TO SEE MY HOME IN EAST PASADENA
This neighborhood exploration is about tiny East Pasadena. Despite its name, East Pasadena is an independent community and no more a part of the city of Pasadena than are South Pasadena or Altadena. Historically it was a much larger community but through many annexations it has shrunk to a small area that also includes the neighborhoods of Michillinda Park, a portion of Chapman Woods, and several numbered tracts.
South Pasadena is neighbored by Pasadena to the north and west, San Marino to the west, East San Gabriel to the south, and Arcadia to the east. Though an independent community, many of its businesses have Pasadena addresses. East Pasadena is a small but diverse As of the 2010 census, the population was just 6,144 and 52% white, 35% Latino of any race (mostly Mexican), 23% Asian (mostly Chinese andFilipino), 3% black, and 1% Native American. Though the fastest growing population in the last ten years was Asian-American, it still has a ways to before it reaches a plurality and thus joins its neighbors in “The Far Eastside.” Whatever East Pasadenans’ ancestral origins, it is heavy on the American Flags… and USMC flags… and one Colombian one.
EARLY HISTORY OF THE AREA
Present day East Pasadena is located near the Tongva village of Sisitcanonga (also spelledSisitkanonga), which was located near the banks of Eaton Creek. Eaton Creek is a small, seasonal stream, the headwaters of which are in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The lower, channelized version is referred to today as Eaton Wash and flows into the Rio Hondo.
SPANISH AND MEXICAN ERAS
Spaniards first arrived off the coast of Southern California 1542 although it wasn’t until 1771 that they built a nearby mission at which many of the Tongva were enslaved. With Mexican independence achieved in 1821, the land again changed hands. The missions were secularized in 1834 and the 54 km2 Rancho Santa Anita (which includes modern day East Pasadena as well as all or portions of Arcadia, Monrovia,Pasadena, San Marino, and Sierra Madre) was granted to Perfecto Hugo Reid, a Mexican of Scottish origin.
In 1848, after Mexico’s defeat in the Mexican-American War, California became part of the US but theTreaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required that the pre-existing Mexican land grants be honored by the conqueror. After that the land changed hands many times before being purchased in 1875 by Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin. Baldwin was a stockholder in the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and in 1885 the railway arrived on his ranch in then-new town of Arcadia. To the west, the rail line reached Pasadena in 1887.
THE RISE AND GROWTH OF PASADENA
Pasadena was incorporated in 1886, the second town to do so in the county after Los Angeles. It quickly grew through annexations in all directions. South Pasadena incorporated in 1888 but Pasadena continued to annex the unincorporated lands of Altadena and East Pasadena. From 1906’s East Pasadena Annex to 1971’s Foothill Freeway Annex No. 71-2, nearly all of unincorporated East Pasadena was eventually annexed by Pasadena and today just 3.39 km2 remains.
In the 19th Century, Leonard Rose’s Sunny Slope property included 2,000 acres of orange groves and vineyards comprised of 35 varieties of grapes. It employed 150 workers and produced Rose’s Sunny Slope Brandy. In 1887, Rose created the Lamanda Park subdivision on his property and sold his company to a British firm. I’m not sure if Sunny Slope Vineyard was directly connected to East Pasadena’s Sunny Slope Water Company or whether it’s merely named after Rose’s Sunny Slope tract but it does date back to 1895, when it was established, and still operates today.
Lamanda Park station, served by the Pacific Electric Railway’s Sierra Madre Line and the Southern Pacific Railroad, opened in 1903 and the community further emerged as the industrial center of East Pasadena – namely around Nina Street and Rose Avenue (now San Gabriel Boulevard). It was annexed by Pasadena in 1920’s East Side Lamanda Park Annex.
Chapman Woods was purchased in 1869 by Albert (or Alfred, depending on the source) and Katherine Champan. It was later subdivided and true to its name, much of it retains an actual woodsy character. Part of it was annexed by Pasadena in the Eaton Annex of 1927 and part remains within East Pasadena.
The Michillinda Tract was subdivided around 1910. According to a 1916 edition of Out West magazine:
There is a little village near Pasadena called “Michillinda,” which is not a Spanish nor an Indian name, nor is it taken from an automobile tire, or a chill cure. It is simply the work of an original real estate lord who joined the names of three states – Mich., Ill,. And Ind., to appeal to prospective purchasers from these states. So on these rainy days he fuses the names of different states into on name, and dreams of opening new tracts and calling on “Minn-al-ar-ky,” for Minn., Ala., Ark., and Ky.: another “Wisgawyo,” for Wis., Ga., and Wyo.: still another “Mopanebore,” for Mo., Pa., Neb., and Ore.: and still another “Flamisskansla,” for Fla., Miss., Kans., and La.
The tract, bordered by Michillinda to the east, Foothill to the south, Rosemead to the west, and Cole Avenue to the north, is now known as the Michillinda Park neighborhood.
There’s a small park as old as the community in East Pasadena’s southeast corner, Michillinda Park. On the day that I visited there was a homeless man sleeping in the shade and a playground crowed with screeching children whose parents were congregated at a nearby picnic table. One of the children quoted Titanic, crying “I’m king of the world,” although more likely referencing some Dreamworks cartoon rather than the source film.
Extending north from the park are Woodward Boulevard and Michigan Boulevard, two streets with wide medians that are home to large evergreens that look older than most of the homes alongside them. When I the park live avenues, both were being pecked and shat upon by several peafowl, probably visiting from Arcadia’s Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.
EAST PASADENA WATER COMPANY
The East Pasadena Water Company was established in 1930 and still operates. It grew out of California-Michigan Land and Water Company (aka “Cal-Mich”), which was established in 1910 alongside the Michillinda Tract. In 1913 the company began functioning as a public water utility.
EAST PASADENA HERALD AND OTHER EP CLUBS AND INSTITUTIONS
From around 1930 until 1950, East Pasadena was served by its own newspaper, the East Pasadena Herald. There also used to be an East Pasadena Kiwanis Club (c. 1949 – c.1975) and the East Pasadena Boys’ Club (founded in 1951 and operated at least until 1977 and may have evolved into the Boys & Girls Club of the Foothills, one of whose buses I saw on California as I explored). The East Pasadena Rotary Foundation, founded in 1963, still exists and there’s an East Pasadena Knights of Columbus branch. A club of different sorts is the APA League that meets and plays at Crown City Billiards.
By 1927, nearly bit of land up to the north-south Sierra Madre Villa Avenue had been annexed by Pasadena, leaving modern day East Pasadena and one other large area, Hastings Ranch, located to the north. The ranch’s owner, Charles H. Hastings, died in 1942 and his 1,000 acre ranch was sold in 1945 and quickly developed into an industrial, retail and residential neighborhood. It was duly annexed by Pasadena between 1946 and 1954.
HASTINGS DRIVE-IN AND EAST PASADENA’S FILM SCENE
Across the street from its then-northern border on Foothill Boulevard, Hastings Drive-In opened in 1950. It had a 1,315 car capacity. Unfortunately for drive-in fans, it was demolished in 1968 and was replaced with the Pacific Hastings Theatre in 1972, when it showed The Poseidon Adventure. Subdivided and renamed the Pacific Hastings 8, it eventually closed in 2007. This would be the part where I’d normally mention any films shot in East Pasadena or filmmakers and/or actors from there but I haven’t been able to find any so please hit me up with any additions that you may have. I suppose that I could mention that I saw a girl driving a car with a Totoro air freshner on her dashboard.
GETTING THERE AND STAYING THERE
Colorado Boulevard (renamed from Colorado Street in 1958) was part of the famed Route 66 and home to Pasadena’s Rose Parade, which is probably something most people had in mind that opened most of East Pasadena’s lodging along it. For overnight visitors to East Pasadena there currently exists Best Western Pasadena Inn, Best Western Pasadena Royale, Days Inn Pasadena, El Rancho Motel, Hi-Way Host Motel, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Pasadena, and Pasada Motel. El Rancho Motel opened in 1950 and has a pleasantly mid-century vibe. The Hi-Way Host opened in 1956 and has a nice neon sign. I can’t vouch for their quality as guest accommodations, however, as both have an average rating of one star on Yelp.
If you’d like to use public transportation to visit East Pasadena it’s served by the Los Angeles Metro 79, 264, 266, 267, and 268 bus lines as well as the superior Foothill Transit 187 line and Pasadena ARTS. About 117 meters outside the community is Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Villa Station, served by the Metro’s light rail Gold Line. On a related note, East Pasadena’s DMV office is the last one I renewed my registration at before ridding myself of my last automobile.
ARCHITECTURE & APPEARANCE
Despite its small size, East Pasadena is home to a wide variety of architectural styles. The low-profile businesses along Colorado Boulevard with their slender bricks, iron ornaments, and fleurs-de-lis motifs are clearly products of a mid-20th century aesthetic.
Much of the eastern part of the community is characterized by nondescript ranch homes situated atop thirsty lawns decorated by dusty lawn ornaments and dry fountains. The southern edge along Huntington Drive is more obviously oriented toward the San Gabriel Valley’s growing Asian-American population, faced by billboards in Chinese from the East San Gabriel side of the street and home to tea houses and Chinese-speaking ESL schools.
The western area near Pasadena is home to private communities and stately mansions. There are beautiful Craftsman homes sprinkled here and there and a dismaying number of pebto abysmal Spanish Revival McMansions due in large part to the fact that the unincorporated county community is un-served by even a basic preservation ordinance.
There are a handful of dining options within East Pasadena including B-Man’s Teriyaki & Burgers, Chiquita Bonita…
… Cynthia Brooks Distinctive Catering, El Super Burrito, Gin Sushi, Golden Palace Mongolian BBQ,Half & Half Tea Express, Mama’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta, Nikki C’s Restaurant, President Thai, Sprouts Farmers Market, Yang Chow, and Yes Sushi.
The most popular judging by crowd size during my visit would have to be either El Super Burrito or The Original Tops. The Original Tops began in 1952, when Greek immigrant Steve Bicos started it as a diner with an uncle. The current restaurant was built in 1978 and is run by Bicos’s son, Chris.
Gin Sushi used to house an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. The building dates back to 1946 and seems to have been a winery, according to an old directory.
President Thai wins points from me for almost looking like a wat as does Mama’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta for having a replica of the 93 meter tall Statue of Liberty in New York (or El Monte’s seven meter version).
There are two bars as well: Esquire Bar and Lounge (formerly a gay club called Club 3772, I think) and R Place, which opens at noon and is by all accounts more of a neighborhood dive.
MUSIC AND ART
Normally I would mention any bands or musicians from East Pasadena but I have thus far been unable to discover any. There is music being made, however, in a music studio on Rosemead, RedZone Guitar Works, and Lee Music School. Art is hopefully being made at Pasadena Art School.
For religious sorts there are a few options. On outward appearances alone I’d have to go with St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church, built in 1965.
New Hope Presbyterian Church, built in 1963, is a fairly typical church of the era. It used to be Michillinda Presbyterian Church, whose story was told in David Rohrer’s book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry. Most of its signage now is in Korean. The windowless Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall looks like a military barracks.
The Pasadena Hindu Temple looks rather like a house, albeit one with a large “om.” I’m so used to seeing those hanging on the necklaces of spiritual bros that I almost forget that it has a religious meaning. There’s also Iglesia del Nazareno, Impact Harvest Church, and Life Church.
I don’t normally get too into neighborhood crime statistics as I think it might make people unnecessarily afraid of exploring and personally I don’t think that any neighborhood in Southern California has struck me as dangerous enough to warrant a travel advisory. However, I will mention crime statistics here primarily out of the hope that it will challenge stereotypes. To wit, of all the communities reporting crime statistics, East Pasadena has the highest violent crime rate in the SGV (much of which, to be fair, doesn’t report crime statistics). Its crime rate is higher than that of Cypress Park, Koreatown, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights,Van Nuys, San Pedro, and many other communities that are with unfair but numbing regularity characterized as being “gang plagued,” “ghetto,” “the hood,” “sketchy,” having “gone to the dogs” &c (often coded shorthand for becoming less white).
As I expected, I never once felt even remotely threatened in East Pasadena in the hours that I was there. Sure there was a dog that barked at me and I suppose the sidewalk sign-twirlers arrow could’ve gone awry and poked one of my eyes out but most of the menace occurs either behind McMansion walls or near East San Gabriel’s Clairbourn School and San Marino’s KL Carver Elementary, at least.
That being said, there was a high profile crime that took place (four years ago) that rocked a community perhaps used to the occasional aggravated assaults and robberies but not murder. On 26 July, 2009, then 85-year-old James Che Ming Lu murdered his wife of nine years, Michelle Lu – then 55 – by striking her nineteen times in the head with a hand ax at the couple’s Rosemead Boulevard home in East Pasadena. He also attacked the victim’s son, Ji Zeng, who escaped and called the police. Lu is currently serving a 42 year sentence.
Not to end on a dour note, my experiences (excepting that with the DMV) were absolutely pleasant aside from a bit of high temperature-induced heavy sweating. I hope to come back and check out some of the restaurants and R Place in the future. And please politely contribute any additions or corrections in the comments, thank you.
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