Wednesday, March 25, 2009


The Oak Knoll Office and Bank Building as built in 1928 located on the southeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and Lake Avenue in the Oak Knoll Shopping District. Notice only half of the proposed building was built, as shown in the following architectural drawing.

The Oak Knoll Office and Bank Building as proposed in 1927 in the architectural drawing, to be located on the southeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and Lake Avenue in the Oak Knoll Shopping District.

Exterior view of Lake Ave. Methodist Church on the southeast corner of Colorado and Lake Avenue, Pasadena Anno 1907, with the Pacific Electric Oak Knoll Line tracks going north intersecting with the Colorado Boulevard tracks going east and west.

The northernmost end of the Lake Avenue lies at the very foot of the Cobb Estate in Altadena and immediately accesses Las Flores Canyon and the Sierra Madre mountains. The first resident of Las Flores Canyon was the Forsyth Ranch. The ranch was sold in 1919 to Mr. Cobb who had an enormous estate which filled the lower reaches of Los Flores Canyon and the large ornamental entrance gates, driveways, botanical plantings, house foundations and reservoir can still be seeen. Las Flores Canyon was also known for its small and short-lived gold mine and also as a hideout for the notorious Californio bandit of the early American period, Tiburcio Vasquez. The Cobb Estate was deeded to the United States Forest Service as a free growth Arboretum in 1967.

In the days of the Pacific Electric Red Car service in Pasadena and Altadena (1902-1941), Lake Avenue was known as the Oak Knoll Line. Oak Knoll Avenue is the street on the lower end of Lake Avenue which transitions north with a slow curve to the right and then back to the left coming up from San Marino and the former Lake Vineyard Ranch. The Pacific Electric Red Cars came up from a switch on the Huntington Drive line below the famous hotel of the same name. The Oak Knoll Line was a shorter way to get to Lake and Mariposa in Altadena without having to ride the circuitous route up Fair Oaks Avenue. In 1914 a spur on the short line was built across Mendocino Street from Lake Ave. to Allen St. and the development of Country Club Parks. The line was put there to access the new development and the Altadena Country Club and Golf Course.

Pacific Electric car stops for trolleys were located all along Lake Avenue heading to Altadena, Rubio Canyon, the Great Incline and the Mt. Lowe Alpine Tavern Hotel. The Mt. Lowe Alpine Tavern was located on the mountain directly above the terminus of North Lake Avenue and was a popular destination for weekend outings and as a local and national tourist destination. The incredible Mount Lowe mountain railway, which at the height of its popularity was Southern California's outstanding tourist magnet, attracted more visitors at the time then Yosemite or Catalina. It offered one of the world's most spectacular rail trips with disaster seeming ready to strike at every turn of the car wheels, yet so expertly engineered that in all the years it operated not one accident occurred. It was the realized dream of Professor T. S. C. Lowe., the first U.S. Union Army balloon aviator during the Civil War, inventor and one of the most prominent Pasadena residents, investors and boosters.

The Alpine Tavern was also a well visited destination watering hole during Prohibition (1919 to 1933), since the Tavern was cut off from the rest of the city when the last train left in the evening until the trains began running in the morning. This made the Alpine Tavern safe for the imbuing of spirits and other nefarious activities during the nighttime hours. Also, businessmen, attending meetings at the Alpine Tavern Hotel and then being stranded on the mountain after the last train had departed, were known to have telephoned their wives informing them they would have to spend the night at the Tavern, giving them a good excuse for an evening of unbridled and uninterrupted entertainment in this veritable mountain fortress! The businesses near the Pacific Electric stops in Pasadena and Altadena on the way up to the mountain were places to obtain appropriate gifts for a romantic rendezvous.

The interurban railway of the Pacific Electric Company brought the "Big Red Cars'' to North Lake Avenue in 1902, in which crowds of hikers would arrive early on Saturday morning bound for the local canyons to the north. Come Sunday evening the reverse migration would occur. At its peak in the year 1921, when 160,930 passengers were carried, Mt. Lowe cars operated from Pasadena to Altadena via North Fair Oaks, Mariposa, and North Lake including via North Lake from Colorado Boulevard. Another nearby local tourist destination was the home and gardens of noted local botanist and Southern California Missions booster Charles Francis Saunders, located at 580 North Lake Avenue, located just south of Orange Grove Boulevard, which was visited by many traveling on the Pacific Electric cars going up and down to the mountains.

The hiking era came to a close soon after the Angeles Crest Highway was opened in 1936 and the automobile began to dominate people's lives. Roads were driven into the San Gabriel Mountains and few people ventured more than a few hundred yards from their automobiles. The number of visitors today is probably a few percent of the number who came in 1921.

The North Lake Pacific Electric Line was extremely busy until shortly before its abandonment in 1941. The businesses saw their fortunes decline after the closing of the Mount Lowe tourist attraction in 1936, the opening of Angeles Crest Highway into the mountains also in 1936, the ending of trolley traffic in 1941, the onset of World War II and the general availability of automobiles and cheap gasoline for the common man. We hope the trolley on Lake Avenue can be put back in order to bring the tourist trade life blood we have been missing since 1936.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Great Economic Crisis - A Time for Great Plans

The Great Economic Crisis – A Time for Great Plans

President Obama is talking about reviving FDR’s Works Project Administration and during the time of greatest economic crisis it is the time to talk about bold plans and projects.

Tonight I would like to introduce you to the Pasadena Region Trolley System, a proposal which has been in the works for the last year and has been the recipient of some generous consultancy work, which we hope shows in the thoughtfulness of the proposal.

The idea is to link the city by trolley going east from Old Pasadena on Green Street to PCC and then return traveling west on Union Street, than using the old Union Pacific Right of Way now on Caltrans property along the 210 Freeway outer edge and travel up behind Muir High School, travel east on Woodbury which has a median strip, travel north on Fair Oaks which is wide and fairly calm on this section, turn east on Mariposa, which is wide and calm, turning south on Lake Avenue going south to connect with the Union Green Street loop in the City Center.

This will link the greater city with historic trolleys as seen by the large San Francisco loop from the Presidio to Fisherman’s Wharf to the Market District presently in service. In conjunction with the Pasadena Arts Bus System, this would give a world class city, Pasadena, world class public transportation.

The City of Pasadena does well with national and international tourism around the New Year’s Holiday; let us embark on a bold step to continue this green revenue stream of tourism the entire year, as was once the case in Pasadena’s proud history.

A world class Pasadena tourist all year destination can allow us to cover over the 210 Freeway for the proposed Museum of the Americas, the JPL/NASA Air and Space Museum West, the site of the proposed Pasadena World Fair, and the site of the Olympic Games proposed to be held in Pasadena in the future, and make the City of Pasadena the center of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Science of the West, truly the Athens of the West as envisioned by our City Father George Ellery Hale.



MAKE NO LITTLE PLANS!Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1864-1912)
Here, we have the books we must all read: "Eden by Design" by Hise & Deverell and "Inventing the Dream" by Kevin Starr."



Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.
Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1864-1912)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Normandie Heights Historical Background

March 15, 2005

Historical Background:

Clarence Bowen, a prominent Pasadena realtor, established the Normandie Heights tract in 1906. North Pasadena had been annexed to the City of Pasadena in 1904, which brought electricity, sewers, and other municipal services, greatly increasing both the desirability and price of lots in the annexed area. Mr. Bowen had purchased the parcel of land from Messrs. Painter and Ball, prominent land owners and speculators in this part of town around 1904.

With Mr. Bowen’s subdivision of the purchased tract of land in 1906, he graded a standard size street from the west towards the east, entering from Los Robles Ave. Unfortunately, the most easterly lots were somewhat valueless, since several sat in the Woodbury Creek wash, and were virtually unbuildable. The street, first named Pleasant View, dead ended on the east due to the wash running diagonal north to south. Also, access from the east was limited, as El Molino (Moline) Ave. did not go through south of Rio Grande Street to Washington Ave, again due to the Woodbury Creek. The remains of the wash may be seen today in Washington Park, the picturesque arroyo which runs north to south diagonally through the park spanned by a stone footbridge.

The Normandie Heights tract was divided by Mr. Bowen into 43 mostly standard sized lots, 50 foot wide and 120 foot deep. Sales were not very brisk, but a few lots were sold, nothing actually was built until 1908, although some of the lots changed hands a few times. In 1907, the street name was changed from Pleasant View to Normandie Street, also shown in street directories of the time as Normandie Court. The reason for the name change is not known, and the origin of the name Normandie is not known for sure, although the wealthy Mr. Bowen most likely traveled to Europe on Grand Tour as was the custom of his time in pre World War I America and he was no doubt familiar with the beautiful area of northern France known as the Normandie. The origin of the name Pleasant View and Heights is quite obvious, since before any building took place and the shrubbery grew up, this former walnut grove on a very noticeable incline had quite a view of the mountains to the north and the growing city to the south.

In 1908, two homes were built for two separate owners on adjacent lots by the Robert Foss Company. These homes at 618 and 622 Normandie (Rio Grande) Street are very similar in design. The original owners at 618 and at 622 were among the first residents of Normandie Street. In 1911, noted Pasadena architect Sylvanus Marston designed the Colonial Revival style Normandie Heights Estate at 1440 N. Los Robles. The name Normandie Heights was taken from the already existing subdivision. The Normandie Heights Estate, as one of the showpieces of Pasadena, was featured with pictures of the home and gardens in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Pictorial of 1913.

A number of homes were built in the Craftsman style in the period from 1909 to 1915 and a number of homes were built in the California Bungalow style and Colonial Revival style after World War I through the 1920’s. As time passed, the True Estate, at 1404 N. Los Robles, and the Normandie Heights Estate, at 1440 N. Los Robles, sold off some of their original grounds and the land was subdivided with homes being built on the former estate grounds during the 1930’s to the 1980’s. Newer infill development was minimal and reflects the history of many older neighborhoods in Pasadena. The recent restoration of the True Estate has reversed the trend towards subdivision.