Its legacy largely preserved, this beautiful Southern California city is a fountainhead of the American Arts & Crafts movement.
College football and flower-laden floats put Pasadena in the spotlight every January, but its amazing architecture draws visitors all year. Sunshine drew wealthy vacationers and new residents along with notable architects. On most streets, you’d be hard pressed not to spot a bungalow or Craftsman-influenced structure.
Navigate more than two dozen Landmark or National Register Historic Districts by car: first stop is The Gamble House, Pasadena’s crown jewel, designed by Charles and Henry Greene in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of Procter & Gamble. With unparalleled woodwork, it is the masterpiece of the architects’ Japo–Swiss aesthetic. Tour the house early afternoons Thurs.–Sun. (advance ticket purchase is recommended). The interior tour can take two hours or more. After strolling the gardens, stop at the Bookstore, once the garage—which got its own star turn as Doc Brown’s lab in the 1985 film Back to the Future.
The surrounding neighborhood, Arroyo Terrace, is worth another hour of exploration, on foot. Look for the striking clinker-brick wall that winds along Arroyo Terrace, fronting several Greene & Greene homes (including Charles Greene’s personal residence and the iconic Duncan-Irwin House) along with houses by architects including Elmer Grey and Myron Hunt. Docent-led walking tours take place once a month, typically on the second Saturday, but visitors may do a self-guided tour with the help of a printed guide ($1.50 at the Gamble House Bookstore).
Next up is the serene Lower Arroyo Seco, where architects and artists found inspiration along the rim of the watershed valley that runs through the city. Pasadena’s Arts & Crafts epicenter looks to be out of a plein-air painting, with dappled sunlight filtering through the heavy oak canopy. Homey bungalows and stately Craftsman and English Arts & Crafts-style homes line South Arroyo Boulevard near the Colorado Street Bridge. Tilemaker Ernest Batchelder once settled here; his home, a private residence, is at 626 S. Arroyo Blvd.
Grab a bite in Old Pasadena, the revitalized shopping and dining area in the historic commercial core along Colorado Boulevard. Adapted two- and three-storey buildings date from the 1890s through the 1930s and house cafés, national store chains, and galleries. Myriad styles are reflected in the storefronts: Art Deco, Moderne, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Beaux Arts. The stunning Hispano–Moresque Revival Castle Green (at Raymond and Green streets) is Old Pasadena’s most historic attraction. This former hotel has been converted into residences. Tours are offered only twice a year, but passersby will admire its grandeur and detail from the street. Venture just one block south to eat at La Grande Orange, housed inside the 1935 train station that retains Spanish and Southwestern details.
You must visit the famous Bungalow Heaven Landmark District, a 16-block neighborhood filled with intact bungalows and Historical Revival homes. It’s especially charming when porch lanterns come on in early evening, and you can peer into golden interiors lit by mica lamps.
City Hall: The majestic 1927 Pasadena City Hall is topped with an Italian Baroque dome inspired by Venice’s Santa Maria della Salute, a picturesque site visible throughout the city. Make sure to walk into the east-facing fountain courtyard and stroll through the arched breezeways. Garfield and Holly Streets.
The Raymond Restaurant: The bungalow that was once the caretaker’s cottage is the only remnant of the esteemed Raymond Hotel (razed in the 1930s). Its Craftsman details are a charming backdrop for dining. 1250 S. Fair Oaks Avenue.
Prospect Park Neighborhood: Just northwest of the Gamble House, see grand residences by Greene & Greene, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Wallace Neff among others. Start at N. Orange Grove Blvd and Prospect Blvd.
Bungalow Courts: Bungalow courts came first to Pasadena; today there are 112 intact examples, with around 30 on the National Register. See several on South Marengo Ave. between Cordova and Fillmore Streets.
Residential Historic Districts: Besides Bungalow Heaven, take time to visit Madison Heights, Garfield Heights, and Historic Highlands neighborhoods.
Pasadena Heritage Events & Tours
Pasadena Heritage deserves credit for the preservation and revitalization of the city’s architectural and cultural resources. Founded in 1977, it is now one of the oldest historic-preservation groups in Southern California and the second largest in the state. Among countless other successes, the organization’s legacy includes preserving Old Pasadena, the iconic Colorado Street Bridge, the Huntington Hotel, and the Greene & Greene-designed Blacker House.
Consider timing your visit with Pasadena Heritage’s Craftsman Weekend, a spectacular annual event that showcases the city’s Arts & Crafts contributions with bus and walking neighborhood tours, social receptions inside exclusive historic residences, lectures, and a vendor exhibition featuring period and contemporary furnishings and decorative arts. The 2015 event is scheduled for November 13–15, and advance reservations are strongly advised.
The organization hosts several regular tours and educational events. Its Old Pasadena Walking Tour, on the first Saturday of every month, allow inside peeks into such places as Castle Green. Participants learn about what it took to make this district a premier example of downtown revitalization. A regular lecture series and the Annual Spring Home Tour continue to celebrate the rich and varied history of Pasadena. pasadenaheritage.org