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 http://pasadenahistory.org.