Road to Tomorrow

Road to Tomorrow

No other place than Pasadena, home to Caltech, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of the first American freeways and a host of other innovative ways of traveling, better fits in every sense the theme of this year’s city birthday bash, “Forward Motion!” set for Sunday afternoon at the Pasadena Museum of History.


Whether up, down, sideways or straight ahead, for better or worse Pasadena pioneers have always been at the forefront of one form of motion or another — rockets, planes, trains and automobiles, as well as bikes, motorcycles and skooters.


At this year’s 129th anniversary of Pasadena’s incorporation as a city, the museum will have on display cars, bicycles, and other vehicles that were innovative a century ago and today. And everyone is invited to join the free community festival between 1 and 4 p.m. which includes a cake-cutting ceremony with Mayor Terry Tornek at 2:30 p.m. Also on display will be companion exhibitions “When Johnny Came Marching West: How the Civil War Shaped Pasadena” and “Thaddeus Lowe: Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army.” There will also be balloons for the kids, a crafts workshop, face painting, entertainment by the Blair Viking Jazz Band and refreshments provided by the Duarte Lemonade Brigade and Rita’s Italian Ice.


In this week’s issue we pick up on this spot-on theme with stories about the many alternative ways people got around the city at its inception and today, focusing on the rich histories of flight, rail travel, cars, bicycles and roller skates. 


Yes, roller skates. Who would have guessed that Edgar Robinson, older brother of baseball legend Jackie Robinson and Olympian sprinter Mack Robinson, was a superb roller skater, able to leap over cars that crossed his path? Back in the 1930s and ’40s, Edgar would latch onto cars and buses for rides to such faraway places as Santa Monica. As Deputy Editor André Coleman learned, Edgar would have been a medal-winning Olympic roller skater had such a thing existed, at least according to Mack, himself a Silver Medalist at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.


When it came to aviation, PW writer Rebecca Kuzins explains few compared with Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, a pioneering balloonist and “chief aeronaut” of the Union Army during the Civil War who moved to Pasadena and constructed the world-famous but ill-fated Lowe Railroad, which traversed Mount Lowe and other portions of the scenic San Gabriel Mountains at the turn of the last century.


Lowe died in 1913, but his granddaughter, Florence Leontine Lowe, apparently inspired by an airshow that her grandfather had taken her to in 1910, caught the flying bug in the late 1920s. By that time, young Lowe was known as Pancho Barnes, and she had become a stunt flying ace, in the early ’30s breaking Amelia Earhart’s speed record.


Of course, where would anyone be without Henry Huntington and his Pacific Electric Railroad, the Red Car, beginning in the late 1800s and early 20th century? “The Pacific Electric was the life line that both developed and connected the diverse parts of the region together. I have always wondered what Southern California would be like if the vast network of the Pacific Electric still existed today, 114 years after Huntington pursued his vision of an electric railway. Would we not be a very different, less car-reliant region with possibly a completely different lifestyle?” Andrew Stevenson, head of the museum’s History Committee for Sunday’s event, asked PW Arts Editor Carl Kozlowski.


As writer Rebecca Waer learned, many locals in the 1890s had little interest in trains, mainly because they were pioneering the use of another interesting way to move forward: Bicycles, and later motorcycles and scooters. 


But nothing would eclipse the automobile in popularity, as Wheels columnist Lauren Holland explains. “Unlike San Francisco and New York on the East Coast, which developed infrastructure along the lines of public transportation, the affluent citizens of the Greater Los Angeles Basin developed a pattern of suburban sprawl based on the availability of land,” Holland writes. The Colorado Street Bridge and the Pasadena Freeway, the first freeway built in the western United States, “played an early role in establishing affluent suburbs as the norm and passenger vehicles as essential. Agriculture and industry made the development of freeways mandatory growth.”


It seems social and economic forces at work in Pasadena guided the direction of much of what we see today on America’s transportation landscape. The question now is what is the best way forward for tomorrow?

“Happy Birthday Pasadena: Moving Foward!” is from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 577-1660 or visit

Road to tomorrow

Road to tomorrow
Before the historic Colorado Street Bridge was built over the Arroyo Seco shortly after the turn of the last century, crossing the deep canyon that the seasonal river bisected was an extremely difficult task.  
“Horses and wagons had to descend the steep eastern slope, cross the stream over a smaller bridge, and then climb up the west bank through Eagle Rock Pass,” writes Frank Wilkins with the Dallas-Forth Worth Film Critics Association, who pens stories about the Hollywood movie industry and other Los Angeles County points of interest.
First designed by John Alexander Low Waddell of the firm Waddell & Harrington and built by the Mercereau Bridge and Construction Co. in 1913, the 149-foot high, 1,468-foot-long structure faced an epic battle for survival following 1989’s magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake in Northern California. 
The bridge was closed for more than three years following the quake, after engineers warned Pasadena officials the structure could collapse if Southern California experienced an earthquake of the same magnitude. 
A $27.4-million reconstruction project was soon launched and the Colorado Street Bridge (given its moniker before the street was renamed Colorado Boulevard) reopened to great fanfare in 1993.
“Back then, it got a lot of attention and time,” said Cynthia Kurtz, formerly Pasadena’s city manager, and before that public works director. “We had to go through a lot as a city to justify why the bridge should be repaired instead of replaced, because it was expensive. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money today, but it was back then.”
Most of the money came from Federal Highway Bridge Repair and Replacement Act funds, with Los Angeles County and the city of Pasadena forking over the remaining $6 million. Since then, the bridge has come to serve as a beacon of civic pride and a reminder that government and community can work together to accomplish a shared vision.
However, the bridge would look quite different today from its original design if the local preservationist watchdog group Pasadena Heritage hadn’t stepped in during the design review process. They successfully nominated and had the bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It was important to do that because back in the ’80s when they first started planning to upgrade the bridge and increase its seismic strength, the early plans called for changing it much more significantly, simplifying it and removing some of its architectural features,” said Sue Mossman, Pasadena Heritage executive director. “Because it was on the Register [of Historic Places] and people love it and it became a symbol of the city, we were able to work with the planners to make sure all of those historic elements were saved and, in some cases, restored. It was Pasadena Heritage that over and over again lobbied to save it and keep it functional and usable as a transportation link. That’s what we do. That’s why we’re here.”
The bridge has also been designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
City Engineer Dan Rix said the structure is currently seismically sound and in great condition, thanks to the 1993 repairs. Unlike many bridges in the United States that are in dire need of infrastructural upkeep, Pasadena’s iconic landmark is good to go for the foreseeable future.
Kurtz pointed out that in order to get to this point the repairs involved first weakening the bridge by taking away all the old concrete, steel and its other structural supports. “There were lots of nervous days,” laughed Kurtz. “Like when the engineers came and said to me, ‘If we have an earthquake today, I don’t think it will hold.’”
Rix pointed out that it is expected the bridge can withstand a lot, even another earthquake. “Right now,” Rix said, the Public Works Department doesn’t spend a lot of money on the bridge, “because it’s in such good condition at this time.”

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