Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fair Oaks Avenue: Going South

(Note: This is part of a continuing attempt to chart what was once the major artery through the heart of the three Denas. Earlier installments here and here)

In our last episode, we stood at the war torn boundary that separates Southwest Altadena from Northwest Pasadena.

Now we cross the Woodbury divide, and, at this juncture, see little difference between Altadena and Pasadena. Failed markets, junk stores, churches. If empty lots can also fail, they do it here. There’s a deserted, dilapidated cottage courtyard that someone, for some reason, wants to keep. Nostalgia? Lawyers? Penance? The sign intrigues – Who are these mysterious people constantly pestering the owner, desperate to get their mitts on a handful of dry rot?

Several gangs have spilt blood in this general vicinity. The Denver Squiggly Road, for one. Some gang names sound almost fanciful, like the title of a Children’s story. Chilling, in a Chucky kind of way. Most of these gangs are offspring of the Crips, Bloods, Pasa Rifa, and a few other notables.

Shootings can take place at noon or midnight, doesn’t seem to matter. And right through the middle of the battleground you’ll see babies pushing carriages that have other, littler, babies inside. That’s a hell of a ticket to pull in this lottery.

Continuing south, the next stretch of Fair Oaks provides every service needed to usher you, inexpensively, out of this mortal coil. A community health clinic, convalescent homes (“We Love You At Any Age”), funeral homes, a notary public. Plan your exit properly, soup to nuts, you won’t even have to cross the street.

Smack dab in the middle of this is a brand new housing development that I believe Pasadena government points to with pride. The construction is impressive, to this untrained eye anyway, but it shines an even brighter light on misery. Like a party hat at a funeral.

When walking the three or four miles from Woodbury to the 210 freeway, Fair Oaks seems to be a half-forgotten project, one that’s picked up with a sudden flush of enthusiasm now and then, and dropped when the work proves too much. More work than is possible, more work, anyway, than mere carpentry can solve. You can find a couple of promises that were kept, but you'll find many that were broken, and more still that were never made.

Back in the day, the 1920’s day, this part of Fair Oaks housed some prosperous craftsmen. It was also part of the electric car line that would ferry millionaires up to their summer mansions on Mariposa Street in Altadena. For its current state, most long-time residents blame the construction of the 210 Freeway and eminent domain.

They may be right. Today, if it tried, the 210 freeway couldn’t seem more like the Berlin Wall, a hunk of cement separating poverty from prosperity.

Next visit, next year: Over the wall.


  1. Wow, what an interesting read on the area. I like the photographs as well. The second-to-last of the sofa was most interesting to me.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a walk...I've not seen this fuzzy line, or not so fuzzy, between the cities. But I guess that's not so surprising.

    Great photos Karin.

  3. I'm thinking if there is a new artery opened to go through the 3 Ten, uh 3 Denas? Part of my brain has already gone to bed.

    But, Xxcellent history. I'm especially impressed by your gang knowledge. People! This is tempting me to get back into my own historical mode - either next month or next year.

    I try to tell the people it's not all blue skies, sunny, seasonless, and happy faces around here. Yet, they still come & come. I just came from hearing a sad financial story, just around the corner. And, as another friend said to me recently, "It's scary right now!"

    My compliments to The Hiker.
    A road of good intentions with intersections of many bad crashes.

  4. Entertaining as always, with helpful tips into the bargain.

    The key point I've taken away is, stay off this stretch of Fair Oaks at noon and midnight.

    See Karin, I did't just look at the pictures :)

  5. This is very insightful, and the memory of the 210 as Pasadena's own Berlin Wall just won't leave my brain! Were there any protests at the time it was being built? It must have been a major community-shattering (and dividing) event.

  6. I get the feeling Altadena is a small town?? But this doesn't feel small town, more like urban decay. Very somber and sobering.

  7. You know what I think. I think this is fiery-fantastic stuff. I think this is where your book is.

  8. Thank you for the input, and thanks to Jennifer, I didn't ditch the sofa picture.

    Petrea and I did some research this past summer, to what end we weren't sure, but just knew every mile of Fair Oaks held stories.

    I'm picking up the thread again, but the thread is all tangled. I just know, though, when I start to untie some knots, I should start at the freeway.

  9. Is the NSP SSP rivalry still going? I remember the Bloods mischief always around growing up in NW Pasadena.

    Do miss the occasional paleta & elote(steamed corn on stick slathered w/ mayo & drenched w/ parmesean queso & chile powder) from vendors.

    Remember as kid walking through Fair Oaks area on Orange Grove to Lincoln to Burkard Nursery ( )& seeing the big white church being prepared on blocks to its final move to 110 freeway amongst the Victorian homes - .

    Hope the Fair Oaks area near Orange Grove is improved w/ Starbucks & grocery store & future projects developing.

  10. "to this untrained eye anyway, ... it shines an even brighter light on misery. Like a party hat at a funeral."

    Wow. Make sure you put that in your book, KB.

  11. Good one KB. What a gift you have.

    All seriousness aside, that sofa has possibilities if it were upholstered in a really great fabric!

    PS Be careful. I almost bought the farm on a deserted street trying to get a photo of some girders one day.
    I must have had a Wayne Moment! Anyway a guy (a titch crazy) walked up to me asking for money. I got lucky that day.

  12. I did some research but at the heart it's your project. It compels you so.

    In my research I came across refernce to a study done by PCC students (shouldn't be hard to find--I think it was quoted in M. Zack's Altadena book). They interviewed residents of the neighborhood David S. talks about. The people didn't want to move and they were not treated honestly.

    The church is safe at Heritage Square (they're still fundraising to do the rehab). But most of the homes are gone. Drive south on Lincoln past the post office until you come to the end at the freeway, behind Smart & Final. You pass pretty, old homes there. Once there was a whole neighborhood of those, populated by friends and family who were scattered into public housing.

  13. Beautiful expose (picture the little accent over the "e"). It's sad to see areas and the people that inhabit them in such sad states of disrepair. Life does go on though, doesn't it?

    We've had an upsurge of lethal gangs in my city. Except in this town, the members live in the most affluent areas. A powerful draw for membership, I would imagine.

  14. Yep, Altadena is a small town, and along with Pasadena has a history of racially restricted housing--I think Michelle tackles that in her book, but I forget--

  15. David S, can you email me when you get the chance? I'm collecting personal stories and would love to hear what it is you remember.

  16. As Cafe Pasadena suggested, my mind's picture of California tends to be sunny, beautiful, and drenched in wealth. These images, and the story you tell, are a welcome peek at other California lives for an outsider. What interesting places borders can be. Thanks for the tour!

  17. Michele Zack does tackle the subject, Desiree. It's one of the most fascinating chapters in the book. I haven't read her new one about Sierra Madre, but I read her Altadena one (Altadenahiker's copy, by the way).

  18. Not quite the same thing. What the 210 freeway did to adjacent neighborhoods is pretty complex. The houses that were seized via eminent domain belonged, for the most part, to middle class folks of all races, but primarily white and black. They had the financial wherewithall to leave the area, sad as that must have been.

    The adjacent neighborhoods had it almost worse, as they had to live next to bulldozed streets, vacant houses, dying trees, grass, etc., Many of these people chose to leave as well, if they could, if they could even find a buyer. And lovely houses started selling for next to nothing.

    That's as far as I got in the Pasadena Lib. clippings today.

  19. what a bizarre and wonderful tour. California bungalows! "Pre need" funeral arrangements, such a cheery sign. Then that couch. it's the end of the world and I feel fine

  20. My grandfather lost his house at Allen

  21. Not fairing well on Fair Oaks.
    Awakining reportage there.
    I always loved that WAS Pasadena to me... I guess that was further south?

  22. My grandparents were moved when the 210 went in. Northward, if I recall. But Gramps hated the freeway and how it divided 'his' city. Thanks for the excellent reading!

  23. Enjoyed this post very much and it has stirred me to thinking about the freeway and the little bits I know about Fair Oaks. I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

  24. Thank you for the comments.

    Brenda and PA, got anything you remember that you can write down? Any pictures that your grandfathers took? That would be incredible.

    Michael, stir away and let me know what you recall.

  25. Finally decided to stop lurking and comment. 1. I love the way you write. 2. The city where I used to live badly neglected a vulnerable area they wanted for a new bridge. It made it easier to acquire the land and get rid of the residents. I wonder if anything like that happened here?

  26. Janet, that's brilliant. Think about it, Karin, or at least put it on your back burner.

  27. Can’t tell if I’ve been visiting exactly any of these places, but will look forward....

  28. Excellent post. You should consider also what's happening north of this area, particularly right below Mariposa. They are some new business here and some revitalization that's happening in this immediate area that is very much worth noting including businesses such as Neighbors Empowering ( Youth which is having an open house today, Grueter Construction ( and several others. It would be worthile to see some of the more positive sides of Fair Oaks Ave. as well.

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  30. Great story and look at "some other town." Can't wait for the book to come out!

    By Susan Werner

    Some other town
    Some other place
    Some other eyes
    Some other face
    Some other tribe
    Some other race
    Lives in some other town

    They shoot their drugs
    They shoot their friends
    And who's to blame
    It all depends
    There is a tear nobody mends
    Down in some other town

    In some other town
    Somebody's boy
    Is learning a dangerous trade
    In some other town
    Somebody's girl
    Is joining the red-light parade

    We contemplate
    The business day
    We throw the Sunday Times away
    The cleaning ladies take their pay
    Back to some other town

    They take their cheque
    They stand in line
    Play every week
    Lose every time
    We call it fair
    It could be crime
    But that's some other town

    In some other town
    Somebody's boy
    Has mastered his dangerous trade
    In some other town
    Somebody's girl
    Is leading the red-light parade

    My heart is left
    My head is right
    My uniform
    Suburban white
    And I'll be driving home tonight
    Over some other town
    Around some other town
    Right by some other town

  31. I seem to have missed a couple of things the times I have visited California; the sofa not the least ...

    PS Thank you for the compliment ;-)

  32. Wow. That was some post...

    And Mr Earl: That was some poem.

    Hiker: I clicked on one of your links and found your writing about Zorthian. Add me to the list of those who knew him (though not very well). We both taught Life Drawing and taught at the same place on more than one occasion. He always invited me, us, to come to the Ranch.
    As for the naked ladies and guys: Life Drawing models. I know them well.

  33. I didn't know there were 3 denas. Hard to see this third looking so bereft.

  34. Be careful Shanna, I can fly....

  35. I owe you a weather-report; it’s -15 and awful here, the only solution is a nice fireplace and lot of woods that gives +20.....nice!

  36. Thank you for the links Ibarionex. And I will. I will come to that.

  37. Interesting to read about the divide of Pasadena when the 210 went in...I don't really remember when it went in...I drive it regularly and don't think much about it...and then there's the So Pasadena fight over the extension of the 710 which I am very well aware of ...AH, your writing put it all in beautiful perspective...Pasadena is much bigger than So Pas, the 710 extension would devastate the area... and destroy some magnificent early California homes...

  38. Interesting. The real life, the real cruelty of these times.

  39. This is heartbreaking. Great work, Karin. I am always amazed that abject poverty can exist so close to burgeoning wealth. I remember when I lived in Venice how strange it was to hear gunshots and see boarded windows and then walk a few blocks and be standing in front of a multimillion dollar Santa MOnica mansion.

  40. "We love you at any age" sounds like a great advertising hoarding for a pensioners' bordello.