There are millions of fans of Pasadena, borne largely out of the vast worldwide audience the Crown City receives annually with the broadcast of the Rose Parade. But Colleen Dunn Bates’ love for the city goes far beyond that of an average citizen.
She launched her publishing company Prospect Park Books in 2006 as a means of creating and releasing the first edition of “Hometown Pasadena,” a colorful guide to the best the city has to offer. A follow-up edition was released a couple of years later, with both attaining sold-out success and enabling Bates to grow Prospect Park into a thriving publishing house with four full-time employees and a dozen releases each year.
The third and latest edition of “Hometown Pasadena” was released in August, taking on an impressive new shape as a lavish coffee table book filled with lush imagery and stylish essays by some of the city’s most prominent writers. As Bates prepares for the book’s official launch party at Vroman’s Bookstore on Tuesday night, she reflected on the journey that has taken the book this far and the passion she has for her city.
“I wasn’t really a company then, when I started, but I did the one book and saw how it went,” recalls Bates. “It did very well, did much more than I hoped it would do. The originals were more of a guidebook and had listings and were sold out.
“I thought it might not happen again because it’s a guide book and everything is online now,” she continues. “People kept asking and asking for a new one, so I reinvented the book and it’s much more of a reading book than a guidebook. I brought in a lot more writers, and interviewed a lot of people. We made it a lot richer to read, and while I’m very proud of the original team and what we did, I thought it was time to expand the book.”
Indeed, the third edition is packed with insights into what makes Pasadena great, while also encompassing Altadena, South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge as the book unlocks the insider secrets of the San Gabriel Valley. It impressively builds off the acclaim that the first two editions received, including rave reviews from the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine and Westways, as well as nominations and awards from such organizations as the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association and the Independent Publisher Book Awards.
Among the writers contributing essays throughout the book are Lian Dolan, Lynell George, Chris Erskine, Naomi Hirahara, Larry Wilson, Roberta Martinez, Mary Lea Carroll, and Raphael Simon, who’s better known as successful children’s book author Pseudonymous Bosch. There are also short pieces with two dozen notable locals, including preservationist Sue Mossman, comedian/actor Maria Bamford, State Assemblyman Chris Holden, teacher Siri Bookani, musician Phoebe Bridgers, food writer Jonathan Gold, Funky Junk Farms proprietor Johnny Agnew, Ted the Goldendoodle, and restaurateurs Jo & John Wee (owners of Daisy Mint and Fig Sprout).
Add in major essays from original “Hometown Pasadena” authors Jill Ganon, Sandy Gillis, Mel Malmberg, Mary Jane Horton, and Bates, plus images from prominent local photographers Karol Franks, Keegan Dunn, Jennifer Cheung, Steven Nilsson and Paul Click, with the cover art again a stunning painting by Pasadena artist R. Kenton Nelson.
“As soon as it comes out, I feel bad about all the things we can’t include because we have such a rich community and we couldn’t fit it all in that book,” says Bates. “I had seven essayists add their different kinds of voices and what they wanted to write about and their experiences here. We interviewed a couple dozen other people and used their voices. That was a very conscious mix of all types of people from here: Caltech, the Huntington Library, a schoolteacher, a college professor, an artist and a chef.
“I’ve lived here for 26 years and had this business here for 12 years,” adds Bates.” I know a lot of writers and I knew the voice I wanted it to have. All the essayists were personal friends or acquaintances. You’ve got to have the greatest hits: the Huntington and Norton Simon museums get their props, but also secret gardens that are not as well-known but that the locals would know.”
The book kicks off with a fun array of unusual stats about the city, including the fact that there are 550 restaurants in town. Considering Pasadena has a population of just over 142,000 people, that figure makes Pasadena second only to New York City in eateries per capita.
Another fun fact is that the city is home to 1,021 nonprofits, making it second in the nation to Washington, DC per capita. Similar details are unearthed and shared about San Marino, Altadena, South Pasadena, La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta and Montrose.
An entertaining history of the city and its surrounding towns is also included, as well as sections spotlighting the hottest spots not only for entertainment, but also for science and high culture. But perhaps the most valuable part of the book, even for longtime residents of the area, is Bates’ detailed suggestions for nine unique and extensive architectural walking tours of the region. Among the neighborhoods covered are the Lower Arroyo Seco and San Rafael, Garfield Heights, Prospect Park and Bungalow Heaven.
Beyond that, “Hometown Pasadena” offers beautiful photos and insider information on little-known gardens throughout the San Gabriel Valley and the best nature hikes in the area. The book closes with a humorous section called “Perfectly Pasadenan,” which takes a fun satirical look at 10 types of people who make up stereotypical segments of the population including the “Recently Riches” and the “Millennial Move-Backs.”
“Our architectural walks date back to the first book, because I’m a big walker, I’ve walked all over town and I live on a historic street myself,” says Bates. “But ‘Perfectly Pasadenan’ is a fun way to end the book, because I grew up in LA and had a preconception that there’s one type of Pasadenan, but living here you learn there are many types and so we had fun with the types.”
“Hometown Pasadena” will celebrate its official launch with the “Wait Wait…Pasadena!” event at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. The free event will consist of locally themed trivia games played by area celebrities and experts. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.