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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Old Paint

Fraser Alley isn't a creepy, wouldn't-want-to-meet-'em-in-an-alley kind of place. It's clean, safe and walkable. That doesn't make it cheesy. I love the backsides of Old Town Pasadena. You can still see the old signs painted on some of the buildings. Some people call it touristy, but I think it's charming.

Old Town was once a dive, from what I've read. By the late 1940s, after World War II, it had become "skid row." Businesses moved out, nobody cared, and by the 1970s it was wrecking ball time. Almost.

But the fact that nobody cared about this part of town served to preserve the buildings intact. A bunch of smart people decided to revitalize old Pasadena and by the 1990s the plan was in full swing. Now we have a vital downtown with gorgeous preserved architecture. Old Town Pasadena is unique. Boutiques, restaurants and even chain stores occupy beautiful old buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Guess I should take some photos of the fronts of them, huh?

47 comments:

Saretta said...

Seeing the fronts would be nice, but perhaps not necessary. The backs tell their own story, don't they? It's nice when architecture is preserved in America, where "bigger" and "newer" are so often considered the equivalent of "better".

Lydia said...

This is so great and, yes, I'd love to see some shots of the fronts too. In my town they were remodeling the oldest building and were surprised to find one of those old painted signs underneath. It was carefully cleaned and repainted by our local mural painter and it really adds to the history of the gorgeous building.
If I were there that is where I'd do my holiday shopping, in the privately owned shops (not the chains, even though that's cool they too have moved into the old section).

JM said...

I like those faded white letters on the brick wall!

Very interesting post about the demonstration. I had no idea what Proposition 8 was about, but after reading all the comments I figured it out.

altadenahiker said...

I love the old signage. Did they cover up the one that I think ended with "said TE Lawrence picking up his fork." Think so. Pity.

Margaret said...

I know exactly where this is, and I always feeling like I'm walking into a story when I see these faded bits of history.

Petrea said...

I will, I'll take pictures of the fronts. I like Old Town. I haven't done much shopping lately but I can do some strolling.

Where was that, Karin? Rings a bell.

Susan C said...

AH, I think that sign said "picking up his dessert," a play on words between desert and dessert. I miss that sign too.

Unfortunately, the chains are beginning to dominate because they're the only ones who can afford the high-priced rent. It's the typical urban "success" story.

Kelly said...

The backs are more interesting in so many ways. They tell you an awful lot more about the history sometimes. There is an old ad like this on a building in Batavia to the south. I may ride down there and try to photograph it today!

Bernie K. said...

Wow—such rough-hewn masonry … looks like nothing so much as a bare rock face, upheaved by primordial forces. Like the cliff where Buddha gained satori, or some rude outcrop in the Negev … I can almost imagine Moses smiting such stone with his rod, bringing forth a freshet—of alfalfa, maybe?

elizabeth said...

Petrea- The old Woods and Jones Calendars building on Christiansen alley has some good paint on the back. And then there's Olune's Cinema, happily not painted over and viewable from the top of the Parsons parking structure.

Altadenahiker and Susan- YES! I remember seeing and loving that sign. I remember it as 'Lawrence picking up his fork'. Wasn't it on Raymond? I always wondered what Lawrence and his fork were advertising.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure it was painted over.

elizabeth said...

Bernie- depending on where Moses smote, he could indeed be in for a rain of alfalfa (juice). He might also get a rain of sushi, bath lotions, trips to London, or some charming housewares.

Now why does Moses suddenly have Bob Barker's face?

St├ęphane Kardos said...

I like this very much, I'm always looking out for this kind of old signs painted on buildings around L.A, a bit of history hidden, left alone.

Pascal Jim said...

"My people are the people of the desert said Lawrence of Arabia, picking up his fork" Sign remained many years until an earthquake rattled a portion of the building. This building was a hotel, close by the Green Hotel, where the servants of the wealthy were placed.

Pascal Jim said...

When the Vista Del Arroyo Hotel was taken over in WW11, as a US hospital, Service personnel from the facility found there way to Colorado and Fair Oaks. Property owners always on the lookout for a dollar, quickly turned many old buildings into Bars and Taverns. When the war ended, the beginnings of a "Skid Row" placed the area into less than what Pasadena Shoppers had in mind, hence, Retail Shops moved further East on Colorado. Bullock's Pasadena opened in the 40's, Retail moved to South Lake. In the 60's and 70's Old Town was a haven for many artists and other folks. It perhaps appeared run-down, but it was a happy hippy haven. many good times, we even created a parade called the Doo Dah, I was in the first two, there were more folks in the parade than viewers.

HearkenCreative said...

Ooooo, I like old buildings too. So much so that my business is in one!

But hey, you guys are talking about my building (well, I don't own it: my office is there). The T.E. Lawrence quote was on the side of the Hotel Carver, previously the Mikado Hotel, on Fair Oaks just south of Green. I have a picture of the quote (before the earthquake) at http://tinyurl.com/6dkely and, for bonus, there's old faded type on the inside, too! You can find a picture of the indoor stuff at http://tinyurl.com/62sokr -- it's just a weird "SIGNS" painting down in the basement -- I don't know what business it was for originally. The character of the buildings was one of the main reasons I moved my office into Old Town. And yes, Petrea, the backs (and nooks and crannies) are just as interesting as the front facades. (Altadenahiker: the quote on the building is completely gone now; the new owner in the late 1990's painted the entire north wall brick red.)

pasadenapio said...

I still hear from a few old timers who think it was better in days gone by when bars and second-hand stores and artists' lofts defined the area. Change doesn't always sit well with people!

altadenahiker said...

"People of the dessert." Now I get it. Great post and comments and bits of history.

Susan C said...

Jim, I'm glad you remembered the exact Lawrence of Arabia quote. Typical of my aging brain, I only got it half right.

elizabeth said...

Hearken, those are great pictures. It's so interesting to have the mystery of Lawrence solved, but the mystery of the -SIGNS- remaining.

There is so much scope for imagination in this. :-)

Petrea said...

Oh my, this one sparked so much more than I imagined it would.

Elizabeth, you've sent me on at least two quests - can anyone go into that Parson's parking structure, or do I have to get in with an employee?

Pascal Jim, some of us remember that sign, but what an extra special tidbit: that it was a hotel "where the servants of the wealthy were placed." Great stuff. Not to mention your ensuing comment. And you were in the first two DooDahs! Do you have pictures?

Loren, great pictures! Would you allow me to do a before and after using your B&W of the building exterior?

Ann, I think I might have liked it. This whole group of comments reminds me of the Haight-Ashbury district in a way. I visited there in 1971. It defined "funky." There's still some tie-dye now, but it's touristy. And the homes are expensive. Oh well. The one inevitable thing is change.

"There is so much scope for imagination in this." Elizabeth, it has me reeling. I took a lot of pictures this morning and I wish I had time to go out and take more.

HearkenCreative said...

Petrea: I'm always amazed at the directions a conversation will go from a simple photo. Yes, feel free to use the pix, although it's not mine: I snapped a photo of the building's quote from a photo collage that is posted in our lobby. In the late 80's, when the counter-culturals were getting forced out by hotel's closure, they made a low-tech photocopied collage memorializing their time in the building. The collage stuck around -- I think one of the new owners thought the history of the building made it "cool," so he framed it and stuck it in the lobby. If any of you want to see the collage, come on in the main door, just to the left of Jumping Jellyfish on Fair Oaks.

lynn said...

Yes. lol.

Christie said...

Oh, the histories of the backs and the alleys are much more fun!

We have some of those in town and those are some of my favorite things.

pasadenaadjacent.com said...

I actually went in search of that T.E. signage last friday. I've been asking around and know one seems to have remembered it but I didn't remember what it said. I did think it was connected to a conceptual art gesture. Brtuce Nauman was my guess. Now that I have a lead I'm going to mail it to Doug Bond who was the painting instructor at PCC and who also had a studio in Old Town for decades.
I'm thrilled!

Kris said...

No bums lurking in those back alleys?

JT said...

"Shoot the fronts?" No! We all see the front's. Shoot the alleys, the sights not seen by tourists; the corners, tops and angles that take an artist' "eye" to shoot.

Keep up the good work!

Cafe Observer said...
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Cafe Observer said...

Yep, that looks like OLD Pasadena 4 sure. The more things change, the more...

Hearken! Creative Loren: I too have an office in an old Pasadena bldg, but it's in the Playhouse Dist. So old it's elevatorless.

Ted Thompson said...
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Ted Thompson said...
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Ted Thompson said...

YES! Full Frontal Gratuitous Architecture!

Lets see what they've done, or not done I hope.

This reminds me of the "Mennen's Borated Talcum Toilet Powder" ad that's from the same era, unfortunately painted on the face of the cliffs of Maryland Heights, overlooking Harper's Ferry Virgina. While vandalism, the past century or so has made it somehow charming in it's similarly faded colors.

I once worked in a building from the 1800's, former sailcloth factory for the old Clipper ships - drafty, but LOADED with character. I'd love to have a shop in a similar structure again (Sans the drafts)Whoops - Broma Seltzer was the town in Baltimore that used to have a big blue bottle on top...

Picture of aforementioned Powder ad - http://www.inanis.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/hf_toiletpowder.jpg

Ms M said...

It's fun to discover these old signs - and even better when the building owner preserves them. It's great they saved old town Pasadena from the wrecking ball. Too many wonderful old buildings have become a pile of bricks over the years.

Petrea said...

Loren, I'll be there as soon as I can!

LOL what, Lynn?

Christie, have you taken your camera into the alleys? I saw some of the shots you did of the murals in Petoskey, which I loved.

PA, all I can say is I love this whole blogging thing.

Kris, there were two fashionable moms chatting over strollers and to-go iced lattes, a good-looking guy watching over a sale rack of the almost-latest clothes from Lululemon, some young guys filling out employment applications and an old man struggling with his briefcase.

Hey JT! Some of these people aren't local, they don't see the fronts. Some of the fronts are kinda nice, right?

C.O., not that one with the belvedere? You know we all want to get up there.

"Full frontal..." Ted, you crack me up. How big is that sign in the photo? Are those trees at the top of those rocks?

Ms. M, there must be an association that requires preservation of the buildings in the Old Town district--probably the city government. I don't think the building owner has a say in the matter. It's a good thing, too.

Trish said...

I remember those "skid row days". Changing buses at Fair Oaks and Colorado was an adventure most of the time. There wasn't a place open within a block that you would want to step into in order to make a purchase. My mother used to send me out telling me to act deaf so no one would try to talk with me.

The pic is great---so many of those paintings have been lost with progress. We used to go to a mechanic near Edmunson Alley, near the Human Society---there were interesting painted walls back there that I am sure are gone now too. Central Park was also a place to avoid---all the drunks from Skid Row slept there at night and often during the day if police didn't walk the park. Seriously, I don't think I ever was in Central Park due to the problems.

The big loss with progress was Ernie's on Colorado. Yuuum! Well, that and parking. I used to park on Colorado all the time, no problem to run into places.

There used to be a little hang out in the 80's, off...what, Mercantile Pl...the name is escaping me. Coffee, alternative music a place kids could hang---so sad those places are gone.

ok, now I'm HUNGRY!

Mister Earl said...

Karin - Got your email. Looks like the T.E. Lawrence quote has been well covered by pascaljim and hearkencreative. And wow, an actual photo of the quote, which I remember from before the 1987 quake!

elizabeth said...

Anyone can walk into the Parsons parking structure for free. Anyone can also park there, but it will cost you seven bucks.

To get to the top, just take the stairs at the NW corner of Union and Delacey. It's a little confusing because there are two doors on the corner of the parking structure. The one on the south face is the stairs. The door on the west face goes into the ground-floor parking area.

The top of the structure is a lovely place on a sunny afternoon.

elizabeth said...

Ok, one more comment, and then I'll stop. :-)

Andy Petrell, a really wonderful local photographer from Monrovia, had a picture of a Old Pasadena alley taken ~1980's. It had a painted sign that said "Strong People No Leader", next to a wide, arched brick doorway. Anybody know where this was? (Jim?) I've looked but was never able to find it.

Pascal Jim said...

Elizabeth, those early days were in a fog, created by lots of smoke. Have no recall of "Strong People, No Leader".

Ted Thompson said...

Yes they are P, that pic doesn't convey the scale at all... I'd guesstimate (from 20year old memories, I used to ply the rapids below in my youth) that the large letters are 6 to 10 feet high.

Mister Earl said...

I guess that the only businesses remaining from the Skid Row days are the pawn shop, Crown City Loan and Jewelry, which is in the only existing commercial building designed by Greene and Greene, Le Sex Shoppe (which is such a trip that it's right there in trendy Old Town), and the 35er bar.

Petrea said...

Trish, I met a man yesterday who told me about the hookers at Fair Oaks and Colorado in those days. I love the story of your mother telling you to act deaf. I don't know if that's PC or not, but it's funny.

Mercantile Place - is that where the E Bar was? Espresso Bar? People have mentioned it and I want to know where it was, dammit. If you all will tell me, I'll go get a picture of how it looks now. I've heard tell there was a Bachelder fountain there and I want to know if it's still there. Dammit.

Elizabeth, thank you. I've made notes. It'll take some time to follow up on all the information I've gotten from everyone's comments here. I've got pages of stuff. But I can't wait. (I found next to nothing about Andy Petrell on the web, by the way.)

Ted: Rapids. Ah, youth.

Mister Earl, I have taken notes.

This is one of my favorite posts ever because of the fantastic information you all have shared. I can't thank you enough.

Trish said...

P---yes hookers too. Seriously hookers, druggies, drunks...you name it for skid row, it was there. A friend's father owned a shop a few blocks north and I never understood how they could have managed there. I still don't know how.

not PC to play deaf, but then, this was before "PC" became something.

YES, the EBar! omg...I'm in one of their pics on the site you linked to. wow! THAT takes me back just a few years! I remember going there when we had nothing else to do---like when we left the Junior Prom early and couldn't find a place to just talk, so we went to the EBar to hang.

and yes mister earl---the whittier quake took out some of the old brick buildings with these signs on them---people took out a lot more after that, rather than retrofit. I was in a brick building at PCC during that quake.

Petrea said...

Trish, which one are you, in which photo? If you don't want to tell it here, email me! I'm dying to know.

Anonymous said...

The Espresso Bar was off of Mercantile Place, on the east side of Raymond. walk down that alley alongside where the Moist clothing store was (the new building) and turn right down the internal alley you'll come to. It was down that way (not visible at all from the street). I think one of the Raymond Ave stores expanded into it some point though; that coffee, clothing, and gift store called Mystical Sisters (or something like that). I was only there once, probably in the early 90s.

Nick

Petrea said...

Nick, thanks. I'm going to write down your instructions and see if I can figure it out. I have a vague idea, but walking there will make it more clear to me.

Anonymous said...

The Hotel Carver mural actually said, "My people are the people of the dessert," said T. E. Lawrence, picking up his fork. T.E. Lawrence was also known as Lawrence of Arabia, but the mural on the building just referred to T. E. Lawrence.

Anonymous said...

Pardon the confusing punctuation. Just to clarify, here's the quote:

"My people are the people of the dessert," said T. E. Lawrence, picking up his fork.