Transportation and The Red Cars
Pasadena grew in size and prosperity from 1900-1930. Southern California Edison originally provided electricity, but Pasadena established a Municipal Light and Power Department (now Pasadena Water and Power, PWP), in 1906. Men such as former mayor Dobbins and John J. Hamilton sought to establish an analogous Pasadena Municipal Railway to replace the privately owned Pacific Electric System, citing poor service. However, the chamber of commerce and Pacific Electric won a decisive victory in the 1920 election, ending this idea. The red cars became mired in heavy auto traffic by the 1930s. The Automobile Club of Southern California proposed an elevated “Motorway System,” replacing the streetcar lines with buses that ran on local streets and new express roads. When the freeway system was planned in the 1930s, city planners intended to put light rail tracks in the center margin of each freeway. This never happened. The Arroyo Seco Parkway (later Pasadena Freeway) our first freeway, opened in 1940, running in the lower Arroyo.
Major cutbacks in service began before World War II. Congestion was severe by the late 40s. Schedules could not be met, and former patrons were now driving. City, county and state agencies agreed with the Pacific Electric that termination was the best solution. Thus the end of the red care era merged with the smog era. The word smog appeared more than 100 years ago and links between air pollution and big cities were recognized before 1910. Smog first surfaced as a local issue in the summer of 1943 when complaints about air quality skyrocketed and newspapers wrote about a “gas attack”. Los Angeles County appointed a smoke and fumes commission and restrictions on trash burning soon appeared.
Pasadena began to buy Arroyo Seco land for water rights in 1911. The Los Angeles County Flood Control District built The Devil’s Gate Dam in 1920 after major floods in 1914 and 1916. It served for flood protection and water conservation. The dam and increasing population further depleted the Raymond Basin water table. The Devil’s Gate Dam helped contain the massive floods of March 1938, but water came over the spillway and wreaked havoc in the Arroyo. Massive flooding throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties caused about 180 deaths.
Rose Bowl during the 1938 Flood, from the archives of the Pasadena Historical Society
Lawsuits brought restrictions on water removal, which are administered today by The Raymond Basin Management Board. Today about 35% of Pasadena’s water comes from the Basin. Pollution has been one problem. JPL dumped large amounts of solvents, rocket fuel and other chemicals near to Devil’s Gate. Concrete has been another problem, preventing rainwater from percolating down into the subterranean reservoirs.
Our modern Arroyo was evident by 1950. The iconic Colorado Street Bridge was built in 1913. The city began planning for a park in the Arroyo in 1919. The Brookside Plunge, predecessor of the Aquatic Center, opened in 1914, named for Mrs. Everett Wellington Brooks who gave $3000 for a public park in the Arroyo. The Plunge excluded people of color except for one afternoon and evening per week, the last day before the pool was emptied and cleaned. When the NAACP challenged this, the city banned nonwhites completely from the Plunge until 1929, when Tuesday afternoon, International Day, was set aside for minorities. Frictions continued and increased; eventually the NAACP sued for open access and was victorious. Now the city closed the Plunge to everyone. Further NAACP legal action forced it to reopen in 1947. The Plunge fell on hard times and closed in 1983. The new Aquatic center was built and opened in 1990.
Picture from the archives of the Pasadena Historical Society
The Rose Bowl was completed in 1922, providing a bigger and better site for football and other events than Tournament Park, where the 1st Rose Bowl game was held in 1902 (see topic 2, evolution of big time sports in Pasadena). The first nine holes of the Brookside Golf Course opened in 1925; it grew and soon became an integral part of Rose Bowl operation because it was used for parking. Myron Hunt also designed the stadium, dugouts, and clubhouse of Jackie Robinson Memorial Field (originally Brookside Park Baseball Field) constructed in 1932. The Chicago White Sox used Brookside for spring training in 1933.
The Fannie Morrison Horticultural Center was built in 1938, funded by a $55,000 donation from Fannie Morrison. It was used for flower shows, which were very popular in its first 25 years. It fell into decline after 1980, the buildings were leased by the Kidspace Museum in spite of opposition (see http://www.arroyoseco.org/kidspaceplan.htm & http://www.arroyoseco.org/documentsmuseum.htm. Kidspace has been a pleasant surprise, less grand than its backers hoped, and less bad than its detractors feared.
Pasadena prospered during World War II and JPL grew into a famous site and major employer, but Pasadena went through difficult times after 1950. This was partly due to racial conflict centered on the schools. Three families, 2 white and one black, filed suit in 1968 against the Pasadena United School District. This eventually led to Pasadena becoming the first non-Southern school district to undergo court-ordered busing.
A landmark LA Times article dated April 27, 1969 spoke of “Pasadena’s Crown City Image Tarnished, white flight, urban blight, school problems”. It alluded to an “Eastern city death syndrome”. Townsend spoke of a ghetto half a mile from the world’s most famous stadium and quoted a white mother who feared that the schools would soon be “less than 50% Caucasian”. Proposition 13 hurt city revenue. However, things improved in the 80s. Neighborhood and preservation groups defeated a proposal to build two downtown high-rise towers in 1981. Renovation of the Old Town district proceeded through the 80s with visible success. City staff and neighborhood groups sparred over use of the Arroyo in the 1980s; this has periodically resumed. The city of Pasadena invited Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley to use the Rose Bowl in 1957, until a new stadium was constructed. This was abandoned in view of extensive construction that would have been necessary. City manager Donald McIntyre announced plans to cut costs and realize $2 million annual income from the Rose Bowl within two years in 1981 (Pasadena Star-news 5/23/1981). A plan to merge the management of the Convention Center, the Arroyo Seco and the Rose Bowl was rejected. Neighborhood and preservationist groups passed a slow growth imitative over the objections of the Chamber of Commerce and black leaders in 1989, but this was soon reversed.
Race remains a Pasadena problem. The area between the 210 freeway and Los Robles is not a ghetto, but it has many problems. Today, the public schools are less than 10% Caucasian. Nowadays we have monthly Canning Flea Markets (~10-15,000 people), marathons, half-marathons, triathlon, many ‘walks for the cure’, including, breast cancer, MS and autism walks and numerous smaller events. None of this existed in 1950. The Arroyo is very busy, but a stable balance between financial and other goals has not emerged. In the words of the Urban Land Institute, it “is declining from overuse….”
The need for balance
We humans tend to overdo things. Borrowing can be creative, but massive debt is harmful. Antibiotics were marvelous when they were introduced, but their use for every cold and for livestock is bad. Dams and concrete are good in their place. Dams are being removed in the Pacific Northwest; I hope that some concrete removal may permit more rainfall to percolate down into the Raymond Basin. American football has overdone commercialism and violence (topics 3 & 4). The Pasadena Cycleway was outmoded by the time it opened. Local governments approved the dismantling of the red car lines and JPL pollution of the arroyo. passive accommodation to new technology can be a serious mistake. Topic 12, who moved our cheese, reviews 21st century problems, only some of which are financial. We must protect the arroyo and improve the health and quality of life for all Pasadena citizens. We can’t ignore financial problems, changes in revenue and city obligations.
Not all change is bad. Air quality is much better than it was 30-50 years ago. Old Pasadena is much better than the decay that it replaced, but less attractive than it was in the 1980s. Crime has decreased. Old unresolved issues return (think of the invitation to the Dodgers for temporary use of the Rose Bowl), constructive solutions are possible if we think long term and avoid knee-jerk responses.
I have borrowed much from Tim Brick’s Flowing Waters, Fruitful Valley; see http://brickonline.com/Brief%20History.pdf and his informative piece on the defeat of the Pasadena Municipal Railway in the 1920 election at http://www.brickonline.com/Muni%20Rail%202001.pdf.