Part 2: Planning your trip to DCI — Pasadena: Midwestern roots and free treasures

by Christine T. Hoeffner, DCW staff

This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 35, Number 18).

Pasadena rests elegantly atop the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just 7 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The origins of this “Crown of the Valley” are distinctively Midwestern and it offers ample treasures for drum corps fans to enjoy next August for free.

They say it all began because of an exceptionally bitter winter in 1872-73. A group of neighbors gathered at the Indianapolis home of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Elliott to discuss relocating to an area with milder weather. Over 100 families ultimately created a group, from which Mrs. Elliott’s brother traveled to California to find a suitable new location, purchasing almost 4000 acres of land near Los Angeles.

It became known as the “Indiana Colony” and initially developed as an agricultural community, with orange and olive groves, and vineyards. It was also promoted as a fashionable winter resort and a cure for respiratory ailments.

By 1886, the rail connection between Los Angeles and Pasadena was completed and weather-weary Midwesterners and Easterners flocked to the area. Pasadena was incorporated the same year, with the Indiana Colony forming a central portion of the new city.

Its population surged and large hotels on the scale of Atlantic City and Miami soon were in abundance at this winter retreat.

Retired Chicago businessman Amos Throop was one of the new residents seeking the warmer climes of Pasadena. He had been the treasurer of Chicago during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and was instrumental in obtaining financing to rebuild the Windy City.

Despite his retirement, he was not ready for the rest home. In 1889, he became the mayor of the young Pasadena and, by 1891, Throop founded the first college in Pasadena, Throop University — later to become the California Institute of Technology — where the spirits of Einstein and Millikan can still be felt today. Caltech’s campus welcomes you to stroll in the footprints of these giants.

According to legend, by 1900, 15 millionaires lived on Orange Grove Boulevard as the city attracted an increasing number of permanent residents. Of course they all wanted mansions in the latest Eastern styles.

This history created a wealth of architectural treasures, free for the viewing today by easy walks around the city. The brochure, “Ten Tours of Pasadena,” describes easy, self-guided walking tours of Pasadena’s different areas, from downtown and the civic center to local colleges and sleepy residential areas. It is available at the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau (right across the street from DCI’s headquarters at the Hilton Hotel) or on-line at

Among the wealthy residents of Orange Grove Boulevard were William and Ada Wrigley, who came to Pasadena for a winter retreat from the Chicago headquarters of their chewing gum empire. The Wrigleys’ Italian Renaissance-style home, now the headquarters for the Tournament of Roses Association, includes beautiful gardens on both sides that are open to the public. (Walking tour 5).

The home can also be toured, but only by advance reservation (phone 626-449-4100.)

By 1919, the Wrigleys had also purchased controlling interest in Santa Catalina Island, where they built another home and rebuilt Avalon which had suffered a devastating fire. Wrigley also held a controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs and began bringing his beloved Cubs to Catalina for spring training in 1921, which continued until the 1950s.

In later years, Wrigley’s son, Philip, donated 86% of the island to a Conservancy to preserve it for future generations as a nature sanctuary. If you have the time, take the short boat ride from San Pedro or Long Beach and enjoy a day on the island.

Back to Pasadena. By 1923, the people of Pasadena decided they wanted a   proper civic center. The plan for the center was commissioned from the Chicago firm of Bennett, Parsons and Frost (Edward Bennett helped Daniel Burnham create the 1909 Plan of Chicago, and designed Grant Park and the Buckingham Fountain, among other works).

Walking tour 6 guides you through the civic center and its central jewel, City Hall. Sometimes called a “wedding cake,” it is a stunning example of California Mediterranean-style architecture, with a central dome and four smaller domes. City Hall is currently under restoration, including a seismic retrofit (strengthening to withstand most earthquakes), but is scheduled to reopen next summer, hopefully by DCI’s Championship week.

Across the street from City Hall is the Robinson Memorial, enormous bronze head sculptures of brothers Jackie and Mack Robinson, historic sports heroes from Pasadena.   In the same area is the beautiful public library (pictured bottom right).

By the 1930s, the California Institute of Technology established the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the furthest northern edge of town, past the Rose Bowl, to get its wild rocket men into a safer location for their risky experiments.

Today, JPL is managed by Caltech as a research and development facility for NASA’s unmanned space missions and the robotic exploration of space, including the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission.

Tours of JPL’s 177-acre facility are free, including the Deep Space Operations Center and testing laboratories, but it may take weeks or even months to get tour reservations, so call well in advance (phone 818-354-9314).

Pasadena’s historic treasures also include homes by Greene and Greene, Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra, among others (Walking tours 2, 3, 4, 8). Many homes were built from 1900-1940, a period dominated by the Arts and Crafts movement. Pasadena hosts one of the finest and largest collections of Craftsman architecture, characterized by visual use of building materials such as exposed beams and river rock foundations and chimneys.

While Eastern architects were known to sniff at the small Craftsman bungalows as glorified cottages, these modest homes offered the average citizen attractive yet affordable housing and they are still popular and treasured today in Pasadena (Walking tour 9).

A bustling area of Pasadena is its National Register Historic District known as Old Pasadena, which shows off building facades from 1900-1928. The main portion along Colorado Boulevard offers a delightful opportunity for exploring interesting old brick alleyways, people watching, window shopping and enjoying gastronomical delights.

If you are saving your strength for a long drum corps competition, hop on the Pasadena “ARTS” bus, number 10, which runs down Colorado Boulevard, and for 50 cents (25 cents for seniors and children), you can ride its full circuit — through Old Pasadena, past colleges and through residential areas — and get an overview of the central part of the city. The ARTS bus   system offers nine routes through Pasadena and is an easy and inexpensive way to save your legs while viewing different areas of the city.

One of Pasadena’s most stunning landmarks, the majestic Colorado Street Bridge (pictured at the top of the page), arches gracefully across the Arroyo Seco (“dry stream”) Park. The “stream” running through the Park starts in the mountains of the Angeles National Forest and eventually joins the Los Angeles River and flows to the ocean.

A popular park entry point is at the “Lower Arroyo,” just south of the bridge. A word of full disclosure: California has functional but unattractive concrete channels for some of its rivers which are dry most of the year and can quickly become raging torrents during winter rains. Look past the concrete ditch running through the park and enjoy the beautiful trees, homes and views of the bridge.

Today, Pasadena is still best known for its annual New Year’s “Tournament of Roses Parade,” televised in over 100 countries and viewed by over 400 million people. With the largest viewing audience of any parade worldwide, you’ve all seen Pasadena on TV. Now you can see it first-hand.

And when DCI moves to Indianapolis in 2008, we can all pay homage to the city whose residents played a central role in founding Pasadena.

Next time, the museums, gardens, and famous flea markets.