Pasadena History: Mother of City?


“First lady”, “Father of our country”, “Mother of our country”, “Favorite Son”, and so on. We’ve heard these terms/titles before. Which got me to thinking a little…


Is there a “Mother of the City” of Pasadena?


And if so, then who??  We’re the Crown City, the Crown of the Valley if we interpret our American Indian language correctly. So, who did we crown? Who should wear it?? 

I haven’t done a study of this question and this isn’t one.  This is my first ‘SHARE” of this thought outside my brain.  Maybe there is a “Mother” already.  Lemme know if you know who is the Mother of Pasadena. And I don’t mean the little old lady of Pasadena!

Pasadena was founded in 1876 with incorporation following in 1886. Naturally you look around the time of birth for the parents.

The first name I always hear whenever this question suddenly fill up my brain, from the voices in my head, is Jeanne C. Carr.

Some may say, “Jeanne C, Who??”

Jeanne C. Carr (Carr) came to Pasadena from somewhere else.  It was the norm back then, and from my studiously cursory observation still is today. Nevertheless, she & hubby Ezra were among the earliest settlers of Pasadena in the 1870s.  Originally from Vermont, she found herself in the Bay Area of northern California – following her husband Dr. Ezra Carr as he taught at the University of California and then as State Superintendent of Public Education. They were then lured south to Pasadena by a close friend then living in Pasadena. He was very persuasive in selling the city and Pasadena itself closed the deal

Carr was a Botanist/Horticulturist, intelligent, a writer, energetic, a history buff, and, well, a cultured renaissance woman.  She also became the Assistant State Superintendent of Public Education.  She may have been the major cultural figure during the first years of the city.  And the Carr’s were supposedly in Pasadena to “retire”!


1892 JeanneCarr CarmelitaGardens a

Jeanne Carr at her Carmelita home overlooking her vast acreage of gardens. 1892 (PasaDigitalCollaboration)


If you haven’t heard of Carr, perhaps the name “Carmelita” is more familiar. It was the Carr’s residence, gardens, land, which originated at the NE corner of Colorado & Orange Grove and moved out from there north and east as far as Fair Oaks, initially. Later the Carr’s would sell off portions their original tract.  From what I’ve seen and learned my one word summary for Carmelita is Arboretum and/or farm!  It is now known as Carmelita Park with the Norton Simon Museum being it’s most notable “resident.”

Just a few other things you may not be aware about Carr:

On the initial (1891) Board of Trustees and incorporators of Cal Tech (then called Throop University) was a woman. Jeanne C. Carr.

In the Illustrated History of LA County, the chapter on Pasadena’s history was written by, Carr.

Many of her writings appeared in newspapers, she spoke at seminars, conventions, meetings.

Because of her professional training, she may have been the major catalyst for the green nature and gardens in Pasadena.

Carr has been described as the mentor of naturalist John Muir; his spiritual mother. A book called them kindred spirits,   They met in Wisconsin while he was a student of her husband at the University of Wisconsin. Indeed,  she & Muir exchanged many letters for the rest of their lives.  She advised him, pushed him, introduced him to people like Ralph Waldo Emerson, and as much as anyone, Carr lured Muir down south to check out Pasadena and Los Angeles, and of course, our forest in the San Gabriel mountains.

And of course, John Muir wrote back to Jeanne Carr:

I wish, Mrs.. Carr, that I could see your mosses, ferns, and lichens. I am sure you must be happier than anybody else. You have so much less winter than others. (1/211886)

I’ve seen your sunny Pasadena and the patch called yours. Everything about here please me, and I felt sorely tempted to take Dr. Congar’s advice and invest in an orange patch myself. (8/12/1877)

I thought of you Mrs. Carr, when I was in the glorious Yosemite…


Carmelita with Carr would play to host to regular cultural events and meetings such as by the Southern California Historical Society. The LATimes called Carmelita an “intellectual center where many noted authors received her hospitality.”  Reporting on one of these cultural events in 1886, the LATimes mentions Carr’s closing remarks:  “…and Mrs. Carr addressed the club on the value of historical study and the charm of historical investigation.”


The Carr’s sold their famous Carmelita property in 1892 to millionaire Simeon Reed and moved to a smaller house near Carmelita.   Soon husband Ezra died in 1894. Jeanne followed in 1903. Upon her death from apparent dementia, at her brother-in-laws up north in Oakland, the Times in 12/1903 wrote:

“…the memories of scores of resident of this city (Pasadena) are stirred in the recollection of a woman who was one of the landmarks of Southern California’s early history. The fact of her death at the out of the way ranch and her burial in Oakland was not known here in this city (Pasadena)  until yesterday. And the news brings a feeling of sadness that she, once so prominent and with a host of friends, should have died in almost poverty and obscurity.”


Weird how that works with so many people who showed an image so full of friends, life, fame even, yet died so alone and poor. The Carr’s are buried at Mountain View cemetery in Oakland.

Just a few thoughts to whet our appetite on who may be the Mother of our City.




Gotta Go Eat & Think!  Stay Thirsty My Friends

Pasadena Greetings1

4 responses to “Pasadena History: Mother of City?

    • Good to know there’s a couple of history buffs out here in my part of the blogosphere! I could write much more on this but I’m not a writer. But one day I’ll do a sequel to this.

      ChiefTess, u could probably tell me much about Glendale’s hisory!

    • I thot about this question a couple of yrs back myself, KB. I did discover an answer! And if u think this brief Carr history was “fascinating”, so is the answer to your question.

      It deserves much more than a quickie response or comment here. However, you’re the only one, besides myself of course, who has shown interest in this question. But one day, sooner or later, knowing u want to know, I will blog about a true mystery history.