Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas at Pasadena's Historic Sierra Madre Villa Hotel

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

There is nothing like Christmas through a child's eyes.

William Lauren Rhoades grew  up in the 1870's and 80's at the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel.   His dad, William Porter Rhoades, was the proprietor of the Villa and co-owned the Villa along with his father in law, artist William Cogswell.   At the time, the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel was a famous West Coast resort located in the foothills of what is now East Pasadena.   The hotel is the namesake of Pasadena's Villa Street and present-day Sierra Madre Villa Avenue, which served as the access to the old hotel.

William Lauren Rhoads retained an interest in local history and, as a retiree, was active in local historical societies.   In about 1930, William recounted the history of the Sierra Madre Villa in a short book titled History of the Famous Sierra Madre Villa Hotel.  In the book, he describes what Christmas was like at the Villa.   The story includes a donkey named after his mom, a giant Christmas tree and more.          

I enjoy Rhoades' account and it is worth revisiting.  So, without further adieu, let's travel with Mr. Rhoades back to East Pasadena in the late 1870's.......    

From The History of the Famous Sierra Madre Villa Hotel by William Lauren Rhoades:

When Christmas time rolled around the real fun began. I will describe a typical Christmas day in the late seventies. The day before Christmas was one of excitement for all were preparing the gifts, some driving into Los Angeles, a thirty mile drive, to get the last few gifts needed and to shop for all the rest and only about two dry goods stores, two book stores and a few other places to purchase but that made it all the more exciting. There was a tree to sit up fully nineteen feet high, that was the height of the ceiling, and a spread of branches in proportion. Then the trimmings, popping the corn and putting on the cornucopias, hanging the glass balls and the angel on the top. That day the Chinese boy, Sam, made mysterious trips to Mother's room with packages coming from the servants and Chinese on the ranch.

Christmas morning was always the opening of an eventful day. I well recall
Christmas of 1878. After breakfast I was taken out to the front of the house and there stood my donkey, which was given me two years before to ride and I named her after my Mother, Jennie, and there she was hitched up to a two wheeled cart made to order with a swell leather seat, the running gear was painted red and the body black, the harness was black with shining brass buckles. The guests all stood round enjoying my delight. I took Mother in at once and we drove off in style and many were the happy days I had with the children at the Villa in that turnout.

Christmas morning the coach that ran to the San Gabriel Southern Pacific Railroad Station daily for the mail and passengers, was ready to take any who might wish to go to the
Episcopal Church in San Gabriel, as was the custom on Sundays. Then the day passed and all were in readiness for the big event in the evening with the Christmas tree.


Rhoades goes on to describe the evening festivities that took place in the hotel parlor with the Rhoades family and hotel guests attending. Christmas carols were sung and the tree was "stripped." There was a gift exchange with Villa's many Chinese workers. Rhoades reports that, to the delight of hotel guests, the workers would enter the parlor with a flourish. Dressed in fine silks, the workers had "their heads freshly shaved with their cues hanging down their backs with red ribbons braided into their hair." They came bearing gifts of sweet lichi nuts, ginger and dainty cakes. In turn, the workers were given a fattened pig for roasting.


If you're interested to know more about the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel, I've a dozen or so posts on the Villa that are categorized under the Labels heading on the right side of this blog. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Alligator in the Avocado

We see many alligator lizards around here and I've posted about these reptiles before.   This is the first time I have seen one in a tree.   It is a little hard to spot, but this alligator lizard has kind of wrapped itself on the limb of an avocado tree. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4th -- America the Beautiful

In 1893, poet and Wellesley College professor, Katharine Bates, came west to teach summer school at Colorado College.   The young professor was inspired by her train trip from New England, a trek to the top of Pikes Peak and by the fertile expanse of this country.   She penned a poem that first appeared in the Congregationalist magazine to commemorate July 4, 1895.  Bates continued to revise the work and, in 1911, arrived at the  final version of the lyrics to America the Beautiful.

Bates continued writing and teaching and passed away in 1929.   After it was published, her poem was quickly put to music and became enormously popular across the country.   Through her life, the professor, gave free permission "hundreds and thousands" of times to  use her American the Beautiful lyrics.   Later in life, she reflected on her poem's enduring popularity.   She wrote that the “hold as it has upon our people, is clearly due to the fact that Americans are at heart idealists, with a fundamental faith in human brotherhood.

America the Beautiful 

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bear Damage

Our first bear damage of the season -- broken fence stringer.  The lower rung of the fence was no match for the weight of the bear.   CA Fish and Wildlife says black bears typically weigh 100-200 pounds for adult females and 150-350 pounds for adult males, though California black bears have been weighed at more than 600 pounds.  These are big animals. 

How do I know it was a bear that  broke the fence?   Well, ,our trash can (with bear proof latch) was knocked over and there was a pile of bear poop steps from the fence.   

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Remembering Winter Rains

Before we get too far into summer, I wanted to recall the winter rains.   We rarely get rainbows here, but with all  the rain, we had them in February.  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Eaton Wash

Lots of water today flowing down Eaton Wash.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sunrise Over East Pasadena

Sunrise earlier this week, looking east from my office near Lake Ave. and Colorado Blvd.  Among the many benefits of last week's clouds and rain.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An Afternoon with My City in Your City

View from the Green House at Zorthian Ranch,
overlooking Altadena, Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles

Sunday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a "My City in Your City" brunch presented by architect David Wolf.   As was appropriate for the subject, the event was held in the foothills overlooking Altadena and Pasadena.

Wolf related the story of "My City," a 1916 exhibit in Pasadena designed to secure public input for future plans for the city.  The exhibit ran for six weeks and was attended by more than 8,000 people.   Quite a turnout considering the entire city population back then was about 40,000.

Mr. Wolf's presentation is entertaining, educational, insightful and inspiring.   He has reached back in Pasadena history, found greatness, and brought it forward for our use today.    There is a lot to take away from the My City story.   More information is at the My City website and Facebook.  


The presentation reminded me of just how highly residents of a century ago regarded this city and how lofty were their ambitions.   Materials included a 1916 Pasadena Star News article describing the My City effort.  The Star News writer, Henry James, refers to Pasadena as "one of the beauty spots of the continent" and goes on to describe the My City experience as one that will "obtain the cooperation of the citizens in choosing the best out of the good; in deciding what shall be done first and of proving to them that it is within their power to do anything they please."

I was also reminded of "Imagine a Great City," which was the theme for public meetings in the early 1990's which led to the 1994 Pasadena General Plan.    As a relative newcomer to Pasadena, I was taken by the theme -- it invited creativity and communicated a public spirit, enthusiasm and expectation that we could help make Pasadena that great city.    Maybe it wouldn't work in other cities.  Others might aspire to be good cities or nice cities.  But, with it's beautiful natural setting, its neighborhoods, trees, Civic Center, remarkable history, and past example of reaching for lofty goals, it seemed fitting that Pasadena would aspire to be a great city.                          

Thursday, January 5, 2017

First Bear Sighting of 2017

I came home last night to find a bear in my front yard.   As I got out of the car and walked toward the house, I heard a scratching sound and looked left to see a small black bear.   The bear was slowly climbing the trunk of a pine tree.  

Past posts on this blog roughly describe our experience with bears in this East Pasadena neighborhood.  When we moved in 14 years ago, we did not see any bears.   For many years, we kept chickens and an apiary without problem.    In 2009 we had our first real bear encounter when our dog chased a bear up a tree.    In 2011, I watched a bear take down our apiary, and in 2012,  a bear broke into our chicken coop and killed two of our chickens.   Bears have also caused an array of property damage.    And, back when we had chickens, I quickly turned a corner one day to come within ten feet of a very large up-right bear.    That was more than a little unnerving.   But, the loss of our chickens was the major turning point.  We may try again, but for now, bees and chickens are out.

At this point, we know bears are in the neighborhood and we may see bears several times a year.  The bear last night, though, was unusual.   From his size, we gathered that the bear was a yearling.  When you see a young bear, the first thing you look for is the mother bear, who should be close by.   However, we did not see the mother bear or any other bears.   The young bear seemed to be on its own.

I went into the house, leaving the bear sitting on a tree branch.  Later, I checked outside and the bear was gone.        

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 Rose Parade -- From Sierra Madre Blvd.

Lizard on the Cal Poly SLO float

We ventured over to Sierra Madre Blvd. to watch this year's Rose Parade.  It was a fun time, as usual.   We enjoyed the pooper-scoopers, the surfing dog, the floats, the bands, and the horses (probably in that order).   And the Grand Marshals provided some extra excitement when their cars stopped right in front of us.   As the crowd cheered, one of the honorees scrambled out of their vintage convertible and dashed into one of the porta-potties behind us.   A funny unscripted moment -- at least from the crowd's perspective.

Cal Poly always produces clever and colorful floats.  Their floats are also distinctive because they use California grown flowers.   A press release from the California Cut Flower Commission commended four floats from this year's parade for using California grown flowers.  Floats from Cal Poly, Miracle-Gro, FTD and Real California Milk, all were decorated in flowers and greenery grown in-state.  

It is uncommon these days for any Rose Parade float to use California grown flowers.   As PSN"s Steve Scauzillo wrote last year, most of the flowers in the Rose Parade are from overseas.   About 80% of the flowers used on parade floats come from South America or Asia.  (Why do so few Rose Parade floats use California-grown flowers?)   By using cheap labor, growers overseas can sell flowers at much lower cost than domestic growers. 

The California Cut Flower Commission's release  recalls another time.  The release points out that "The Rose Parade originated in 1889 to showcase the bounty of what is grown in California during a time of year when much of the country is covered in snow."  As the Tournament of Roses puts it, the Valley Hunt Club conceived of the parade as an event to follow an array of outdoor games.  "The abundance of fresh flowers, even in the midst of winter, prompted the club to add another showcase for Pasadena’s charm: a parade to precede the competition, where entrants would decorate their carriages with hundreds of blooms."  

Though a wildly successful international event accompanied by all manner of glitz and fame, the parade's inspiration was rooted in Pasadena's natural and cultivated beauty.  That's worth remembering.