USA Today – 8 Must Visit Historic Gems in Pasadena, CA
All eyes turn toward Pasadena, California, each New Year’s Day for the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game, two time-honored traditions associated with the City of Roses.
Located just 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena’s many tree-lined streets and manicured lawns offer a welcome break from the grittiness of the metro area’s hustle and bustle. As Los Angeles’ second-oldest city, Pasadena offers rich history spread throughout its 126 historic points of interest – including 18 districts – listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the best ways to experience the city’s colorful old gems is through an Old Pasadena Walking Tour led by Pasadena Heritage, offered the first Saturday of each month, excluding November.
1. The iconic Rose Bowl Stadium, built in 1922, packs in more than 90,000 people for football games, concerts and Independence Day fireworks shows. The stadium serves as home field to University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) football team, and is also the venue for Rose Bowl Flea Market, held the second Sunday of each month along the outer perimeter of the stadium. Completing a $164.5 million renovation in 2013, the stadium has held performances from several music icons including U2, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, and hosted World Cup games, Super Bowl championships and Olympic sporting events. Some would say the stadium has come a long way since its days of animal races involving ostriches, or an elephant versus camel, that took place in 1913. These have since been replaced by the college football playoff semifinal Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day. Prior to the game, the Rose Parade presents 35 to 40 floats made with 100,000 blossoms each – for a total of more than 2 million blossoms – as well as marching bands and show horses along a 5.5-mile route.
The Langham Huntington, Pasadena
2. Every year, the Rose Parade grand marshal stays as a guest in The Langham Huntington, Pasadena’s two-story Tournament of Roses penthouse suite. Known for its daily afternoon tea service, the Langham hotel is one of the most frequented destinations in Pasadena, tucked into the upscale Oak Knoll neighborhood. Built in 1906, the hotel originally opened as Hotel Wentworth, and began welcoming guests before the roof was fully completed. Heavy rainstorms damaged the hotel, then only four stories tall, the following year, leaving owner Marshall Wentworth bankrupt. In 1911, railroad tycoon Henry Huntington purchased the hotel and went to work redesigning and expanding the property, including all the gardens, before reopening it as the Huntington Hotel in 1914. Twelve years later, The Langham opened California’s first Olympic-sized swimming pool, but eventually shortened it to keep guests from diving into the pool from the footbridge overhead. Two of The Langham’s grand ballrooms are more than 100 years old, and according to hotel staff, chandeliers in the Viennese ballroom were hidden away during the Great Depression to conceal the hotelier’s wealth. The Langham’s Chuan Spa operates in the former carriage house, and today’s courtyard garden was formerly a roundabout for horse-drawn carriages.
3. Located in the Playhouse District, Vroman’s Bookstore is Southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore, founded in 1894 by Adam Clark Vroman. A book lover and community supporter, Vroman sold his personal book collection so he could raise enough money to open a bookstore of his own, which he operated for more than 20 years until his death. Vroman was also a talented photographer who captured portraits of Native Americans and scenes of the American West, serving as an inspiration to artists such as Ansel Adams. Upon Vroman’s death, the bookstore was left to longtime employees, including the current owner’s great-grandfather. Today, Vroman’s Bookstore is known for hosting book launches, big-name author signings – including Salman Rushdie, Joan Didion, David Sedaris and Anne Rice – and hundreds of community events annually, including trivia games, crafting classes and children’s storytelling.
The Raymond 1886
4. The Raymond 1886 is a restaurant and bar located in the former caretaker cottage of Raymond Hotel, reserved by celebrity guests who required more private accommodations during the hotel’s heyday. These Hollywood VIPs included the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix and Joseph “Buster” Keaton. The hotel burned down in 1895 and was later rebuilt, but eventually fell victim to the Great Depression, forcing owner Walter Raymond and his wife to end operations in 1931 and move into the small Craftsman-style caretaker cottage. Today, The Raymond 1886 serves modern American cuisine and craft cocktails in its homey dining room, bar and outdoor patio.
Fair Oaks Pharmacy’s Popular Banana Split
5. Although its name has changed a few times over the years, Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain has been a South Pasadena landmark since 1915. A popular attraction along historic Route 66, the old-timey mom-and-pop shop includes a compounding pharmacy, lunch counter and kitschy retail items. Located on the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Mission Street, the building was originally purchased by Gertrude Ozmun, an entrepreneur who had the foresight to predict the area’s future as a retail hub. More than 100 years later, patrons still grab a seat at the counter for banana splits, sundaes and root beer floats.
6. Local institutions Big Mama’s Rib Shack and Pie ‘n Burger are no-frills restaurants that have stood the test of time. Big Mama’s, named after matriarch Emma Sue Miller McWhorter, started out in the Altadena area under the moniker Emma Sue’s Fish and BBQ in 1970, before moving to Old Town Pasadena in the early 1980s. The restaurant opened with the Big Mama’s name in its current location off North Lake Avenue in 2002, serving barbecue ribs, seafood, chicken and other Southern-style dishes. A classic diner, Pie ‘n Burger continues to operate in the same location on East California Boulevard where it’s been since 1963. Owner Michael Osborn began eating at Pie ‘n Burger as a young boy soon after the restaurant opened. He was hired there in 1972 as a college student and has worked there ever since. Today, the restaurant uses the same recipes, products and preparations from 1963 – with customers returning regularly for hamburgers and fresh-baked pies.
Credit: Bungalow Heaven Neighborhood Association
7. A 16-block neighborhood dubbed Bungalow Heaven surrounding McDonald Park was named Pasadena’s first Historic Landmark District in 1989. Filled with 1,048 Craftsman-style bungalow homes built primarily in the early 1900s during the American Arts and Crafts movement, Bungalow Heaven is characteristic of the architectural style and natural materials commonly used at that time. Most bungalows are one-and-a-half-story homes with an open floor plan, wide verandas and a sloped roof. Every April, the public is invited to attend Bungalow Heaven Home Tour for a self-guided exploration of this neighborhood featured on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Gamble House
8. The most prominent Craftsman-style home in Pasadena, The Gamble House belonged to David Gamble (a second-generation family member of the Procter & Gamble Company) and his wife Mary in 1908. Filled with custom-made furniture, the house was designed by Greene & Greene architects, and is considered an exemplary model of American Arts and Crafts-style architecture. Located in the historic Arroyo Terrace neighborhood, the house remained in the Gamble family until 1966, when their son gifted it to the City of Pasadena in a joint agreement with the University of Southern California School of Architecture to ensure the property’s long-term integrity. Today, visitors can take docent-led tours that are available Thursday through Sunday, or shop in the adjacent Gamble House Bookstore.