Friday, February 6, 2009

The bus stops here: Altadena, Zorthian Ranch

Fair Oaks Avenue is an offshoot of Huntington Drive in Alhambra. Traveling north, it grows in width and pride, cutting a straight line through South Pasadena. Continuing on to Pasadena, things get rough once Fair Oaks approaches the 210 freeway. And news gets worse.

At the gang infested border of Altadena, Fair Oaks makes a sharp right-angle before heading into the hills. Here it plays host to liquor stores and more liquor stores, and places where you can get a fast, small buck on a paycheck that may or may not be in the mail. Most of the Altadena crimes take place in this vicinity. Recently, a 90-year old woman was found dead in her home, beaten then burned, or burned then beaten. Not many people walk this part of the street, though some empty store fronts, strangely, so strangely, have quite a few customers.

It isn’t until you hit the hills that Fair Oaks Avenue relaxes again, sliding by a middle class section of homes, many fronted by that mono-dimensional rockery so popular in the 60’s. Any day of the week you'll find one house or another under siege by leaf blowers.


Fair Oaks dead ends where Zorthian Ranch begins.







Altadena reveres its characters. Zane Grey, Rodney King, Richard Feynman, Professor Lowe, Emily Harris, Zeke the Sheik … the brilliant, the crazy, con artist, criminal, the monumentally lucky, or unlucky. By Altadena standards, Jiryar Zorthian, hit enough criteria to be considered legendary.

Zorthian, an Armenian who escaped Turkey, was also supposedly an army intelligence officer in WWII, an expert horseman, a championship wrestler, an artist – and maybe he had been all that in actuality.





But I doubt he would have made the favorite-son list had it not been for his 45-acre mountaintop retreat. It had horses, dogs, goats, guests, a few structures and lean-to's, and a view straight out to the ocean. It also had huge amounts of jettisoned junk and trash, tossed carelessly into the canyons. Remainderings from salvaged-art projects. Enough to dam up one of the mountain streams until the County intervened.


But most of all, I suspect, Zorthian is remembered because of all the naked girls. And the wife who didn't seem to mind.




(More to come.)

41 comments:

Cafe Observer said...

We may have to put up some barricades at our northern border with the AltaDena dairypeople.

And, oh woman! They just don't make wives like they used to. Bring back some of these old fashioned women!

Wayne said...

I had to read all the way to the end to get to the best part, naked girls.

I looked up some of his work on the interweb, I even like some of his stuff that doesn't feature naked girls.

The naked guys made me a bit uneasy.

Petrea said...

It's a coup, Karin. You got there on a guardless day. Or is the place uninhabited now? Who owns it? What happens next? Can't wait for the next installment.

Susan C said...

Picnic?

Margaret said...

Poor suffering wife. Sigh.

Timothy Rutt, www.altadenablog.com said...

You know that beer ad with "The Most Fascinating Man in the World?" I imagine Zorthian was like that.

I have a CD of Charlie Parker playing at a Zorthian ranch party. They weren't planning on recording it -- someone just had a tape player when Bird was there at the party. It just sounds like many drugs were involved in this gathering by all concerned.

But get to the naked girls faster, please!

JCK said...

Please continue...

Laurie said...

This is even cooler -- and creepier -- than I imagined. More, please!

Virginia said...

Naked guys?? Where pray tell?

KB, this place is a mess! THey just let anybody roam around there? I expected to see Charlie Manson poke his head of that shack and cackle. This ranch has lost of a lot of its charm I'd say.

That guy sounds like he was so totally out there, no wonder the Little Woman was happy to pawn him off on some boozed up babes!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I heard that he allowed people to dump construstion leftovers off the side of his hill because he had a desire to dam up the place and create a pond he could stock.

I've met him a number of times although not as a nymph. His wife was far more interesting, she's recently passed. He has children around today. His son is an architect and married to a friends wives sister. I hope the land isn't developed into another one of those gated communities.

Petrea said...

My sentiments exactly, V. He sounds creepy. PA would know. Sounds like the wife was more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Rightly or wrongly, much is forgiven in the name of art. Let's see some.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Anonymous,
Leni Riefenstahl, Elia Kazan and I would agree with you.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

I may have porked him, I can't remember everything.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

Oh no. I do remember. I porked Dabs and let Zork nuzzle between the girls. Well, he was boob height, and she was a fabulous cook and artist.

PA is just bitter.

altadenahiker said...

Mein Gott! Well, you make six I know who knew him.

Petrea, another story of how I got up there. Next week.

My word in Dompress. You know who you are.

Cafe Pasadena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cafe Pasadena said...

I sense jealousy among Mh, Pa,...& kB.

Sounds like we still have at least a couple of these old fashioned women around!

altadenahiker said...

You should have kept the original comment CO. Though jealousy I have, it doesn't extend to satyrs (not the short old ones, anyway.)

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

I am in a Bacon rapt quandry of hormones. This too shall pass.

breathe in
breath out

Cafe Pasadena said...

There you go again!

I can't help it (I'm an animal after all). A canine.

Yoga Gal said...

Cool stuff , have to check it out next month when my house sitting at the BU is over. Know how dangerous Altadena is. A friend of mine was jumped in a bar parking lot there, but the joke was on them and he kicked their ass!

Above the City said...

Wow, what a cool little place.

denada said...

Jirayr, Feynan and my father were good friends. I grew up on the ranch and stay in touch with some of his children. He had two families...two wives.

On his 91st birthday , I presented him with a shirt . His great grandson was there, aged 1...fabulous.
Jirayr might have been considered eccentric by normal criteria, but he loved life, sex, women, art, learning, farming....it's just he tried to do too much and he wasn't so strong at 90 as he was at 50.
In the 50's we danced to drums and swam naked in his pool...abit Bohemian...but no drugs...just alot of friends having a good time.

altadenahiker said...

De Nada, I'd love to hear some more stories...

michele Zack said...

I really take issue with your description of the Pasadena/Altadena border area up to Altadena Drive. While there is definitely some crime there, I believe you far overstate the danger. It is more the thoughtless repetition of put downs of this neighborhood that constitutes a sort of cultural crime, in my mind. The serious crimes per 100 people are lower in Altadena than Pasadena, period. Like Pasadena, there are areas that gang activity occurs. To call out one crime that happened more than a year ago as if it is daily fare, is no fair, and the same could be done with any crime any where. It is difficult for the many good and decent people, (yes, lots of them are poor) to overcome all the nasty things people say about where they live. There are many homes, and many little businesses along this thoroughfare that offer honest services, and I do not feel afraid when I go to Catalina, my excellent dressmaker, along this stretch. The new King Ranch Market is a real boon to the area, and you can get terrific vegetables and fruit, as well as the best tacos on earth there (most weekends). Why be so condemning of an area that you probably have not spent much or any time in?

altadenahiker said...

Let me first say I consider discussion, argument, productive. Also, my border wasn't so clear. And I guess that's not really the point.

Thank you for the comments.

I’ve been coming to Altadena since the late 80’s, and save a four-year stint, have lived here for the past 17 years. I’ve lived in northwest, southwest, northeast, south central, and north central Altadena. Fair Oaks has been on my route -- conservatively – 6,000 times, by car, foot, and bus.

Close up to Fair Oaks, I have friends who are wealthy, some middle class, and some who struggle financially.

I’ve shopped, had flat tires, washed my car, walked a horse, bought burgers, bought dresses, and, obviously, shot pictures on Fair Oaks.

To say good people live on or near Fair Oaks is a true statement. Today, I’m glad, really glad to learn about a new business and a learning center.

But to say the stretch of Fair Oaks in question serves -- from an aesthetic, commerce, or safety perspective -- the people who live adjacent to it, how could I? Why would I? My bone of contention is with the neglect that one portion of Fair Oaks has faced versus the whole rest of the avenue going all the way down to So Pas. That's what I'm charting.

Michele Zack said...

Guess I'm a little defensive about this area, because I've been involved in trying to make it better. Actually, I'd like to draw attention to several improvements along this stretch in the past couple of years. First, LA County completely rebuilt Fair Oaks from just south of Woodbury up to Altadena Drive, not just re-surfacing the street, but taking it down to dirt and re-doing it, at the same time putting in new curbs and repouring/ fixing sidewalks. They planned to plant a total of 14 trees (crepe myrtles), which was completely inadequate. With a little prompting and a couple meetings, I got them to instead put in 72 coastal live oaks, almost all of which have survived even though they choked them with protective cement necklaces. Besides the new King Ranch, on the east side of the street from Calaveras north, there is a revamped and not bad burger/chinese/mexican joint, and several cleaned up store fronts with various small businesses. This little block on both sides is prime for small business activity, and there are many buildings that would be really cute if just slightly face-lifted. The new town council rep, Gaurav Malhotra, has made uplifting this section of Fair Oaks his main issue. If only more businesses and people would "take back" this section of Fair Oaks, we could have a wonderful and non-cookie cutter, artsy little commercial district here again.

altadenahiker said...

I've been thinking about that -- how do you promote the area, get some dollars in, without losing that which is worth saving. Getting some of those storefront buildings in shape seems a start. Can't remember who told me (email? discussion?), but some of those buildings are of the same vintage as that great patch on Mariposa near Lake. A matter of getting off that stucco or whatever to reach the real buildings underneath.

Anyway, thanks for pointing me in many directions. As I mentioned to a couple of other people who wanted to see some of the positives, I'll cover that too, once I better understand how things got to be the way they are today, all up and down FO.

michele Zack said...

Convulsive racial change beginning in the mid-1960s, which involved massive white flight, social, educational, and commercial disruption, and subsequent urban decay is the short answer to your question. Although there has been significant economic improvement in the past 10 years (Lincoln Crossing has problems, but is an overall economic plus), big challenges persist, along with persistent stereo-typing of the neighborhood. So many good, and often creative, people have moved to West Altadena in this time. But it is difficult to overcome major infrastructural and other real and perceptual obstacles to transformation.

xargs said...

He was very kind to children, we had numerous school overnights at his ranch, and he loved showing us around and telling stories, he was really wonderful. He had a leopard (or some large cat), all the kids loved seeing it.

Anonymous said...

your so called ie reporting saying altadena foothils area etc gang infested etc etc , is bulll . the only ie real bad people are you , giving foothills false name , info , . i doubt you even ie hike .

Patrizzi Intergarlictica said...

She didn't know Zorthian or Dabney either, and they were two of my favorite people.

I wouldn't be me, or maybe even wouldn't be alive now if it wasn't for their kindness and understanding,

It's all just impression... everyone gets a different one.

Patrizzi Intergarlictica said...

And it's Alan's Birthday today! I've only met him recently.

David Foster said...

I am happy to read your account of how the Zorthian's would carelessly dump trash into the canyons. I can confirm this, my family grew up just to the west of Zorthian's Ranch. You don't have to trust me, anyone can go to the end of Alzada Rd (off Chaney Trail) and hike up that canyon to see the horrible mess for yourself. It's gotten even worse in the past few years. Here is a response I wrote to a recent article on KCET.ORG:

Very mixed feelings here. It is wonderful that this location has such a historied past that is associated in such a positive way with my wonderful hometown of Altadena. But I have a different take on this, my family was neighbors to the Zorthian's in the 60's and early 70's, we lived down the canyon just to the west of them, and actually owned land up into that canyon and alongside their property.

For years we had to put up with refuse being dumped into the canyon, and there were several times when (hopefully deceased) animals had been thrown down into the canyon. There were several incidents where Mr. Zorthian verbally threatened my step-father and other members of my family.

And now when I visit my favorite stomping grounds where I grew up, and hike up this canyon where I have so many wonderful memories, I see what you see in the picture attached here (I have many more). I have been up there in 2009 and again in 2012, and I can tell you that the dumping has gotten worse. If you look at this place from Google Earth you may be confused by what looks more like a dumping grounds than a "Ranch".

David Foster said...

My family was neighbors to the Zorthian's in the 60's and early 70's, we lived down the canyon just to the west of them, and actually owned land up into that canyon and alongside their property.

For years we had to put up with refuse being dumped into the canyon, and there were several times when (hopefully deceased) animals had been thrown down into the canyon. There were several incidents where Mr. Zorthian verbally threatened my step-father and other members of my family.

And now when I visit my favorite stomping grounds where I grew up, and hike up this canyon where I have so many wonderful memories, I see what you see in the picture attached here (I have many more). I have been up there in 2009 and again in 2012, and I can tell you that the dumping has gotten worse. If you look at this place from Google Earth you may be confused by what looks more like a dumping grounds than a "Ranch".

altadenahiker said...

Hi David, thanks for your story. And yeah, I don't know why he's considered such a beloved character around here. Maybe because few people had to live next door.

patrizzi said...

Miss Havisham rather disgustingly graphic in 2009. (shudder)

altadenahiker said...

Wow, I flipped through the comments, and talk about shooting the messenger. My favorite was, "I doubt you even hike."

patrizzi said...

That one was funny.

Anonymous said...

Hi, we used to go to the summer camp at Zorthian Ranch as kids in the early '60's. I have many
and riding all over the hills. We had no idea he was a bohemian, or that Dabney was unhappy in any way. It probably evolved into a more liberal artsy ranch in the 70's. Growing up having grandparents in Pasadena, and Aunt and Uncle in Altadena, we saw the area go downhill in the 70's and then get cleaned up in the 90's. I hope it is back to being a clean and pretty area since then, and I have moved out of state after 50 years there in San Gabriel Valley. Just got squeezed out! Great memories tho.