A Chapter of Literary Pasadena




I was gonna post this by the day of LitFest, except I didn’t have any photographs. So I shelved it to save it for next year…until this websites appetite for something new to write about growled. So, in my laziness I dusted this article off, found a few pics, and made this my new blog article. 


The annual LitFest of Pasadena returned to the park a couple of weeks ago. I wish I could say it was like the Hippies coming back to Griffith Park. But if you’re one of the few, the brave, the proud who are turned-on more by books, reading, writing, or authors – rather than free sex/love, drugs, American Idol, and rock & roll – then LitFest was for you.  Hope you paid a visit to Central Park.

Since I knew some people participating with LitFest I went in support. And I left knowing a couple more.  I heard last year, as well as this, about the need for more Pasadena authors/writers in Lit Fest Pasadena.   Well, I don’t know exactly how much of Pasadena is in LitFest beyond the location, but I do hope the main emphasis of LitFest Pasadena will be Pasadena.

And, no, I’m not saying I think I can do a better job than the organizers!  I appreciate all the wonderful sacrificial work & long hours of everyone involved, especially the volunteers. They are better people than this dog. This isn’t a review of LitFest except to just say my writing is directly benefiting from the 2013 LitFest so I’m glad we have it!

The new LitFest’s begun last year give us a small sample of literary Pasadena today.  Therefore, today I’m gonna key in a few notes from historical literary Pasadena yesterday. Particularly because this years LitFest panels, nor last years as I recall, discussed the literary heritage of Pasadena.  No, of course I’m NOT presenting a literary history of Pasadena here.  That would require a book in itself and should be, imho, reserved for someone with deeper Pasadena roots and is also a professional historian/writer who comes with an editor.




Besides, I don’t have the luxury of free time for  research such a project deserves.  However,…if anyone wants to slide over a stipend, well, that might be a mind-changer.  Until that day comes, where peace and free love exist for all, the conservative lays with the leftist, the hiker with the mountain biker, the taxpayer with the IRS, etc, you’ll just have to do with some odds & ends about Pasadena’s literary heritage from the cracks & gaps in this dogs memory. 

Nevertheless, one panel did take on a historical topic: “The Legacy of the Arroyo Culture”, which sprung up down in the Arroyo Seco over a century past.  While it sounds more bohemian and artisan to my limited knowledge, than literary and writer, it did give birth to the Arroyo Press which specialized in Arts & Crafts books. 

I’ve written a tiny sum on Pasadena culture here before, including Carmelita. So lemme start with a quick recap of the Carr’s of Carmelita.   Jeanne Carr, along with her husband Ezra, owned the Carmelita estate beginning with their purchase in 1877.  Carmelita, meaning “Little Grove” per Mrs. Carr, (no, it wasn’t named for the Carr’s) contained their mansion, other buildings such as a guest house, and a “jungle” nursery & farm of hundreds of varieties of plants and trees.  An Arboretum seems to be about what it was! Carmelita originally covered approximately 43 acres starting at Orange Grove & Colorado and extending eastward to Fair Oaks avenue, and “northward for some distance.”

Mrs. Carr was a well-known horticulturist/botanist, plus a prolific author/writer covering a range of  topics from  local history to American Indians, and etc.  A renaissance woman, imho, and no surprise she would also be chosen as the assistant superintendent of education for California.  I’m sure it didn’t hurt to have her husband, Ezra, as the state superintendent of education.  The Carr’s would play dynamic hosts for cultural  events & figures, writers/authors, etc, at their Carmelita “cultural” center.  I seem to recall the young Historical Society of Southern California also met periodically at Carmelita.

John Muir was one visitor.  I’ve heard Mrs. Carr described as Muir’s mentor and in, “Letters to a Friend”, Carr of Pasadena is called his “Spiritual Mother.”


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Even international antiquarians know to come to Pasadena for their books


The Carr’s were the first significant cultural leaders of Pasadena. I call Carmelita the first literary center of Pasadena, and the San Gabriel Valley. Some go further to call Carmelita, as a historian wrote: “the literary center of Southern California”!  In lieu of Carmelita, today we have The Norton Simon Museum currently occupying a small portion of the original land owned by the Carr tract.

Pasadena was blessed to have such a royal couple birthing its culture.  I know more on the wonderful Carr’s & Carmelita, and I wished the average Pasdenan did too, such as did you know Jeanne Carr was also on the original board of trustees for Cal Tech? I hear the band playing, I need to move on…


Two institutions pointing the city toward literacy and literature were churches and libraries. Early on the churches, of course, were centers of material, as well as spiritual activities.  They were among the first buildings built.  Reading the Bible, the foundation of western literature, of course, but also centers in the young city for education, cultural & other civic activities.  Meeting places.  Intellectual pursuits, a motivation to investigate & learn as much about this world created by God, to educate their children of God, is an old hat with churches.  USC & Harvard are just a couple of universities founded by Christian churches, Occidental was from the Presbyterians, etc.  As Alberta Lawrence, an early Pasadenan, would write in her newspaper article in the early 20th century, “even the church life is infected with this literary spirit…”    

Libraries are a fundamental backbone to literature, and more. Pasadena organized the “Library & Village Improvement Society” and soon thereafter opened its first library in 1884 – even before the city officially incorporated!   Very early Pasadena had its priorities right.  Prime movers behind this early library construction were Father Amos Throop (Throop Univ/CalTech), Caspar T. Hopkins (President of Lake Vineyard Water Co.), and Abbott Kinney . Yeah, that Abbott Kinney. For a time he was a Pasadena resident.  Next time you pass Kinneloa avenue, that’s him.

One person I should mention, whether he had any direct influence on literary Pasadena or not, is the famous astronomer George Ellery Hale.  Besides being a scientist, he pushed, pulled – challenged – the city not only scientifically, but culturally.  He was on the planning committee for the new civic center developed in the1920s: City Hall, Civic Auditorium, and City Library.  First, of the three completed: the Library!  As a newspaper described him upon his death in 1938, He opened vista’s for men’s minds.” 

Jeanne Carr, my choice for the mother of cultural Pasadena, or just the mother of Pasadena period!, would die in 1903.  Hale, although an astronomer, has been called the father of Pasadena’s culture. He would arrive in Pasadena by 1903. 


Clubs played their part in building literary Pasadena. I’m most familiar with The Shakespeare Club which has been around town since 1888.  The Shakespeare Club, located next to the former Vista del Arroyo Hotel on Grand avenue, is “a historic organization founded by substantive women for substantive purposes.”  I don’t know how true that is today since the beautiful women of the club invited your scribe to apply for membership last year!  I asked a member if cultural goddess Jeanne Carr had been a member…Yes!”  Well, of course. One day, or decade, I need to write an article on why, if you’re a literate woman, you should apply for membership in this oldest & historic Pasadena club.




Live theatre in the form of the historic Pasadena Playhouse (PPH) – the state theater of California – led by founding director Gilmour Brown around 1917, gave playwrights an outlet to vent in a serious theater and actors a training school. It was the first American theater to present all of Shakespeare’s plays. (Just wondering if the Shakespeare Club ladies had anything to do with that!) I read a book recently, whose title escapes me, referring to the PPH as the best theater in America at one time.  And before the playhouse, Pasadena had a grand operahouse for a short time.




Other cultural institutions have played their part in our literary world. Barely over our southern border, in San Marino, resides the world renown Huntington Library Museum & Gardens. And let’s not forget the Open Mic’s offered to the everyman to give their personal slice of life via poetry & music. Old Town Pasadena cafes have had them – the shuttered Espresso Bar and Daily Grind in Old Town Pasadena and Coffee Gallery on N. Lake too on Pasadena/Altadena’s border. 


Bookstores. Hollywood may have had it’s bookstores, in the past, but so did Pasadena, still.  Of course  we gotta start with Vroman’s Bookstore founded by photographer/historian A.C. Vroman, with his original partner, J.S. Glasscock, in 1894. Vroman’s is of such stature it was named the national bookseller for the year 2008 and continues to be visited by authors of international repute, including former US Presidents.  Another begun here was Chatterton’s, which later became an influential bookstore in L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood.  While the Pasadena Chatterton’s is long gone, its spirit still lives at the Los Feliz location under the current Skylight Books name.  A few others living today are Book Alley, Century Books with their regular cultural events, and Archives Bookshop a religious/philosophy specialty store.




Cafe life has been synonymous with books, writing, & the so-called “intelligentsia”, not just in France at places like Cafe La Flore, but here in Pasadena – the so-called “Paris of the Pacific” (per Mayor Bogaard).  You can look to Euro Pane Bakery & Cafe (EP) with its Paris trained chef/owner & the Coffee Gallery/Backstage (CGB), barley over our northern border in Altadena, as two significant cafes in the promotion of literature and creativity.  Art, open-mic’s, music, are some cultural activities CGB supports.  Recently, I was at CGB to support a book launch by a local author/writer I know.




Last but not least, lemme mention some authors/writers!  First, I can’t (and won’t!) begin to name all the “names” of creative types I’ve encountered at EP.  Jonathan Gold  a Pulitzer prize restaurant/food writer –  and EP regular – has called EP “the center of civilized life in Pasadena”, was sitting at the next table this month. Another EP regular is a USC history professor & author who runs a wonderful history program at the Huntington Library.  And then there’s Euro Pane’s significant contributions in getting the L.A. centric SLake literary journal off the ground and sponsorship of LitFest Pasadena.  Michele Huneven has admitted in print to being a long-time Euro Pane customer. This month Euro Pane hosted a new book launch & poetry reading for Lester Graves Lennon (more info here).  Anyhows, that’s all the “name names” I feel comfortable doing.  Gotta move on!

Authors then & now also include Carr friend Helen Hunt Jackson of “Ramona” fame, novelist Dianne Emley with her Pasadena centric crime mysteries, novelist Upton Sinclair, Dr. Robert Burdette nationally known minister/writer/humorist,  Erica Bauermeister, born/raised Pasadenan novelist, Manuel Pineda a Pasadena Star News writer & local historian of Pasadena, Roberta Martinez author/historian; &  Thelma Reyna, writer/author/poet.  Charles Holder may be popularly known in Pasadena as a Valley Hunt Club founder & chief catalyst for beginning the Tournament of Roses, yet he was so much more, such as a prolific writer/author who the PSN said, “his writings were as varied as could be imagined!” 

Architecture has played a major part in Pasadena so it’s now surprise Pasadenan’s have written on their expertise: Robert Winter & Barbara Lamprecht on architecture & history. Ernest Batchelder wrote on tiles. Winter happens to live in the Batchelder’s historic home overlooking the Arroyo Seco. Another is Christopher Hawthorne the Los Angeles Times architecture critic.

A couple of recent releases are Elizabeth the First Wife by Lian Dolan (aka Helen of Pasadena!), and Name Dropper: Investigating the Clark Rockefeller Mystery by Frank Girardot, Pasadena’s Star news editor!  Both are excellent and worth buying to read, imho.

An area with a bunch of writers/authors will eventually attract one or two publishers. I mentioned Arroyo Press, and today we have publisher/writer Colleen Dunn Bates of Prospect Park Books, which just published a fine collection of writings called Literary Pasadena, of all things!.  (Get it if you love literature and/or Pasadena)  The city was so attractive to writers/authors that within the first couple of decades of it’s founding one could already find a few histories written about it within it first couple of decades!




What kind of people would want all this literature- books – buy them, sell them, or just collect literary “things”? Besides you and me, those with money or free time to read, antiquarians for one. One was Alice Millard, Pasadenan.  With the end of her husbands life, beginning in the 1920s Alice would become a respected antiquarian & antique dealer. Yet, what she may be best known for was her taste in architecture – Frank Lloyd Wright. She had the most regarded name in American architecture design her home: La Miniatura, located in the Prospect Park area of Pasadena. It served, from my perspective, as a gallery & housing for her collections as much as for her body.  I’ve visited La Miniatura a handful of times, as recently as last month, and while unique, it remains for sale, or rather, on sale, and apparently vacant.  It was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.


I could say more on this, or something new like on the literary salons, but this is a blog – not a book –  and I have very limited free time and less money.  Suffice to say, as the Pasadena Star News wrote in an article over 60 years ago, “The Carmelita story is a long one and full of rich Pasadena background – too long to recite here”, so Cafe Pasadena can say about the Literary Pasadena story.  I  just wonder who, if anyone, are the Carr’s of Pasadena today leading the cultural way? 


1892 JeanneCarr CarmelitaGardens


Indeed, it’s rather interesting to look forward to that future day when the coterie of Pasadena’s literary lights shall be spoken of as naturally in literature, as the New England group of Channing, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow; for this is beyond question the coming country, and Pasadena the literary center of it.     > Alberta Lawrence, circa 1910s



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9 responses to “A Chapter of Literary Pasadena

  1. Oh, I’m glad to have dropped in. I missed the story of Carr but I did see the autobiography of Muir on PBS and I recall he had a correspondence with someone that was of a platonic nature. I’ve gotten to the post…Mr V wants to go for a hike – so I shall return.

  2. This is so cool, and well-written! Thanks for sharing all these gems. As a transplant to Pasadena, I love getting to know all this good history. I didn’t know that Hale was on the committee for the library! It’s definitely one of our favorite places in Pasadena:)

    • I don’t know about well-written, but from a Russian scholar, you must know what you’re reading!
      Btw, have u noticed in our civic center there is a building called the George Ellery Hale Bldg?

  3. Such interesting stuff, Café! Thanks for the history. I (shame!) haven’t read Ramona, and that intro by ACV is intriguing. Hiker’s suggestion of the Giddings book is on the list, too.

  4. Thank you for the chapter. I’ll read it a second time (or third). And we’ve got lots of talent leading the cultural and environmental charge in Pasadena; I’m lucky to know several by name. You’ve probably read this already, but I highly recommend “I Can Remember Early Pasadena” by Jennie Hollingsworth Giddings. Don’t be put off by the prosaic title — it’s a lively first-person account of a young girl (Jennie, herself) who traveled west with her family and landed with the Indiana Colony. Out of print, but you can get it at the library.

    • And, thanks for taking a minute to read it. My aim was a very short, if messy, historical survey, however I can see now how I’ve violated my principle against too long blog articles!
      Anyone who reads & comments on such a post is surely a literary person!
      (I’ve only skimmed Giddings book, as well as her oral history)