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20 Interesting Things About Pasadena

Pasadena City Hall

Pasadena City Hall. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

1. In 1886, Pasadena joined the City of Los Angeles as the second incorporated city in Los Angeles County. The primary motivation for its citizens to incorporate, as a largely conservative and teetotaling community, was to drive saloons and alcohol sales out from their community.

Southern California Tavern, 1890-1900

A Southern California tavern, 1890-1900. Photo from California Historical Society Collection at USC Library.

2. The Tournament of Roses Parade was first staged in 1890 as a way to showcase the beautiful weather of Southern California during January in contrast to the harsh winter typically experienced by much of the rest of the country. From the beginning, it was agreed that the parade and games were never to be held on a Sunday. Legend says that it was a pact with God not to interfere with church services in exchange for not being rain upon. Another version was that it was not to frighten horses hitched outside churches during services. Whatever the reason, since 1890, the Rose Parade has been held every New Year’s Day on January 1, except those 15 days that fell on a Sunday (in which case, it was held on the following Monday) and in 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament has never been delayed or cancelled due to rain.

Beverly Hills Float in Rose Parade

Beverly Hills float in the Tournament of Roses Parade. Photo by Skeeze via Pixabay.com.

3. The Tournament of Roses game is nicknamed the “Granddaddy of Them All.” It is the oldest annual post-season college football game in the nation (played since 1902). Since 1945, it has also consistently been the most attended of the nation’s college bowl games (91,853 attendance in 2019).

Rose Bowl Game, 2010

Oregon vs. Ohio State in the 2010 Tournament of Roses game at the Rose Bowl. Photo by PAEdwards via Pixabay.com.

4. We couldn’t determine when this started, but there has been a long (and fun) tradition on New Year’s Eve, between campers and drivers along the Rose Parade route dueling with silly string, marshmallows, tortillas, and shaving cream (soft projectiles, except the unwritten rules exempt classic cars, old cars, motorcycles, and, apparently, police vehicles from being targeted). However, spooked by international and domestic terrorist incidents, authorities have, more recently, prohibited this long-standing tradition. Nevertheless, it seems that the tradition has not disappeared. Cars are still reportedly coming off the parade route covered in silly string.

Silly String on Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena

New Year's Eve Rose Parade route campers silly string cars on Colorado Boulevard. Photo courtesy of Glenn Zucman (Creative Commons attribution), from his article New Year’s Eve on Colorado Blvd in Pasadena.

5. Pasadena is home to world-class scientific and cultural institutions, such as the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena Playhouse, ArtCenter College of Design, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Norton Simon Museum. Caltech is among top 10 universities in the world for number of U.S. patents recorded.

Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology

Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology, photo by Canon.vs.nikon (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

6. The Gamble House in Pasadena is one of the nation's finest representations of the American Craftsman Movement from the early 20th century and an outstanding example of the California Bungalow style. It is also the finest surviving example of the work of esteemed Pasadena architects (and brothers) Charles and Henry Greene, doing business as Greene and Greene. The home remains preserved today with many of its original furnishings that, along with the home’s lighting and textiles, designed by the architects themselves. The home was completed in 1909 and designed to complement and blend with the surrounding environment along the Arroyo Seco. It was built for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Before commissioning construction of their Pasadena home as a winter residence, Mary had already been staying in Pasadena during the winter months. The Gambles continued to spend their winters at their Pasadena residence until their deaths in the 1920s. Gamble family members continued to live in the house into the 1960s, when it was offered for sale. However, after hearing prospective buyers state intentions to make ghastly modifications to the house, the family decided, in 1966, to donate it to the City of Pasadena. The city maintains the property in partnership with the USC School of Architecture. Each year, two senior USC architecture students are selected to reside full-time on the property. The home is listed as a National Historic Landmark (1977) and a California Historical Landmark (#871). In 1985, the home achieved film stardom, when it played the home of Emmett "Doc" Brown in the movie “Back to the Future.” The Gamble House is located at 4 Westmoreland Place.

The Gamble House in Pasadena, 2016

The Gamble House. Photo by Cullen323 (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikipedia Commons.

7. Guy Orlando Rose, a late 19th century and early 20th century impressionist painter and Pasadena resident later in his life, became the first Southern California to achieve international fame. His paintings of coastal and inland Carmel and Laguna Beach made him one of the most renowned California painters during that period. Rose grew up in nearby Rosemead, but his career took him to Paris and New York. He ended up settling in Pasadena in the latter part of his life, joining there other prominent California artists (American impressionist Alson S. Clark, plein air painter Marion Wachtel, and Ernest A. Batchelder, a leader in the American Arts and Crafts movement). Rose taught at Pasadena’s Stickney Memorial School of Fine Arts.

Guy Orlando Rose, 1890

Guy Orlando Rose painting, 1890. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

8. One of America’s great rocket pioneers and a co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was Pasadena local Jack Parsons. Besides rocketry, Parsons had a deep interest in occultist religious practices that led to the destruction of his career.

Jack Parsons, American Rocket Pioneer

Jack Parsons, 1941. Photo by NASA/JPL via Wikimedia Commons.

9. Opened in 1960 by Willard Chilcott not only brought music and comedy to Pasadena, but the Ice House Comedy Club is now one of the oldest continuously-running comedy clubs in America. It has hosted a long list of comedy legends such as Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, George Carlin, Steven Martin, Bob Newhart, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, David Letterman, George Lopez, Ellen DeGeneres, Tim Allen, Bill Maher, Roger Dangerfield, Paul Rodriguez, Arsenio Hall, Roseanne Barr, and many more. The Ice House is also a museum to comedy, displaying memorabilia on its walls from from many of these same legends (including a wall of footwear). The Ice House Comedy Club is located at 24 North Mentor Avenue.

Comedian George Lopez

Comedian George Lopez who performed at The Ice House. Photo by 12019 via Pixabay.com.

10. Opened in 1913 and hailed as one of the most beautiful bridges in America and a marvel of engineering, the iconic Colorado Street Bridge (also known as the Arroyo Seco Bridge) is also darkly nicknamed “Suicide Bridge.” It has been so named at least as far back as 1929, when, at the onset of the Great Depression, there were already a total 29 suicide jumps. By 1937, that number had risen to 88. The city tried dissuading jumpers with increased police patrols and there were even calls to tear the bridge down. However, most proposals to reduce suicides there faced strong opposition when the aesthetic look of the bridge was believed to be impacted. By 2017, it was reported that the total number of suicides from the bridge had exceeded 150. That year, after eight more suicides, the city began erecting 10-foot high fencing. Since then, the number of suicide attempts has dramatically declined.

Colorado Street Bridge, Pasadena, California

Colorado Street Bridge, Pasadena. Photo by Matt Dillon (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

11. They are credited by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with “restoring hard rock to the forefront of the music scene.” The band Van Halen was formed in Pasadena in 1972 by friends from Pasadena High School, Dutch immigrant brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony. First named “Genesis” and later “Mammoth,” (nicknamed “Junior Cream”), the group changed its name to “Van Halen” in 1974. They initially played at high school dances in the area and later successfully put on their own performances at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. In 1977, Van Halen was discovered by its future manager, Marshall Berle, when performing to a mostly empty house at the Starwood nightclub in West Hollywood.

Van Halen at La Cañada High School, 1976

Van Halen performs at lunchtime at La Cañada High School, 1976. Photo by Dapcards (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

12. Although the hamburger is said to be traced as far back as 1880 and the hamburger bun to about 1916, the cheeseburger was invented in Pasadena in 1924, by young cook Lionel Sternberger at his family’s restaurant, Rite Spot, at the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Every year, following the Tournament of Roses week in January, Pasadena celebrates its place in cheeseburger history with Pasadena Cheeseburger Week, when local restaurants offering deals on signature burgers and special creations.


Photo from the National Institute of Health.

13. Julia Child, a Pasadena native, chef, author (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 1961), and TV personality (The French Chef, 1963-1970) introduced French cuisine to the American public. Prior to her career as a celebrity chef, Child served as an intelligence researcher during World War II with the Office of Strategic Services (or OSS, predecessor of the CIA). Her first successful cooking creation was, perhaps, a shark repellent to dissuade sharks from igniting underwater explosives installed by OSS operatives.

Julia Child in Her Kitchen, 1978

Julia Child in her kitchen, 1978. Photo by Lynn_Gilbert (CC BY-SA 4.0) via UCLA Library.

14. Among U.S. cities with a population of 100,000 or more, Pasadena ranks 17th in the nation for number of restaurants per capita. In 2012, Pasadena’s 409 eateries provided the city with one for every 336 residents, placing it far ahead of gargantuan neighbor Los Angeles (one restaurant for every 558 residents) and even New York City (one for every 451 residents).

Restaurant in Pasadena, California

Cheesecake Factory on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

15. The Pasadena Playhouse, opened in 1925, is the official state theatre of California (recognized in 1937) and listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1975). When it first opened, it was one of the most innovative theaters in the nation and, soon thereafter, became internationally acclaimed. Its long-closed theatrical school fed a long stream of talent into L.A.’s radio, film and television industry, including luminaries Dana Andrews, Eve Arden, Raymond Burr, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jamie Farr, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, William Holden, Victor Mature, Nick Nolte, Eleanor Parker, Robert Preston, Randolph Scott, Sally Struthers, Gloria Stuart, Gig Young, and Robert Young. With the emergence of television in 1950s, the theater began facing declining attendance and financial difficulties that plagued it until closing in 1969. In 1975 City of Pasadena purchased the dormant property and arranged for its restoration. It was reopened in 1986. The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue.

Pasadena Playhouse Interior

Audience members begin taking seats before a performance at the Pasadena Playhouse. Los Angeles Almanac Photo..

16. One of America’s most famous wartime generals was World War II General George S. Patton, Jr., who grew up in Pasadena. His father, George S. Patton, served as Pasadena’s first City Attorney and later as Los Angeles County’s 19th District Attorney (1886-1887). Patton’s maternal grandfather was Benjamin “Don Benito” Davis Wilson, who settled in Los Angeles when it was still Mexico and became one of the largest Los Angeles area landowners and the second elected U.S. mayor of Los Angeles.

Generals Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton Meet in Bastogne, 1944

General George S. Patton, Jr. (left) meets with Generals Omar N. Bradley (right) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (center) in Bastogne, 1944. U.S. Army Photo in National Archives.

17. Pasadena was home to sports legend Jackie Robinson who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier when, on April 15, 1947, he played as first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His older brother, Matthew or “Mack,” was an Olympic sprinter, who placed second only to Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Jackie and Mack were two siblings of four brothers and one sister who moved with their mother Mallie to Pasadena in 1920. Jackie excelled in sports at Pasadena’s John Muir High School, Pasadena Junior College, and at UCLA (where he became the first athlete there to win varsity letters in four different sports). After service in the U.S. Army during World War II, he played briefly for the Los Angeles Bulldogs football team, and in the Negro Leagues. He was signed by the Dodger organization in 1945, debuting in the major league in 1947. He retired after the 1956 season. Among Robinson’s numerous awards and recognitions are induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame (1964) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously awarded by President Ronald Reagan in 1984). His Dodgers jersey number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball (1997, the only player in any of America’s four major sports so honored). He was honored on three U.S. Postal Service postage stamps and was listed in Time magazine’s “Time 100: The Most Important People of the [20th] Century” and Sporting News’ “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players.” In Pasadena, Robinson was selected, in 1999, to be the first posthumous grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade. The UCLA Bruins baseball team home stadium in Pasadena’s Brookside Park neighborhood is named for him, as well as a health services center on Fair Oaks Avenue. In 1997, two nine-foot bronze busts of Robinson and his brother Mack, sculpted by artists Ralph Helmick, Stu Schecter, and John Outterbridge, were erected on Garfield Avenue across from Pasadena City Hall.

Jackie Robinson, 1954

Jackie Robinson poses at bat with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 1954, via the Library of Congress.

18. The iconic Pasadena City Hall, rising six stories (206 feet) from the street, is, arguably, one of Southern California’s most beautiful public buildings. It was designed by San Francisco architects John Bakewell and Arthur Brown, who had also designed San Francisco’s City Hall and San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House and Coit Tower. Pasadena City Hall, completed in 1927, incorporates architectural elements of both the Mediterranean Revival Style and Spanish Colonial Revival Style. The Pasadena Civic Center District, including City Hall, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1980). If you’ve never seen Pasadena City Hall in person, you have likely seen it in movies or on television. It stood in as City Hall for the series Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) and played itself in The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019). It played as the emperor’s palace in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940), Beverly Hills City Hall in Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), San Francisco in both Rumor Has It (2005) and an episode of Charmed (2003), Spain in American Pie 2 (2001), the Middle East in an episode of TV series Mission Impossible (1969), Napa Valley in A Walk in the Clouds (1995), and Cheyenne City Hall in Wyoming in an episode of Jericho (2008). By our count, Pasadena City Hall has been featured in at least an additional 28 films and TV episodes. The Pasadena City Hall is located at 100 North Garfield Avenue.

Pasadena City Hall

Pasadena City Hall. Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

19. In 1964, Jan and Dean first sung the hit song “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” The song reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100. Shortly thereafter, it was sung by the Beach Boys for their 1964 hit album Beach Boys Concert. The song was said to have been inspired by a then-popular Southern California Dodge advertising campaign showing actress Kathryn Minner as a white-haired elderly lady speeding down the street in a Dodge.

Little Old Lady at the Wheel

Photo by Free-Photos via Pixabay.com.

20. From 1977 through 1997, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium hosted the annual ceremonies of the Primetime Emmy Awards, a presentation of entertainment awards recognizing excellence in American “primetime” television programming. These were not, however, the only Emmy Award ceremonies held in Pasadena. The Daytime Emmy Awards (held in May or June), are another of the area-specific Emmy Award ceremonies and have been hosted in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium since 2017. More recently, the America's Got Talent show has been aired from the venue. The Pasadena Civic Auditorium is located at 300 East Green Street.

Pasadena Civic Auditorium

Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

Also see: A Pasadena icon...Vroman's Bookstore

Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, California

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