Taking the Pasadena Walking Tour!

I have been fortunate to call several parts of California home throughout my life. Yet, I must say, the city that remains closest to my heart has got to be Pasadena. Granted, that’s where I was born and lived for the first eight plus years of my life (and then a return, but rather short-lived stint, the same year I met my now-husband, who is a hardcore “Valley Guy”.) I recall so much growing up there, and equally adore nearby cities like Sierra Madre, San Marino and Arcadia. Just ask Michael, and he will tell you how much I nerd out each year as I anticipate the holidays in Pasadena, and the Tournament of Roses parade.

So, you can imagine I was in pretty good, full-on nerd mode when I discovered the Pasadena Walking Tours on Facebook. Their next event? A New Years Eve walk through Old Town Pasadena to learn more about the city’s beginnings, and how one of the most famous parades in the world came to be. I grabbed my partner-in-crime, Melanie, from LA Explorer and off we went for a first time walking tour of Pasadena.

Founded by Pasadena native, Julia Long, Julia has traveled the world, studied abroad, curated at art museums and even owns a floral arrangement shop. Yet, a few years back, realized that maybe she was taking her home city for granted, and began to learn all she could about her own backyard.

“My favorite thing to do when I arrive in a new city is to explore it, on foot, until my feet just can’t go any further.” Julia explains on the tour’s website, “While this seems like second nature to many people when traveling, it’s less common on their home turf. We all have our routines and routes for our everyday lives, but my walking tours invite you to allow yourself to wander and explore.”

Pasadena City Hall
And, they were still decked out for the holidays!

We began our two-hour excursion at the Pasadena Library on Walnut, across the street from City Hall and just around the corner from all the action going down on Colorado Boulevard as campers began to mark their spot along the Rose Parade route.

Little did I know that Pasadena, which means “Crown of the Valley”, began its early days in the mid to late 1800’s when a group of settlers from Indiana were looking to escape the bitter winters in their home state. Called “Indiana Colony of California” for a while, Pasadena also has strong Native American roots and, when the new arrivals wanted to begin to receive mail in their newfound home front, they needed to come up with a name that was just a little less of a mouth full. Called Crown of the Valley for a while, it was subsequently renamed Pasadena and the rest is history.

Having only been to the City Hall to pay a traffic ticket, it was a much better introduction this time around. Often considered to be one of the most gorgeous City Halls in the country, it was founded in 1927 and even has been home to some movie and TV favorites like Parks and Recreation.  Fittingly, the beloved sitcom takes place in Pawnee, Indiana…..by way of the Pasadena City Hall! Mike was a huge fan of this series, and we even got to see Parks and Rec alum, Nick Offerman, at the Pasadena Civic Center a few months ago when we went to a live recording of Prairie Home Companion.

Just adjacent from the gorgeous, Mediterranean style buildings, lay two bronze portrait heads commemorating sports greats, Jackie Robinson and his brother, Mack. While most baseball fans may know that the Robinson family were Pasadena transplants from Georgia at a young age, many may not realize how influential both of these men were. Mack was a silver medal Olympic winner yet following his influential athletic years, he returned home to his “Crown of the Valley” and led a more quiet life. Even working for the city of LA and being an advocate to fight against street crimes in Pasadena. Both these memorials for the brothers are stunning, and worth to see in person.

As a lover of California architecture, and especially Hearst Castle, I was floored to learn that Pasadena’s YWCA building was designed by no other than the castle’s designer herself, Julia Morgan. A prominent name in the early 1900’s, Morgan designed some of the most influential homes of the state and was a popular hire, as women were paid substantially less back then. Not recognizing her impact on architecture and her admirable designs, Morgan burned all of her sketches, artifacts and notes from pieces she designed, like the YWCA. While efforts have been made over the past few years to tear down the building, which is on Hill Street, it has thankfully remained and is one of the many buildings where Morgan’s legacy lives on.

Robinson Brothers Memorial
If you also watch the Tournament of Roses Parade, I am sure you can imagine I was excited to get up and close personal here!

As we arrived on Colorado Boulevard, Julia made a few pit stops at some of the alley ways that are extremely common on this main drag. One recently got a name make over and is now Big Bang Theory Way, in honor of the infamous sitcom that takes place in Pasadena and at Cal Tech. Down this alley way, which is now home to restaurants and shops, used to lay horse stables, which led to the answer of the often asked question, why isn’t the Rose Parade ever held on a Sunday? Well, back in the  day, parade officials were concerned of disturbing those headed to Sunday services, who got there by horses and it was feared the horses would “spook” at all of the festivities.
While long gone are those days, Pasadena has kept that traditional rule in place.

Another fun Hollywood moment: 1973’s The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford was filmed at several Pasadena locations, including Smith Alley, between Union Street and De Lacey. Here, you will see a neat painting with “Bowling” written in big letters. While there has never actually been a bowling alley at this location, it served as part of the film. Julia has yet to find if the scene made it into the film so, if you know, please pass it on!

If you have ever wondered, like I definitely have, why was the Rose Parade created? It was the brain child of the Valley Hunt Club, which is still in existence. The members of this elite club in the late 1800’s were looking for ways to promote their city, which was considered the Mediterranean of the West and one of the members’ wives had just returned from France where she had witnessed a fun and clever parade of roses. It was then the club decided to try out their own spin on this celebratory event.

We also learned which came first: The parade or the football game? (The parade) and why do the volunteers wear white? (Because it was hard to decipher who was of authority, and, the organizers knew no one else would be wearing white in January).

The Pasadena Walking Tour is FREE and such a fabulous way to learn about one of Los Angeles’ most beloved cities. Whether you live nearby or are visiting, Julia has created such a worthwhile tour that really takes you to the depths of Pasadena. Get the schedule HERE and plan your walking tour of LA’s Crown of the Valley! xo