A World unto Itself
A century ago, the icons we know today were being erected as Pasadena boasted more cars, money and influence than most cities its size
By Rebecca Kuzins 06/21/2012
Pasadena kicked off 1912 with its annual New Year’s Day event — the 23rd Annual Tournament of Roses, which featured a four-mile parade and chariot races at Tournament Park (now on the campus of Caltech).
“Throughout the matchless parade, Pasadena, a city beautiful at all times, seemed to have been converted into a veritable fairyland, in which all the fair women were queens and all the beautiful children were attending fairies,” reported the Star newspaper.
There was no football game following the parade; although the first tournament-related football game was held in 1902, the next year football was replaced with chariot races, which were held until 1916, when they were deemed too dangerous. In 1912, according to the Star, 30,000 people “rushed to the park to get their grandstand seats and the racing started before an immense audience that was widely enthusiastic.”
The tournament attracted an estimated 110,000 visitors — more than three times the city’s population of 35,000 residents. About 70,000 of the event’s visitors came to the city via the Pacific Electric big red trolley cars; 14,500 arrived on the Southern Pacific, Santa Fe & San Pedro, and Los Angeles & Salt Lake railways; and 25,500 came by automobile.
By that time, a growing number of Pasadenans were already relying on automobiles instead of public transit. According to historian Ann Scheid Lund, by 1915, Pasadena would claim to have more cars per capita than any city in the world, with about 5,000 autos for a population of 40,000. As a means of improving automobile access between Pasadena and Los Angeles, city and county officials met with Kansas City engineer John A. L. Harrington in January 1912 and adopted a plan to build a two-rib arch monolithic bridge over the Arroyo Seco.
Construction of the Colorado Street Bridge began later that year, and the bridge was completed and opened to the public in December 1913. Pasadena contributed $100,000 toward construction, with the county providing an equal amount.
Bridge construction was one of several goals that then-Mayor William Thum, who took office in 1911, attained before his term ended in May 1913. On Jan. 25, 1912, Thum announced plans to build a garbage incineration system that would be “as clean as a kitchen.” He also aimed to acquire all local power plants and water companies, so “Pasadena can join the progressive cities which have municipal water [systems].”
The following month, city voters authorized a $60,000 bond issue to finance the garbage incineration plant, which was built later that year. Another bond issue approved in a June election enabled the Pasadena Water Department to purchase three private water suppliers — Land & Water Co., Lake Vineyard Water Co. and North Pasadena Land & Water Co. — for $1.2 million. These companies were merged into the city water department, and on Nov. 1, 1912, the newly established Pasadena Water System (now part of Pasadena Water & Power) officially began operation.
In 1912, the city was well on its way toward realizing another of Thum’s goals — creating a park in the Arroyo Seco. The city held options on 200 acres of land in the Arroyo, with wealthy citizens buying additional parcels for the city’s subsequent purchase. One resident, Mrs. Everett Wellington Brooks, donated a public swimming pool and plunge basin to the city in 1912. This facility, located in the Upper Arroyo, would soon be part of Brookside Park, which the city began developing in 1913 and would name in Brooks’ honor.
Orange Grove Avenue (now Boulevard), known as Millionaires’ Row, was a prestigious address in 1912. According to local legend, the street was already home to 15 millionaires by 1900, but that number had since increased. One of the best-known millionaire residents was brewer Adolphus Busch, who purchased Ivy Wall, an English-style mansion on Orange Grove, in 1905 and soon after began building Busch Gardens. By 1912, Busch owned two mansions at 955 and 1021 S. Orange Grove. Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., began building an elegant home on the avenue the previous year.
The residents of the neighborhood sought to maintain its high-toned character when, in January 1912, they announced plans to install $34,000 worth of bronze electroliers — ornate lights resembling chandeliers — on the avenue. “In keeping with the splendid character of Orange Grove Avenue are bronze light posts, which are to adorn the famous thoroughfare,” gushed the Star, adding that the Corinthian-style electroliers would make Orange Grove “one of the most magnificently lighted thoroughfares in the country.” The Westside Improvement Association, a group of neighborhood residents, paid for the lighting fixtures, while the city supplied the electricity.
For wealthy citizens, as well as other Pasadena residents, much of their social life revolved around the area’s grand hotels: the Raymond Hotel in South Pasadena and the Hotel Green and Hotel Maryland in Pasadena. The hotels were not only the site of lavish parties, banquets and meals, but they also hosted musical entertainments, tea parties, lectures and vaudeville performances. In 1912, the Hotel Green comprised three buildings on both sides of Raymond Avenue. On the west side were the original Hotel Webster, built in 1887, on the southwest corner of Raymond and Green, and an adjacent annex built in 1903 (now the Castle Green Apartments). The third building, built in 1887, was on the east side of Raymond and was connected to the annex by an enclosed bridge across Raymond Avenue, which locals dubbed the “bridge of sighs.” In 1912, Hotel Green was home to the Tournament of Roses and the Valley Hunt Club, the organization behind the birth of the city’s tournament.
Like the other elegant hostelries, the Hotel Maryland, located at Colorado Boulevard between Euclid and Los Robles, hosted many of the prominent citizens who visited Pasadena. In 1911, former President Theodore Roosevelt stayed there and delivered a public lecture in the Maryland Pavilion about a recent African hunting trip.
No one of Roosevelt’s stature visited the city in 1912, but that May, Pasadena welcomed 10,000 Shriners who held their convention in the city and visited Busch Gardens. With its usual hyperbole, the Star marked the convention with a front-page editorial, in which it told the Shriners that they were “the type of American citizens that Pasadena delights to welcome. Pasadena is peopled by your type.”
In 1912, the local Elks club began meeting in its new building on Colorado near Orange Grove, and students moved to the new Pasadena High School, located at the current site of Pasadena City College. The new school replaced the original Pasadena High School, located at Walnut and Los Robles, which became John Muir Junior High School.
Nine years earlier, astronomer George Ellery Hale came to Pasadena from Chicago to establish an observatory on Mt. Wilson. A leader in the city’s cultural life, Hale in 1912 founded the Pasadena Music and Art Association. The organization, whose members included Henry Huntington and George S. Patton, arranged for well-known musicians to perform in Pasadena.
On December 31, 1912, the former Hotel Pintoresca (recently renamed the Pasadena Hotel), at Washington Boulevard and Fair Oaks, was destroyed in a fire that broke out that evening. But the area’s other hotels entertained large crowds of New Year’s Eve revelers, who dined and attended musical programs at the establishments and looked forward to the next day’s Tournament of Roses.