Echoes of Yesterday
From 1984 to 1994 the Weekly made its mark on an evolving city
By Carl Kozlowski 07/17/2014
In 1984, the year Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics, Pasadena was going through plenty of exciting changes of its own, starting with the transition of Old Pasadena from an overlooked part of the Crown City into a world-class tourist destination.
This seemed to be the perfect time for a dynamic team of journalists and community activists to seize the moment and start a newspaper.
Under the name Pasadena Media, Inc., an investment group that included future Mayor Rick Cole and attorney Pierce O’Donnell assembled a team that included activist Marvin Schachter, publisher Ed Matys, Editor in Chief Steve Coll, Managing Editor Dick Lloyd and Arts and Entertainment Editor Melody Malmberg. Backed by restaurant critic Erica Wayne and the astute eyes of Larry Wilson as business manager and assistant editor, they launched the Pasadena Weekly.
It’s a reflection of their powerhouse skills and dedication that some of these founders are still loyal to the Weekly — with Wayne remaining its in-house culinary expert and Schachter still regularly alerting current editors to the latest hot news in the political scene. Others have moved on to positions of even greater influence. Cole, for instance, is now the deputy mayor of Los Angeles, and O’Donnell is making headlines as the lawyer for Shelly Sterling, wife of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Coll would later win a Pulitzer Prize and become a vital part of both The Washington Post and the New Yorker, and Wilson today serves as the Pasadena Star-News’ public editor.
“Whenever I walk past a news rack and see the Weekly with the 30th anniversary sign on it, I think about the beginning,” says Wilson. “In a digital world, that the paper is still around is a testimony for the need for local news and the need for something that you can spread out on your countertop at Euro Pane while eating your lunch rather than being hooked to your phone. Now that you’ve hit 30, I see no reason why 50 isn’t within reach.”
Among the hottest local stories that opening year were Pasadena’s ultimately failed attempts to annex Altadena, the emergence of Bill Bogaard as mayor after he rotated into his first term following Pasadena’s first black mayor, Loretta Glickman, ended her term, and the city’s attempt to build a new police station collapsing when Proposition DD, a $20 million bond issue, failed to win a two-thirds voter majority.
The next year, 1985, saw Caltech begin construction of the Keck Telescope with the help of a $70 million grant. It was also the year Chris Holden first appeared on the city’s political front, losing his first race for District 3 but setting the stage for a lengthy career that began four years later and eventually would propel him to the state Assembly.
The Weekly saw its own changes when Coll left the paper, opening the door for David Geary to become city editor and Wilson to become assistant editor. In other shakeups, James Vowell took over as head editor and publisher, Pamela Fisher became managing editor and D.G. Fulford and Danny Pollack joined as writers. Cartoonist Matt Groening’s comic strip “Life in Hell” also made its first appearance in the Weekly, which itself made the leap to becoming part of O’Donnell’s 12-paper group, National Media, Inc.
As the calendar flew through 1986, developer Danny Bakewell was among those trying to raze the King’s Villages housing complex in order to make room for a shopping complex at Fair Oaks Avenue and Mountain Street. And in a prescient move that still has relevance amid the current Central American immigration crisis, All Saints Church officially declared itself a sanctuary for those fleeing persecution from El Salvador and the region’s other troubled nations.
Bill Paparian made his first splash in the city in 1987 after beating Jo Heckman for her seat on the Board of City Directors, while the Altadena Congregational Church made headlines by becoming one of the first mainstream churches to openly welcome gay worshippers. The city Health Department began anonymous AIDS testing, KROQ left Pasadena after a decade, and James Vowell left the Weekly to return to the Los Angeles Reader. Also that year, the city’s YMCA building began the process of conversion into a single-room-occupancy (SRO) building.
The Weekly changed hands in 1988 when longtime Pasadenan Sue Laris bought it from O’Donnell’s group and changed its name to the Altadena Weekly. Pollock and Wilson jumped to the Star-News amid a mass staff exodus that left only ad executive Dennis Jopling, food critic Wayne, staff writer Steve Gaydos and contributor Shirley Manning on the paper’s staff. By July 7, Jim Laris had taken over the Weekly from his ex-wife Sue, and he became editor and co-publisher along with his wife, Marge Wood.
The Weekly’s fifth year in 1989 saw the first plans to redevelop the South Lake Avenue business district emerge, along with a citizen-sponsored slow-growth measure taking effect. Meanwhile, the city tightened its already strict overnight parking restrictions, and the annual Posada walk to raise awareness and funds for AIDS treatment began.
The ’90s started with Jess Hughston becoming mayor, while Rick Cole won another four-year term on the board and Police Lt. Bruce Philpott became the new interim chief of police. Controversy also swirled as African-American community leaders complained that Phil Hawkey was chosen over supposedly better-qualified black candidates for the city manager post, and the Weekly was flooded with letters supporting and opposing the start of its adult-oriented advertising.
Bill Evans took over as managing editor of the Weekly in 1991, while Jerry Oliver became the city’s chief of police. District 1 elected a new city director, with Isaac Richard winning a runoff against Nick Conway, and the Weekly added Dan O’Heron as both a columnist and food critic. Bruce Koeppel and John Russell came onboard as reporters.
The LA riots stretched all the way into Pasadena in 1992, with a clash between police and residents resulting in one death. Meanwhile, the city began an $11 million project to add a new press box and luxury seating to the Rose Bowl, and city officials landed a deal with NFL owners to host the 1993 Super Bowl. Cole had already rotated into the mayor’s seat while Paparian successfully led the renaming of the Board of City Directors to the City Council. Also that year, the Weekly became “the Alternative Voice of Pasadena, Glendale and the San Gabriel Valley” while launching several new columns.
Finally, the Weekly’s first decade ended with a bang as Pasadena voters approved a tax to prevent a state budget shortfall from closing libraries, while city officials debated the formation of a citizen review board to oversee police officers. Chris Bray became a Weekly reporter after losing his race for a City Council seat in newly created District 5, which was formed to maximize Latino voter representation, and One Colorado opened, giving a major boost to Old Pasadena.
The Weekly covered it all, a fact that founding team member Marvin Schachter considers with pride. It also makes Schachter confident that the Weekly can bring area readers all the news through the next 30 years.
“The Weekly meets the highest expectations we had for the publication when we started it. It’s really extraordinary because this is a period where alternative press has largely disappeared, or has been taken over by corporate publishers and lost their way,” says Schachter. The Weekly, he says, “keeps the flag flying high of being independent and alternative with a sense of responsibility to the community that’s extraordinarily praiseworthy. At the age of 90, I don’t expect to make it through the next 30 years, but if I do I will be proud to be part of it.”