, sycamores, elms, maples, magnolias, deodars, pines, pepper trees, eucalyptus trees and palms.  (I should have realized Huntington Drive wasn't the border of South Pas.  Alhambra definitely doesn't have as many trees.)

While the neighborhood south of Huntington isn't as famous as the Oaklawn subdivision in the northern part of the city, the two share a history.  The prestigious architectural firm of Greene and Greene designed the Oaklawn subdivsion, leaving their mark most notably with the beautiful Oaklawn bridge.  One of the Greene brothers also left a little bit of Craftsman history south of Huntington.

At 1414 Alhambra Road, you will find one of the few remaining houses designed by Henry Greene.  In 1923, Henry was commissioned to build a simple home for South Pasadena resident Lloyd E. Morrison.  It has been modified over the years, but you can still see Greene hallmarks in the porch beams and classic Craftsman lines.  This is not a mansion or a museum piece, it's exactly what the Greenes wanted their homes to be: a comfortable place to live with a structure that blends unassumingly into the landscape.  It's a home designed not to be looked at as much as lived in.  (The Greene's detailed architectural plans of the house are here.)  

Film and TV buffs will be interested in a few other Craftsman homes in this part of South Pas.  While the block of Bushnell just north of Huntington may lay claim to the most productions on one street, (Back to the Future 1 and 2, Teen Wolf, Ghost Dad, Old School and Thirtysomething, just to name a few,) the block of Fletcher south of Huntington has been the setting for several films and TV productions, too.  The house from 90s sitcom Step by Step is here, and it looks almost exactly like it did on the show.  The house from the romantic comedy 13 Going on 30 is here, too.  (In the film, it was painted pink, but was changed back to the original neutral palette after production.  The homeowners left one pink brick on a post near the garage.)

Those are nice details for your average show biz nerd like me,  but Fletcher Avenue's real entertainment street cred comes from the fact that one of the biggest stars of Hollywood's golden age grew up here.  1930 census records list 1911 Fletcher as the residence of 11 year old William Beedle -- William Holden's name before Paramount Pictures changed it.  (The rent at the time was $62.50 a month.  The census report also made note that the house had a radio.)

Unfortunately, the home of America's original Golden Boy no longer exists.  At some point, 1911 Fletcher Avenue became part of the parking lot behind Huntington Cleaners.  But the rest of the street looks a lot like it did back in the days when radio was advanced technology.  You can walk along the sidewalk and imagine a young Holden sitting on the curb, practicing lines from his first big play at The Playbox -- a small theater owned by the director of Pasadena Playhouse.  If you listen closely, you can almost hear his mother's oft-repeated plea to "date only South Pasadena girls!  They're not corrupted like those poor souls in the movie business!"

There is nothing corrupted about this lovely, often overlooked part of South Pasadena.  It's quiet and comforting.  Over the years,  new buildings have sprung up as South Pasadena continued to grow.  You'll find quaint, mid-century apartments and modern 80s office buildings.  The Pacific Electric Railway line is long gone, along with Oneonta Station, but the dreams of South Pasadena's pioneers have endured, right along with many of the trees they planted.  Sandwiched between Huntington Drive and Alhambra, this neighborhood is exactly what Staats envisioned for the area over 100 years ago: a comfortable, pretty place to live "under the shadows of the wide-spreading oaks ... where the oleanders and magnolia bloom."  

For the most definitive history of South Pasadena, check out Jane Apostal's South Pasadena, a Centennial History.

For a wonderful collection of vintage photographs from South Pasadena, check out Rick Thomas's book South Pasadena.

For my favorite book on the Greene brothers and their architecture (including their early years,) check out Greene and Greene: Developing a California Architecture.

My favorite biography of William Holden is Golden Boy.

A version of this article was published in my multimedia column at Patch in 2010.

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