Monday, July 20, 2009

James F. Crank and the Sierra Madre Villa

Sierra Madre Villa Hotel, ca. 1886, Carleton E. Watkins,
Courtesy of the California History Room,
California State Library, Sacramento, California

I enjoy reading Pasadena PIO's mystery history series. Her most recent post told the story of how the railroad came to Pasadena. Prominent in that story is a man named James F. Crank. He spearheaded efforts to bring a railroad to town, donated land for the Raymond Hotel and, one way or another, figured in much of Pasadena's early development.

Mr. Crank and his family were also the first guests at the old Sierra Madre Villa Hotel. In fact, it was the Sierra Madre Villa that introduced the Cranks (and other prominent people) to the area. Here's the story as related in Ann Sheid's Pasadena: Crown of the Valley:

The first real hotel in the area was Sierra Madre Villa which began as a large house. The land was purchased by William Porter Rhoades and his father-­in-law, artist William F. Cogswell, in 1874. They built a comfortable house, planted the grounds in orchards and vineyards, and landscaped with rose gardens and ornamental trees.

The house remained a private home until 1877, when the James F. Crank family arrived from Denver, seeking a healthful climate for the ailing Mrs. Crank. The Cranks stayed with the Rhoades, and during this time, a 20-room addition with a long glass-enclosed veranda transformed the ranch house into a full-fledged hotel.

The hotel soon became an important social center, attracting guests from around the world. Famous for its hospitality, beautiful site, and eminent clientele.... Guests came for a week, for a month; or for the whole season, and their ranks included such names as Ulysses S. Grant, Collis P. Huntington, the Crocker and Mark Hopkins families from San Francisco, and tobacco millionaire Abbott Kinney

There's more.

Below is a scan of a magic lantern slide made in 1890 by photographer Frederick Hamer Maude. The photo is of the front of the Rhoades house which was expanded to accommodate the Crank family. While staying at this house, Mrs. Crank's condition improved and Mr. Crank became smitten with the area. They purchased the Fair Oaks Ranch, which was across the wash from Sierra Madre Villa and north of present day East Washington Blvd. The Crank House still stands on Crary Street in Altadena and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

As for this old Victorian --- it was disassembled in the 40's and purchased by a nearby studio named the Walt Disney Company. Trim from the house was used in a movie and later on a building along Disneyland's Main Street. Here's that story.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hail in Pasadena

The National Weather Service predicts 100 today and 102 tomorrow with a hazardous weather outlook here. Up to 107 in the mountans. All in all, I thought it a fine day to think about the evening of January 24 when we had a hail storm. It is a big deal to get hail in Pasadena -- even in January. I remember listening to the rain on our roof that night and hearing the sound of rain change to the sound of hail. I shouted "hail" and we all ran outside to watch it hail. I scooped some up and took a picture.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Earthside Story - Update

Some good news to report on the Earthside Story.

First, a magnificent study of Earthside has been completed by Green Vision, a team of very talented graduate students in the Urban and Regional Planning program at Cal Poly Pomona. The report covers Earthside's history, significance (including that of its visionary founders), catalogues plant life on the site and presents future opportunities. You can get the whole report (including some great pictures) here.

Under the direction of Pasadena's own Prof. Julianna Delgado, the Green Vision team has turned out an extraordinary study that will help guide future plans for the site. Yours truly even got a mention!

Second, there has been concern about what would happen with the abandoned preschool and Girls Club building in front of Earthside. This past week the Board of Zoning Appeals approved a conditional use permit allowing the city and Huntington Hospital to operate an urgent care center and health clinic on the site. After some gentle advocacy, the city very willingly put in place a buffer area and several other measures designed to protect the Earthside site from possible negative impacts. Thanks go to new City Manager, Michael Beck, and Public Works Director, Martin Pastucha, who personally took on the issue, and to all those who thoughtfully advocated for protections.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hawks Continued

I've learned that it can be difficult to identify particular types of hawks. But, thanks to Tamara, who commented on my earlier hawk post, this appears to be a Cooper's Hawk. The bird is about crow-sized and has the white tips at the end of the tail feathers. More identification stuff here.

All about birds has some great background on the Cooper's Hawk. They are "among the world's most skillful fliers" because of how they can weave around tree branches in pursuit of prey. They eat other birds, including doves, which we have see a lot around here. They also eat small rodents. Cooper's Hawks have strong feet and kill their prey by grabbing it with their feet and squeezing it. They've even been known to drown their prey by holding it underwater. Another bird site says hawks, in general, have eyesight 2-3 times better than ours. Unlike other birds, the eyes of hawks and other birds of prey are set to look forward rather than on the side of their head. They mate for life and can reuse nests year after year.

This is a bit far afield. But, Cooper's Hawk is named after William Cooper, a "conchologist," who studied mollusks and other animal life. He collected specimens of many animals including a newly found type of hawk.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bear Signs

About a month ago I posted photos of the bear that had climbed up a pine tree in our back yard. In more than five years in our Northeast Pasadena home, that was the first time we had actually seen a bear.

More often we just see signs of bears. There was the time we found a pile of trash in our back yard (including a large container of cookie dough) right next to a pile of a different and very smelly sort. Then there was the time a bear pushed down our chain link fence -- just crushed it - on a night my son and I chose to sleep outside. And then there was the morning the guy painting our neighbor's house came running into our yard looking like he'd seen a ghost. The guy was literally shaking when he told me he had seen a "giant" bear. After some time, I walked him back to his job and he spent the rest of the day painting the inside of the house behind locked doors.

But mostly bear signs involve trash cans. This morning I walked out side to see our trash can tipped over. It was the second time this week this has happened. The recycling and green waste containers were undisturbed, it is always the trash can that is tipped.

Here's another picture of the bear we encountered a month ago. I wonder if this is the one getting into my trash can?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Early Sunday morning I caught these two hawks perched on top of the power pole in front of our house. It is not uncommon to see hawks soaring high in the air. But, I rarely see them this close.

Later in the day the two hawks perched in our Jacaranda tree.

I've hunted over the web and can't definitively identify what type of hawk this is. Apparently Red Tailed hawks are the most common types of hawks. I didn't see a red tail here, but strangley enough red tailed hawks don't always have visibly red tails. Anyone know what kind of hawk this is?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sierra Madre July 4th Parade

Official start of the 2009 Sierra Madre July 4th Parade. That's a 1968 Dodge Coronet Pasadena police cruiser leading the way with girl scouts holding the parade banner.

Veterans of Foreign Wars carried the colors. The crowd stood and cheered as these guys marched by. I like that.

This is an entry you won't find in any other small town July 4th parade -- the foundation for Sierra Madre's annual Rose Parade entry. In case you ever wondered what Rose Parade floats look like without the scaffolding and flowers, this is it.

We step back in time to the 1940 parade. No, just a lot of really old cars from this year's parade edited to black and white.

And, a lot of old cars. This 50's era Cadillac sported impressive tail fins and carried the grand marshall, Midge Morash. The tail fin design was reportedly inspired by WWII fighter planes, although some marketing genius claimed the fins blocked cross-winds and made for a smoother ride. Morash, who is known as "Mother Nature," arrived in Sierra Madre not long after this car was made and has done all kinds of good things in the city.

All in all, another wonderful parade in this beautiful city named after our local mountains. I enjoyed all the usual entries -- the priest on a motorcycle, the noname band, Sierra Madre City College, all the scouts and schools, old cars and bikes, tractors, postal workers and firefighters.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Vacation to NoCal and SoOr

We just returned from a trip up Interstate 5 to southern Oregon where we camped beside the Rogue River. Above is Mt. Shasta -- a dormant volcano with a cool 14,100 elevation. Views of Mt. Shasta (and snow covered Mt. Lassen to the east) dominated much of the trip north of Redding to the border. Shasta is at the southern end of the Cascade mountain range.

We pitched our tent at Valley of the Rogue state campground. The campground was a good jumping off point to experience the river and southern Oregon, but was too close to the freeway for my taste. Our camp neighbors, however, were great. Why are people so friendly when they're camping?

We fished along the river's edge and caught, cleaned, cooked and ate rainbow trout. My son did all the work, but I feel a good bit of satisfaction in helping him along. I took a crash course in fishing at Rogue River Pharmacy which has as its slogan "Guns and Drugs" and sells lots of both. Anyway, the white coated pharmacist and an old guy behind the sporting goods counter patiently schooled me on the right tackle, bait and fishing spots.

Fishing in the river a short walk from our campsite.

Highlights of the trip were Butte Creek Mill, where the owner gave us a tour of the water- powered mill built in 1872, the Rogue Creamery, which has the best free samples I've ever seen (jalapeno curds were incredible), House of Mystery, I'm a sucker for that stuff and the kids love it, Wildlife Safari, which deserves a separate post, and the Hellgate Jet Boat trip. I also became a big fan of Dutch Bros. Coffee , and, of course, no sales tax.

Out of Grants Pass, the jet boats took us westward into Hellgate Canyon. What a great adventure for the family! Our boat pilot sometimes floated along to allow for wildlife viewing and then seemingly floored it at other spots. Egged on by some college guys in our boat, the pilot turned a few 360's. We were all wet by the time it was over.

One of the more interesting shots I got on the jet boat ride was of this vulture who stood guard on top of the river bank. About 20 feet below a trio of vultures ripped away at a salmon carcass laying on the rocks. (I'll spare you the shot of the Salmon carcass.)

We saw two bald eagles. This one was perched in a tree along the river's edge.

We had a great time getting windblown and soaked on the boat. Wet head, big smile. Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.