Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Secret Garden -- The Earthside Nature Center

A couple of weeks ago, after discovering the old Earthside Nature Center, I posted a series of photos and some narrative. Since then, I've tried to find out more about Earthside. I returned today for more photos and the discoveries continue.

The shrub/tree in the photo is a toyon, which is native to southern California. It is also known as the California holly.

Elizabeth Pomeroy, author of Pasadena: A Natural History, recalls Earthside Nature Center as "inspiring and verdant little oasis of California nature." She says, "I visited there often -- once inside, under the sycamores and beside the pond with its tadpoles, the city seemed far away."

This photo is taken from the south end of Earthside looking north to Del Mar Blvd. That's Eaton Blanche Park on the left, the Eaton Wash channel down the middle and Earthside on the right. There is a footbridge from Eaton Blanche over to Earthside. Can you see it?

The Southern California Edison power lines border Earthside on the east. I took this photo while standing in a grove of oak trees on the south end of the Earthside site. The building on the right is the Boys and Girls Club. Until a few years ago, a Christmas tree farm covered much of the land under the wires.

If you look hard, you can spot little signs around the Earthside site identifying plants and trees. Some of the identified plants remain. Others are gone.

There are also plaques dotted over the site on rocks, tables or posts, which bear the names of Earthside supporters.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

It is a rainy Christmas morning. But, the fire's going and its warm inside. Christmas music is going. The kids have opened their gifts. Our five year old is playing with her Polly Pockets. Our eleven year old is already on the phone to a friend ("hey dude"). We've had our morning coffee and gingerbread cake is underway with fresh brown eggs. We've read the Christmas story with all the readers in the house taking different paragraphs. We watched Linus tell Charlie Brown the meaning of Christmas and read the Grinch for the umpteenth time with such gusto I'm surprised the neighbors didn't complain about the "noise, noise noise, noise." There's nothing like Christmas morning.

Normally we would load the car down with gifts and head over to my folks' house where bedlam typically reigns with kids running all around. But, my mom is recovering this year from a tough surgery and the family gathering will need to wait. I'll head over this afternoon, but for the rest of the family, a merry Christmas phone call will have to suffice for today.

Every year, we enjoy our area's Christmas displays. We do Christmas Tree Lane in Altadena (with our car lights off). We take multiple trips to Hastings Ranch and the Balian house. It is amazing they've been doing the lights in Hastings Ranch since 1957!

I made several runs at passable pictures of Christmas lights. Believe it or not, I took pictures of lots of great stuff. Just none of it came out. Anyway, the top picture is from a lawn display in Hastings. The manger scene below is one of the many scenes at the Balian house.

Monday, December 22, 2008

San Gabriel Mountains with snow

The San Gabriel Mountains extend eastward well into San Bernardino County. The eastern San Gabriel peaks are spectacular after a snow. This was taken yesterday from the train station in Upland.
With snow on the mountains it is a great time to check the Mount Wilson Tower Cam. The Tower Cam has some great scenes when the clouds lift.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Secret Garden

Closed off for more than a decade, the weathered remnants of Earthside Nature Center hold forth. Like the Secret Garden, it waits to be restored.

In its heyday, Earthside was a wonderful garden of native plants and wildflowers on grounds shaded by sycamores and oaks and surrounded by grape vines. Naturalists held guided tours to teach others about native plants. In 1989 Earthside won the American Horticultural Society’s award for Urban Beautification.

Earthside Nature Center was photographed and described in the book The Natural Habitat Garden:

“At Earthside Nature Center, a two-acre garden only for natives founded in 1971, [Kevin] Connelly and naturalist-author Elna Bakker work with more than color combinations in mind. Though the place is positively brilliant, what was first in the gardeners’ minds was a desire to see plants with their natural companions.” The book describes two acres of flat gardens with pathways zig- zagging down the hillside next to the wash.

Connelly and Bakker were forward-thinking and quite accomplished. They combined their talents to make Earthside. Bakker was a noted naturalist who wrote many books including "An Island Called California: an introduction to its natural communities" published by UC California Press. She died in 1995 and was remembered in this article which now appears at the Sierra Club website. The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club awards the Elna Bakker Nature Interpretation Plaque for outstanding achievement and creativity. Kevin Connelly was active with the Theodore Payne Foundation, which published his book A Gardner's Guide to Wildflowers. He also wrote Month by Month in a Water-Wise Garden.

Today, you’d need to know exactly where to go to find Earthside. The Earthside remnants sit a couple of hundred yards behind an abandoned child care center on the south side of Del Mar Blvd. But, if you can get past the chain link fence fronting Del Mar, the sign warning of rat traps, the fallen trees, glass and gopher holes, the old Earthside awaits. Earthside (which seems like more than two acres) is bordered on the west by Eaton Wash channel and the Eaton Blanche park and on the east by the Edison power lines. On Saturday, my son and I walked the area. The sky was gray, but hopefully these pictures are enough to get your imagination going.

Also, thanks to Richard Janisch for uncovering this gem!

One of the terraced paths leading down the hill beside the wash.

A potting shed with bench and sink to the right. Also, notice how deep the leaves are around the picnic table.

Another trail, now blocked by a fallen tree, heading southward alongside the wash. A 1967 plan approved by the Pasadena Parks Director, but never implemented, designated part of this area east of the wash for overnight group camping.

Grape vines, like those in the foreground, border much of the nature center. This is taken standing on one of the terraced trails looking south from the nature center. That's the Eaton Wash with Eaton Blanche park to the right.

A kiosk that, according to a faded sign, was donated by the Pasadena Rotary Club.

I had to push away old grape vines to see what this sign said. There are bunches of dried grapes on the left of this photo. I wonder what the Dr. Stephen Smith Learning Center was.

Yes, I know this is a repeat of a photo that appears above. But, I can't figure out how to delete just this one picture without deleting the entire post, which I really don't want to do!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stealth Bomber - out for a Sunday flight (12-9 Update)

While out in the yard Sunday afternoon I heard a rumble from the sky and looked up to see the stealth bomber. We've seen fly overs on New Years mornings to start the Rose Parade. It is an awesome sight. Isaac Garcia's blog reports that this was a practice run for January 1.
As Laurie (of the excellent Glimpses of South Pas blog) commented, the stealth bomber flyover was to commemorate the passing of former Secretary of Air Force Verne Orr. Mr. Orr's funeral was held Sunday afternoon at the Pasadena United Methodist Church, which happens to be on the parade route on Colorado Blvd. This was reported in Frank Girardot's Crime Scene Blog for the SGV Tribune and at I wondered why the bomber would have to practice flying over the parade route.
Not everyone gets a stealth bomber flyover at his funeral. So, I checked Vern Orr's obituary in the LA Times. As you might guess, he was one of Pasadena's more eminent residents. After serving as a Naval officer in WWII (where he was awarded the purple heart), he returned to Pasadena to run the family car dealership. He went on to head a local bank and then was tapped by Gov. Reagan to head the state DMV and later named by Pres. Reagan to serve as Sec. of the Air Force. In the later role he oversaw inception of the stealth bomber program. He served as dean of the University of La Verne School of Business. Then, four years ago at the age of 88, he earned his doctorate degree from Claremont Graduate School.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Excitement all over the house. We have an egg! When I went out this morning to check the chickens, this is what I found. The egg has been passed around and we've all held it. We don't know which of the hens is responsible for the egg, but they all got rewarded with tomatoes, which they love.

For several weeks we have been checking for eggs - sometimes many times a day. A week ago someone suggested placing a golf ball in the nesting box. I guess the notion is that the ball would give the chickens an idea of what they were supposed to be doing. Well, they got their golf ball and we got an egg!

It was mid June when we got six one-day old chicks. Now about five and one-half months later we have an egg!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Backyard Buried Treasure

One of the fun things about working on an old house is that you never know what you're going to find. This is some glass and pottery we've found while digging around in the yard. The cut glass and colored glass is really beautiful. And the old transfer ware, like the blue and white piece in the upper right corner, is particularly nice. I don't know why, but there is a lot of this old stuff about a foot or so underground. I keep waiting to find a whole plate or cup, but all we seem to get are pieces.

I've found lots of bones. These bones and teeth are the most interesting and were found lodged together. When I dug these up, there was a small fang that hooked down from the right edge of the top bone. The fang dropped out though and is now lost. I dug around for other bones, but didn't see much. Have no idea what animal this was. Any thoughts?

These are old square cut nails we've found when working on the house. These predate the mass produced wire nails that we use today. Large scale production of today's wire nails started around the turn of the century. These are square cut nails, made by shearing slabs of metal at a bias, and were often used in construction prior to 1900.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Picking and Curing Olives

We were walking down our street and we noticed a neighbor's olive trees. The trees still had some fruit on them, but the ground was littered with loads of black and green olives. We talked about what it would be like to cure olives. The next thing I knew, Marcia was sending out a message to our neighborhood email list asking whether anyone with an olive tree would mind if we picked the fruit. Several neighbors responded and here is the result of her effort.
We are generally following the curing process described at the Milkwood site -- an Australian olive grower. There is also some great olive information available at this Caltech website . Caltech has an olive harvest coming up on November 7.

I don't know how the olives are going to turn out, but they sure look nice. Oh, if you taste a raw and uncured olive be prepared for a shock. They are incredibly bitter.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The San Gabriel Mountains: Our "Dominant Scenic Assets"

San Gabriel Valley ca. 1890
Pasadena Cal: C.J. Randall
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento

I've posted on this before, but I like the old panoramic views of the mountains. There is a dramatic and awe inspiring feel to these old photos.

In 1930, a group of eminent landscape architects examined the sprawling Los Angeles region. At a time when land was still available, they wrote an ambitious plan for parks and open spaces. They had this to say about our mountains:

“The mountains, which are the dominant scenic assets, are slowly losing value because of the intensive urban growth. On the one hand, such growth is steadily cutting off views of the mountains, views that can be obtained only across open foregrounds sufficient in scale to complete and unify the landscape. The constant process of building upon open areas, the confinement of highways between rows of dwellings, stores, advertising structures and other nearby obstructions is gradually eliminating the enjoyment of the inspiring mountain scenery from the plains. This is a great loss which can be stopped only by reservation of occasional public foregrounds.”

(Quoted from “Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region” a 1930 plan prepared by the Olmsted Brothers and Harland Bartholomew & Associates and submitted to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.)

The Olmstead plan appears in the excellent book, Eden By Design: the 1930 Olmstead-Bartholmew Plan for the Los Angeles Region, by Greg Hise and William Deverell. In their book, Hise and Deverell tell the story of the Olmstead plan and its ambitious recommendations for parks and open spaces. As they explain, the plan was quickly shelved and never implemented. The story is a good one and the Olmstead plan is fascinating.

In a future post, I'll take a look at East Pasadena's mountain views.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Garden Update

We gardened this year like we never have before. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers were probably the best producers. But, experiments with cantalopes and corn were fun too. The whole family got into the act -- from preparing the soil last winter to pulling the weeds to picking the vegetables. And its kind of fun toward the evening to say "let's go out and pick some tomatoes and basil for dinner."

It sure seems to me like more and more people are growing their own vegetables. Marcia found a group of local gardeners who swap their extra produce and we've been able to trade for grapefruit and other fruits we don't grow. The group was profiled in an LA Times piece last week.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Opening Ceremonies

One of the great things about playing AYSO soccer in Pasadena is that opening ceremonies are held in the Rose Bowl.

This was the view as I entered the tunnel leading to the Rose Bowl field with my daughter's team -- the Lightening Lizards. Dozens of teams preceded us onto the field, each with their own banner and each with a bunch of screaming kids. As each team reaches the end of the tunnel, their team name is called, the kids go crazy and run out onto the field. The kids get to watch their pictures on the Rose Bowl's JumboTron.

For me, I can't walk through that tunnel without thinking of all the great players and teams that trod that space in times past. It is amazing to live in a city that has one of the most storied and historic stadiums in the country.

The AYSO program is huge. More than 3400 kids play AYSO soccer in this region, which covers Pasadena, Altadena and La Canada.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Mystery of the Missing Lincoln Portrait

In an earlier post I presented a short biography of William Cogswell, the famous artist and founder of the Sierra Madre Villa. Cogswell was an amazing guy -- a self taught artist, a 49'er, painter of Lincoln, Grant and others, and an East Pasadena pioneer. The post includes a photo of Cogswell's most famous work, his portrait of President Lincoln, which is the official White House portrait of Lincoln, and today remains as part of the White House Collection.

Cogswell's obituary ran on page 1 of the Pasadena Evening Star December 26, 1903. The full obituary is here. The title and lead refer to a Cogswell painting that was a replica of his famous Lincoln portrait and says that the painting hangs in the Pasadena Public Library.

In fact, the enterprising Cogswell appears to have painted at least three replicas of his White House Lincoln portrait. One of the portraits is in the California State Capitol in Sacramento and hangs over the Speaker's podium in the Assembly. Correspondence in the Pasadena PL's Cogswell file indicates that a another portrait hung in the Royal Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii. (In 1890 Cogswell travelled to the islands to paint Queen Liliuokalani and Hawaiian royalty).

A third Cogswell replica of his White House Lincoln portrait was in the possession of the Pasadena Public Library and the Pasadena Historical Society. It appears the Lincoln portrait hung in the library from at least 1903 to 1961. A 1961 letter to the Pasadena Public Library and correspondence with the Library of Congress and Frick Art Reference Library state that Cogswell's Lincoln portrait belonged to the Pasadena Historical Society and was hanging in the Pasadena Public Library.

But, sometime after 1961, the portrait seems to have vanished.

So Where is the Lincoln Portrait Today?

After learning Cogswell's story and that of Pasadena's Lincoln portrait, I wanted to see the portrait. How incredible, I thought, that our library should have one of the few replicas of Cogswell's official White House Lincoln portrait -- a replica like the one hanging in the California State Assembly. And given Cogswell's connection to Pasadena's pioneer days, I thought it very appropriate that the library should have a replica of Cogswell's most famous portrait.

So I went to the library to see the painting. But, there was no painting. I called the Historical Museum and the city. But neither had any record of the painting.

I emailed the Hawaiian State Archivist asking about the Lincoln portrait in Hawaii. But the archivist emailed back stating they had no record of Cogswell's Lincoln portrait.

So, we seem to have a mystery. Based on Cogswell's obituary and the 1961 correspondence, we know that from at least 1903 to 1961 Cogswell's replica of his famous Lincoln portrait hung in the Pasadena Public Library. Based on the 1961 correspondence from the Hawaiian Historical Society, we know that Cogswell left another replica of his famous Lincoln portrait in the Royal Palace. It wouldn't seem that such paintings could just vanish, but that is what seems to have occurred. So, where is the Lincoln portrait that hung for so many decades in the Pasadena Public Library?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vacation to Patrick's Point

We just returned from camping along the northern California coast at a wonderful state park named Patrick's Point. This is in the land of the great redwoods, damp 65 degree weather, wild blackberries and ... banana slugs. The yellow guy pictured above was making his way up the side of our tent one morning.

Our campsite was on a bluff about 40 yards from the ocean. From camp we could hear the crash of the ocean. We had a couple of clear evenings when we could see sunsets from this point behind our tent. On the clear nights, the stars were incredible.

We had fun at several beaches near Patrick's Point. This picture shows the beach and bay at Trinidad, which is a fishing village six miles south of Patrick's Point. A monument above the beach lists the names of locals lost at sea.

On this trip we covered nearly the entire length of the state -- logging 1,900 road miles. Our kids and van both survived the trip. I'm reminded that California is an amazing place. From border to border, there is a great diversity in terrain, climate, industry, history, population and culture. And the northern coast and Patrick's Point -- simply beautiful.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Baby Mouse

Our son caught this tiny mouse which was being chased by Mr. Orange, the neighbor's cat. This little guy is really fast and hard to catch. We've seen Orange and our two cats carrying rabbits, rats, lizards and moles, but this is the first time we've seen such a little mouse. It was fun to see, but our outdoor-loving son returned the mouse to nature.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chicken Update

So here's Rhode Island Red and our Barred Rock at almost two months old. They have grown up fast. We remember when they were just days old fluff balls and then when they started getting their feathers after a couple of weeks. Hopefully in a few more months, they will start laying eggs. In the meantime, our family has had fun with the chickens. They are very much family pets.

Did you know that there is an "urban chicken movement" sweeping the nation? Citizens groups in cities, such as Ann Arbor and South Portland advocate for urban chicken keeping and more lenient "chicken laws." Pasadena's own Path to Freedom has one of the best websites around. Another good one is backyard chickens.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tomatoes for Dinner

This weekend we get to enjoy the first returns from our garden. Fresh tomatoes, peppers and basil from the garden along with a little cheese and bread. It is fun to just go out in the garden and pick some fresh vegetables for dinner. Looks like we are going to have alot of tomatoes this year. I think all that prep work we did a few months ago is paying off.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sierra Madre July 4th Parade

We had a front row seat on the curb. Great parade, every year.

No question about the Grand Marshall. SMFD.

Scouts, schools, veterans in uniform, jeeps, old bicycles, vintage cars, trucks, the Humane Society, churches, a priest on a motorcycle, a bubble machine, Sierra Madre City College, politicians, mail carriers, mini-cars, fire fighters, the forest service, a soft ball team, a cheer squad, and .... tractors. A wonderful small town parade.
No water fights though. In past parades, fire fighters exchanged blasts of water with kids toting super soakers lining the parade route. Not this parade. I hope it comes back next year.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

San Gabriel Mountains -- 1880's Views

Sierra Madre from Sunny Slope
Carlton Watkins, 1880
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento

At one time, panoramic mountain views could be had from seemingly anywhere in the San Gabriel Valley. This Watkins stereo card was made from a photo taken from L.J. Rose's Sunny Slope ranch that covered some of present day East Pasadena (south of Foothill) and San Marino. The card's title ("Sierra Madre") refers to the mountains and not the yet to be founded city.

San Gabriel Valley View
Unknown Photographer, ca. 1880
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento

I cannot tell where in the San Gabriel valley this photo was taken. But I like it because it gives a good feel for how the mountains dominated the scene when the San Gabriel Valley was mostly open plains.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chicks - Two Weeks Old

Here she is. Rhode Island Red, a little older and a lot bigger than that little fluff ball she was when we got her. The chicks are constantly eating and seem to grow daily. This one was amused at her little visit outside today. She then had to return to her temporary home inside. She and five other little chicks are living in a neighbor's old rabbit cage that now dominates our living room.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sierra Madre Villa

Sierra Madre Villa Hotel, ca. 1890
William H. Fletcher
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California

The Sierra Madre Villa Hotel got its start in 1876 and is now remembered as southern California’s first famous resort. Above, you can see the Villa’s vineyards and citrus groves, the two story hotel and Victorian Cogswell/Rhoades House all set against the Sierra Madre/San Gabriel Mountains. The hotel building was just above where the Eaton Canyon Golf Course is now and the Villa property stretched all the way down to approximately Foothill.

Villa visitors were treated to fine accommodations (running water in each room) in the middle of a beautiful ranch setting. The Villa maintained its own bee apiaries, stable of horses and small herd of cattle. Then there were the groves:

“There is probably no pleasure and health resort in either this country or abroad that will compare to the Villa in this respect. The hotel proper is literally surrounded with orchards. To particularize: there are upwards of 5,000 large orange trees…, upwards of 150 lemon trees, … and besides deciduous fruit trees, nut trees and a fine line of ornamental forest trees, shrubs, flowing plants, ect. Not only does the Villa grow all its own fruits, but also all the vegetables, small fruits, nuts, grapes, ect. with which the tables are freshly supplied three times a day.” (Rural Californian 1891)

Sierra Madre Villa, Looking South
J.B. Blanchard
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California

The views from the Villa were spectacular. Visitors had sweeping views of the stirring San Gabriel Valley. In the distance, the view extended all the way to the coastline, including San Pedro and Catalina Island. It is said that Villa guests could watch steamers out at sea as they approached San Pedro.

Sierra Madre Villa, Looking North
J.B. Blanchard
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California

The generally well-healed Villa guests had lots to do. Nearby mountains offered hunting, fishing in the San Gabriel River, trips to Eaton Canyon or to the "grotto" in Davis Canyon that was the Villa's water source. Visitors could relax in the Villa’s gardens or stroll in its groves. Or they could enjoy their talented and gracious hosts, the Cogswell and Rhoades families. There were also nearby attractions like the Baldwin Ranch, Sunny Slope winery, Shorb winery and San Gabriel Mission.

The Villa’s proprietors and beautiful setting were magnets for the rich and powerful and the Villa’s notoriety quickly grew. The eminent guest list reportedly included Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. William Sherman, Hollis P. Huntington, John L. Sullivan, Helen Hunt Jackson, the Crocker family and the Jacobs family. Other visitors, like Abbot Kinney, Charles Hastings, James Crank, and the Brigdens were guests at the Villa before buying their ranches.

Time has dimmed the memory of the Villa, but it played an important role in early settlement of the San Gabriel Valley. As noted in an 1887 Pasadena Union article, “The Villa since it was opened has entertained many of the distinguished people who have visited this coast. Its place in the development of the valley is highly important as among those who have settled here and expended large sums in the improvement of ranches and the building of elegant homes, many were first guest at this charming place…. Pasadena owes not a little to the Villa, especially in the pioneer days when our hotels were few and accommodations for the tourist limited.”

The Villa Hotel in 1894 and the hotel structure was torn down in 1923. Today, the Sierra Madre Villa’s name is carried on in Villa Street, Sierra Madre Villa Avenue, a namesake reservoir and the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Station.

More on the Villa's history is at this excellent neighborhood website.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Striped Racer Snake

Our ten year old spotted this striped racer snake weaving its way through a hedge next to our front porch. A quick call to Eaton Canyon Nature Center confirmed this was a striped racer. The person at the Nature Center knew all about these snakes.

The Nature Center's Reptile List says striped racers eat lizards, rodents and small birds and are common in oak woodlands, chaparral areas and washes. California Herps has some great striped racer pictures and says these snakes have acute vision, are fast moving, alert and difficult to get close to. They climb vegetation and seek shelter in burrows, rocks or wood piles.

I am continually amazed at how much our kids see that we miss.

Mother Mountains

Snow Scene on the Sierra Madre from the Raymond
Lucien Emerson Jarvis, 1890
Courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California.

It will push 100 degrees today and snow on the mountains looks awfully inviting, even if its 1890's snow. But, I add the photo because it refers to our mountains as the “Sierra Madre.”

A lot around here is named Sierra Madre – there’s the city to our east, and Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre Villa Ave., and the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Station. But, I always wondered why we had so many things named Sierra Madre when our local mountains are the San Gabriel Mountains.

It turns out that the mountains have gone by both names, with the officials favoring San Gabriel Mountains (named after the mission) and many locals preferring the name Sierra Madre. As the Field Guide to the San Gabriel Mountains points out, in 1927 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names ended the controversy and ruled the mountains would be officially known as the San Gabriels.

Early Pasadena historian J.W. Wood knew the official line, but preferred the name Sierra Madre anyway:

“Officially the range we contemplate is known as the San Gabriel, but the padres of old -- more poetic and sentimental – chose from their own nomenclature the more satisfying “Sierra Madres” – or Mother Mountains; and so they are known and preferred, despite geographers and pedagogues.”

J.W. Wood, Pasadena Historical and Personal (1917)

I like where J.W.'s coming from.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Circle of Life

The house is filled with chirping again and we have six tiny chicks in an old rabbit cage in the living room. This is Rhode Island Red, three days old.