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The Heart of South Pasadena

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Few cities in California are better recognized for the quality of their small-town atmosphere and rich legacy of intact late 19th and early 20th century neighborhoods and residences. South Pasadena also has a strong claim to having the oldest and most historic sites in the San Gabriel Valley. One of our focuses at The Shelhamer Group is to tell your homes’ story and the story of the communities that are a part of our Southern California legacy.

Join me, David Clark estate sales director, architecture, and historical writer. Let me take you through a literary and visual tour of South Pasadena’s cultural and architectural heritage. I’ll show you the local experience and the unique homes that range from cottage style Storybook, Modern, Midcentury, Spanish, Pueblo, Monterey, Craftsman, and Bungalow. Welcome to the heart of South Pasadena.

South Pasadena’s Cultural & Architectural Heritage

In early 1874, the area that is now South Pasadena was a part of the San Gabriel-Orange Grove Association. In 1875, the stockholders of the association voted to name their town Pasadena and just three years later, residents living in the southern portion of Pasadena considered themselves South Pasadenans.

In February of 1888, in order to control their own territory, South Pasadenans voted eighty-five to twenty-five for incorporation. A board of trustees was elected and Ammon B. Cobb was appointed as the first marshal, with Marshal B. Selmen as his deputy. On March 2, 1888, South Pasadena officially incorporated with a population of slightly over 500. The City’s boundaries established in 1889 are essentially the same today.

South Pasadena’s First Home
South Pasadena Mountain and Valley Views in 1893

South Pasadena consists of 3.44 square miles of prime residential property. In 1876, unimproved land with water was selling from $75 to $150 an acre. (City of South Pasadena)

The South Pasadena building (pictured above) located on the corner of Center Street and Diamond Avenue was originally built as the city’s first bank in 1904. On opening day, the bank Vice President Edwin Cawston deposited $4,000 in receipts from his world famous ostrich farm Cawston Ostrich Farm in South Pasadena. (Rick Thomas Throwback Thursdays)

South Pasadena’s First Laundry
South Pasadena’s first bank (1904)

The South Pasadena building (pictured above) located on the corner of Center Street and Diamond Avenue was originally built as the city’s first bank in 1904. On opening day, the bank Vice President Edwin Cawston deposited $4,000 in receipts from his world-famous ostrich farm Cawston Ostrich Farm in South Pasadena. (Rick Thomas Throwback Thursdays)

The quiet, historic character of its attractive neighborhoods, is a testament to the preservationist efforts of residents in protecting both its architectural and natural beauty. The city enjoys a low crime rate, and the benefits of a close-knit, participation-oriented community. Small, proud, and independent, the City of South Pasadena has battled for over one hundred years to preserve its status as a distinct and distinctive community. (City of South Pasadena)

Today the city of South Pasadena is a charming community referred to as the “City of Trees,” or “South Pas” as residents know it. The area is known for its stunning homes, unique small businesses, and top-quality schools. South Pasadena’s diverse population of about 25,000 occupies a mere 3.44 square miles of flatlands and hillsides on the west side of the San Gabriel Valley.

This small-town atmosphere makes South Pasadena one of California’s most desirable locations. More than 100 acres of parks and playgrounds blanket its landscape and more than 21,000 trees adorn its streets and 52 Historic Landmarks.

Believe it or not one of the most popular attractions in Southern California was once a flock of ornery bipedal birds, located on a dusty nine-acre farm in South Pasadena! These ostriches were brought to California in 1886 by Edward Cawston, whose plan was to cash in on the popularity of ostrich feathers as fashion accessories by cutting out the middlemen and raising his own birds. Cawston soon realized that he could charge tourists and locals for ostrich cart rides while hawking lucrative ostrich memorabilia from the farm’s gift shop. He expanded his venture into boutiques in New York City, San Francisco, and downtown Los Angeles.

Edwin Cawston was fully aware of the role that his farm played in the development of South Pasadena and in November of 1903 he asserted that clout. Newspapers reported that there had been an ongoing effort to change the name of the city in order to distance itself from its much larger neighbor to the north, Pasadena. Cawston was opposed to this change and it was reported that he wrote a letter to city officials threatening to relocate his farm if officials changed the name of the city. He argued that people all over the United States and Europe knew that his farm was located in South Pasadena and, therefore, changing the name might adversely impact his business. Officials capitulated and the city retains its name to this day, ultimately because of Edwin Cawston. (Los Angeles Public Library)

One of South Pasadena’s oldest buildings, the structure opened around 1887 as a general store when South Pasadena barely had 500 residents. In its 134 years, it has served as a chapel, a telegraph station, a bike shop, a foundry and a ticket office. The Meridian Iron Works Building Museum was constructed circa 1887, and is designated as South Pasadena’s Landmark #5. In 1982 it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing property in the South Pasadena Historic Business District. It is among a small number of comparably old wood frame buildings in the city and represents the earliest type of structures seen in the town’s commercial district before the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1943, this building and adjacent utility structures now demolished, became the site of a foundry known as Meridian Iron Works, which remained through the 1970s. The City of South Pasadena acquired the property, and due to its age and significance as a resource for community history, undertook extensive rehabilitation of the property in 1986. (City of South Pasadena) Today, it is the South Pasadena Historical Museum. The mission of the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation is to foster awareness and appreciation of the historic heritage of South Pasadena and to advocate and facilitate the preservation of significant examples of that heritage.

Local residents frequented the A&P Market, Safeway (Alexander Building), Model Grocery (Taylor Building) on Mission Street, and Piggly Wiggly.

In 1906, a businessman named Alexander R. Graham cleared the eucalyptus grove at the southeast corner of Mission and Meridian and built the concrete block building, which he named after himself. This was South Pasadena’s first commercial building in the historic business district. Later, he built the structure next door and called it the A. R. Graham building

Long before this building was known for specialty artisan craft shops like Retreat, and the amazing sushi at BlueFin, it was the Mission Arroyo Hotel. Built in 1923, the ground floor was designated for shops, while the upper floor offered lodging. Back in the day, it advertised “New, modern, all outside rooms near streetcars and restaurants.” The rate was $6 to $7 per week, depending on the view. 

South Pasadena’s Local Experience

Today the building is a staple in the community of South Pasadena, hosting local popular purveyors, BlueFin & Retreat. Additionally, the building has 1-2 bedroom apartment rentals.

Retreat is a specialty artisan craft shop in South Pasadena with keenly curated gifts and treasures. In the shop, you’ll find a beautiful selection of jewelry, men’s and women’s accessories, unique table-size clocks, candles, bath & body products along with hand-drawn cards, journals, wall art, pottery, ukuleles, books, barware, leather goods and much more.

Owner Diane Staples has a passion for handmade items cultivated by over 20 years of buying for specialty shops. She creates a fun and memorable shopping experience for her customers and curates a variety of merchandise that excites her guests. Between Dianne and Pam the service is intimate, thoughtful, personalized and patient. This becomes especially important when selecting the perfect artisanal natural stone jewelry piece for someone special. Especially if they’re picky…..

Since 2005, Sally Cook has owned and operated Heirloom Bakery and Café in South Pasadena. With over 30 years in the food industry, she started as an assistant at DC3, The Border Grill 2 (Santa Monica), and Spago. She then worked as a pastry chef in the pastry kitchens at The Parkway Grill, Julienne, Shiro, Mako, Valentino, and the Border Grill Group (Cuidad, Border Grill Santa Monica, Pasadena, Las Vegas).  “I studied artisan bread making with Kathleen Weber at Della Fattoria in Petaluma. At Heirloom, we have wonderful neighborhood support.  Some of the items that we are known for are; are hostess-style cupcakes, lime pie, croissants, rustic bread, and chicken pot pies.”  

Sally’s focus is to use quality ingredients and keep it simple. Opening on the ground floor of a new mixed-use development turned out to be a boom for business. Not only does the location have parking, but Heirloom is across the street from a link in the Metro Rail’s Gold Line. Sally opened in August 2005, naming their long-germinating establishmentHeirloom Bakery & Café. According to Sally, “When I go to a restaurant and see heirloom tomatoes on the menu, I think seasonal. It’s also a quality standard. “It’s also generational, treasured, and passed on.”

The Tree House

Nicknamed the “Tree House” for the giant conifer tree that rises between the beams of its front entryway, the Cox House is a striking Mid-Century Modern residence that literally embraces the natural environment. Designed by local architect John Galbraith in 1959, the residence is a wonderful example of the interpretation and evolution of modernism in Southern California.

The Cox House draws from the Miesian tradition of architecture, which uses simple geometric forms to emphasize horizontality and transparency. The building is a simple, one-story pavilion, with alternating expanses of glass and stone exterior walls. One long, horizontal beam stretches across the entire front façade at the roofline, while individual bays step backward and forward, creating a strong visual rhythm. Rooms lined with floor-to-ceiling windows stand adjacent to recessed patios, blurring the relationship between indoor and outdoor space, a hallmark of California modernism.

Educated at the University of Washington, Seattle, John Galbraith was a Pasadena-based architect who designed a number of institutional, commercial and residential buildings. The Cox House is one of his finest designs and a small gem in South Pasadena’s Arroyo, celebrating European architectural traditions while creating something entirely regional with its natural materials and forms. (Los Angeles Conservancy)

“If we, the architects of the West, wish to do great and lasting work we must dare to be simple, must have the courage to fling aside every device that distracts the eye from structural beauty, must break through convention and get down to fundamental truths.” –

The Miltimore Residence

Designed in 1911 for a prosperous olive rancher, Paul Miltimore was the founding president of the Los Angeles Olive Growers Association formed by a group of Midwest businessmen in 1893. The association purchased 2,000 acres in the San Bernardino foothills from the Maclay Ranch in what is now Sylmar. According to the Los Angeles Times, the association planted 200,000 olive trees beginning in 1894, which was to become the largest olive grove in the world by 1906.

A 1910 survey map of Miltimore’s lot shows that the east end of the lot along Chelton Way was planted with nearly 30 oak trees of varying sizes. Gill carefully positioned the house to preserve the trees. The adjacent lot to the south had a house on it, but the lot to the north was empty which explains the apparent expansiveness of the grounds in early photographs of the Miltimore House. The home is considered the most significant surviving residence by architect Irving Gill in Southern California. Gill who was an American architect did most of his work in Southern California, especially in San Diego and Los Angeles. He is considered a pioneer of the modern movement in architecture. Twelve of his buildings throughout Southern California are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and many others are designated as historic by local governments.

Throughout his career, Gill used a simplified Tuscan column in his garden rooms, terraces, and interior courts. His prominent use of columns is in keeping with his belief that the architect should go back to “the source of all architectural strength—the straight line, the arch, the cube, and the circle—and drink from these fountains of Art that gave life to the great men of old.”

He railed against the “architectural crimes” committed by imitating historical architecture, such as the California missions and Greek temples. But, following Sullivan’s teaching, he referenced the past in order to create a “new American architecture” from platonic versions of classic architectural elements. Gill even included a subtle pilaster where the end of the pergola meets the wall. (Joceyln Gibbs)

In 1914, House Beautiful magazine did a story on the home, saying its “most original feature is the play of color upon its white surface… which becomes iridescent when the sun moves across it. The texture that makes this charm is Mr. Gill’s discovery and secret.”

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Bilicke Tank

The water systems serving South Pasadena were originally owned by several companies: The Glendale Consolidated Water Company, Pasadena Land and Water Co., and The Marengo Water Company.

Due to the inconsistency of water supplied by the various companies, the city issued bonds and established municipal ownership in 1921. The water supply for the City of South Pasadena has three sources. The first is groundwater pumped from wells in the Main San Gabriel Groundwater Basin, surface water imported by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California from the Colorado River and from Northern California. Lastly, groundwater from the City of Pasadena, which includes Metropolitan water, is supplied to only the City’s Pasadena Zone.

South Pasadena has four active wells located inside the main basin. There are four pressurized zones, two distribution reservoirs, and two elevated steel tanks. One of the tanks is called the Raymond Hill tank and the other In 1940 was named after the famous hotelier and real estate industrialist Albert Bilicke. This beautiful elevated tower sits 963 feet above the city and often is a directional guide.

Ernest A. Batchelder (1875–1957) was an educator and artist living in Southern California in the early 20th century. He was a leader in the American Arts and Crafts Movement, and is famous for his handmade art tiles. Batchelder came to Pasadena, California, in the early 1900s to teach. He became director of the art department at Throop Polytechnic Institute, the predecessor of the California Institute of Technology.

His life took a turn in 1909 when, behind his house overlooking the Arroyo Seco, he built a kiln and entered the business of creating hand-crafted art tiles. The tiles were hugely popular and by the 1920s, Batchelder’s tiles could be found in homes and buildings across the United States. Batchelder’s prominence in Southern California’s art community included his involvement in the founding of the Pasadena Art Institute and his membership in the Pasadena Society of Artists.

South Pasadena’s Storybook Homes

The quiet streets of South Pasadena are mostly free of swaying palms, and exterior stucco. The spirit of the community rests in the stories these homes showcase. Their rich architectural legacies are preserved and complimented by the conversations neighbors and outdoor enthusiasts alike share on any given day.

South Pasadena’s Modern and Mid-Century Homes

Nestled atop a hill overlooking all of South Pasadena, this concrete and glass new build finds it’s brilliance in simplicity combining structural materials to secure its prowess.
A new build Modern style home of concrete and glass with desert landscaping

Nestled atop a hill overlooking all of South Pasadena, this concrete and glass new build finds it’s brilliance in simplicity combining structural materials to secure its prowess.

Built by John Demaree in 1964 in the award winning South Pasadena school district. Drought tolerant landscaping crafted with purpose, as the blue Palo Verde trees create privacy and invite curiosity.

Midcentury modern South Pasadena home built by John Demaree in 1964
Midcentury modern South Pasadena home built by John Demaree in 1964
Midcentury modern wood South Pasadena home with expansive views of the Arroyo
Midcentury modern wood South Pasadena home with expansive views of the Arroyo

The wood exterior and vertical lines blend subtly with the wooden driveway, which has been built with the intention of harmony between both the entrance into the home and its immediate exterior. The vertical three-part window of stained glass guides the eyes with its magnificent art to the front door.

South Pasadena’s Spanish, Pueblo, and Monterey Homes

Spanish home with Mission Revival archways and local California drought-tolerant landscaping.

Spanish home with Mission Revival archways in South Pasadena
Spanish home with Mission Revival archways in South Pasadena
Spanish Revival home in South Pasadena
Spanish Revival home in South Pasadena

Flanked by an old California oak, this Spanish Revival home has intricate tilework which surrounds the front door and a balcony to serenade your sweetheart with the summer sounds of bolero.

Spanish Colonial Revival home with Mission Revival-inspired archways. The exterior is a marriage between a century-old redwood and elm tree which provides shade for the patio.

Spanish Colonial Revival home with Mission Revival inspired archways in South Pasadena
Spanish Colonial Revival home with Mission Revival inspired archways in South Pasadena
Spanish Colonial Revival home with Mission Revival inspired archways and courtyard in South Pasadena
Spanish Colonial Revival home with Mission Revival inspired archways and courtyard in South Pasadena

Spanish Colonial Revival home with Mission Revival-inspired archways and courtyard.

Pueblo style home crafted in an area with full sun exposure and drought tolerant plants.

Pueblo style home in South Pasadena
Pueblo style home in South Pasadena

South Pasadena’s Craftsman & Bungalow Homes

Take a look at magnificent early California Craftsman homes with dark earthen colors to blend in with South Pasadena’s native trees.

The terms “Craftsman” and “Bungalow” are often used interchangeably, though there is a fundamental distinction. “Craftsman” refers generally to the Arts and Crafts movement and is considered an architectural or interior style, whereas “Bungalow” is a particular form of house or building.

The first Bungalows in the United States, as we might recognize them, appeared after the Philadelphia Centennial celebrations of 1876. More Americans became interested in applying new principles to architecture, striving to move away from European precedents. The Bungalow was the result of the overthrow of Eclecticism, in an attempt to apply more simplicity and honesty in style and materials to American homes. Generally, the Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction to the extravagant, machined, and mass-produced Victorian styles that in turn represented the Industrial Revolution.

By the 1890s, the bungalow form in America had diffused to the West Coast, particularly via San Francisco and Southern California. It is the so-called California Bungalow that became the rage in pattern books across the nation and was reproduced into the various forms of middle-and working-class housing and some elaborate, high-style examples. The popularizing of the west-coast bungalow has been generally credited to the Greene and Greene brothers and their architectural firm in Pasadena, CA. In 1902-1903, Charles and Henry Greene were influenced by the vernacular style of board and shingle buildings in California as well as authentic Japanese sources. 

The Bungalow form became the common builder’s house between 1910-1920, influenced by Greene and Greene. Numerous “Bungalow books” promoted the new style and form. The type, with many variants, included these features: low, gabled, one or one-and-a-half storied house, and a front pitch of roof extended to shelter a large incised porch.

By the 1990s, the Craftsman style and its associated Bungalow form were enjoying a revival across the United States, which has yet to ebb. More Americans are either restoring older Bungalows or purchasing newer “Neo-Craftsman.” Bungalows are constructed now by larger production builders or as specially designed custom homes.

A Message From the Author

I am a Californian born here in Los Angeles, who has spent years living in many of our State’s great places. I graduated from California State University Los Angeles, and hold a Degree in Business and Economics. I am the creator of an e-commerce business called Antiquarian Musings on Etsy which is a California shop with original vintage items from our Golden State. My passion for California history, writing, architectural preservation, and sales background drew me into becoming a residential real estate advisor with the Shelhamer Group, Northeast Los Angeles’s fastest-growing boutique brokerage.

As an Estate Director and historical writer, my focus is on the thorough research of your home using an extensive array of databases and tools that I am versed in. I uncover the archival facts and build your homes’ story. I go beyond the system checks, marketing, and staging, into the spirit of your home, optimizing its emotional appeal, and setting a price that attracts the attention to create multiple offers of interest, optimizing your return. Escrow isn’t a finish line though, its the beginning of the next chapter of my commitment to you. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and our local communities. I look forward to sharing your homes’ story.

As a Historic Property Specialist and writer, my focus is on the thorough research of your home using an extensive array of databases and tools that I am versed in. I uncover the archival facts and build your homes’ story. I go beyond the system checks, marketing, and staging and into the spirit of your home, optimizing its emotional appeal, and setting a price that attracts the attention to create multiple offers of interest, optimizing your return. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and our local communities. I look forward to sharing your homes’ story.

David Clark - 805.280.1425​

I’m David Clark, a Californian, real estate advisor REALTOR®, and writer for the Shelhamer Real Estate Group located in Northeast Los Angeles California, the fastest growing real estate market in Los Angeles County. Connect with me for further information about this article, and to add and optimize the value in your property. Look for me on Instagram: @sellingnortheastla

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Based on information from the / Association of REALTORS® (alternatively, from the /MLS) as of [date the AOR/MLS data was obtained]. All data, including all measurements and calculations of area, is obtained from various sources and has not been, and will not be, verified by broker or MLS. All information should be independently reviewed and verified for accuracy. Properties may or may not be listed by the office/agent presenting the information

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