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Technicolor Hometown

South Pasadena is much more than the sepia tones of its rich history. Explore its many colors.

Recently, a woman struck up a conversation with me at the . She had come by train from San Diego and was exploring the Mission District. We were both perusing a particularly lush crop of strawberries.

“You know,” she said, “I always heard South Pasadena was like something out of an old sepia photograph but that’s not true at all. It’s much more colorful than that! It reminds me of a Cinemascope movie!”

To be fair, those were some pretty intense, day-glo strawberries. But the woman got me thinking about what it’s like to live here. She’s right, South Pas is often described with words that could have been printed with curlicues on silent movie title cards: words like quaint, and proper and charming. On the surface, our city is known for the muted earth tone palette of Craftsman homes, for old brick buildings, and a sense of history that can, at times, seem encased in amber.

If you pay attention, though, you’ll see that South Pas is much more multihued. You’ll see the vivid, primary colors of childhood as yet another generation raises kids here. You’ll also see the silver heads of many who’ve grown old in this place and still believe it’s the best spot for golden years. You’ll find a rainbow array of artwork displayed in our numerous galleries. Look up and you’ll catch sight of our flock of bright green parrots. Look around and you might find a Monterey Hills peacock showing off a brilliant blue and purple tail. You’ll notice the diversity of our own colors, too -- from politics to . And when it comes to red, white and blue, nothing beats the South Pas 4th of July Parade.

If you explore South Pas, you’ll notice that every neighborhood has at least one house that is painted an unexpected color. There’s a little pink Victorian near , a bright yellow Spanish house near the and a rambling ranch in Monterey hills with plum colored roof tiles and a lawn full of purple daisies.

In fact, if all the cities in the San Gabriel Valley are related, I would say that South Pasadena is the colorful cousin. She may show up at family reunions in a prim, Victorian gown but as she walks up the porch steps you’ll notice her tie-dyed petticoats.

Back at the turn of the twentieth century, visitors to the marveled at the effusion of color from the surrounding flower fields. Snow-capped mountains, bright blue skies and bushels of colorful citrus fruit from nearby orchards gave South Pasadena a reputation for being one of the world’s great colorful wonders.

In those days, there was big talk about chromatotherapy and spectral healing. Some physicians believed the vibrational qualities of different colors could offer remedies for everything from diptheria to depression. Instead of taking the local waters, travelers took in the local colors -- and South Pasadena had a reputation for curing what ailed you.

We could take a lesson from those early visitors to the Raymond Hotel. Like the woman I met at the Farmer’s Market, they noticed South Pasadena’s great big colorful view. We’ve had our own recent long, gray winter, and it’s hard not to focus on the bleak details: a worsening economy, a world in crisis, a news cycle that seems to view things only in harshest black and white. If nothing else, we’ve been saturated with all those orange signs on Fair Oaks, and the layer of cement dust that seems to turn everything into a dusty white. We could use a little of that color therapy. All we have to do is look around.

When I was a little girl, I was taught about the color wheel. You know, the pie chart that breaks down primary colors and shows us how they blend. It fascinated me because I thought it was an actual place, like the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon. I thought I could visit the Color Wheel someday.

As it turns out, maybe I moved there.

“I’m meeting a friend,” the woman at the Farmer’s Market said to me after we bought our fruit. “We’re going to drive down by the Arroyo and watch the sunset.” Although she was standing in the shade, her face was sprinkled with dozens little rainbows cast from a nearby vendor’s crystals.

“It’s a great view,” I said. “It’s very cinematic.”

“I’m not surprised,” the woman said. “I really think this place looks like it should be filmed in Technicolor.”

As she walked toward the setting sun, the sky was beginning to turn shades of pink and gold. This was not an image from a tintype or a faded monochrome portrait. This was a thriving, multicolored scene played out against a backdrop worthy of an old MGM musical. It was our town: in beautiful, living color.

For Laurie Allee’s original photo montage of colorful South Pasadena, with original music by Francesco Lettera , click on the video in the photo box above.

Margaret Finnegan March 30, 2011 at 02:32 PM
Wow! Those are some great photos. What a treat to look at them.
Lee Bothast March 30, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Laurie - What a wonderful review of South Pasadena's visual richness! Having been an architect before, and now spending so much time driving around South Pasadena streets, it's always been great to see South Pasadena's varying colors, textures and layers. I enjoy it everyday, and you've created such a memorable visual synopsis of it. Thank you!
Sallee March 30, 2011 at 09:00 PM
Yes. color IS everywhere, you just have to take time to look, focus, and wallah! Laurie, with your camera and good eye, you do wonders with houses, shops, children, signs, stairways, landscapes, and more, all in your own backyard. The photo montage and music by Francesco Lettera was wonderful I listened to more music on his website, and it sounds like you used "Going to the City of Emeralds", perfect! Thanks. pleasure to hear. I'm pretty sure you picked "Going to the City of Emeralds". I like it.
Ed Larsson March 30, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Just curious, Laurie, what kind of camera do you use? Digital or film print and scan? Do you do any post-shot processing? Your photos always look so good and are well composed and exposed. They make South Pas look absolutely wonderful. Be careful, we don't want to let too many outsiders in on our secrets! Haha.
Laurie Allee March 30, 2011 at 10:46 PM
Thanks, everyone! Ed, I use several cameras, all digital: a Nikon D3100, several Fujifilm point and shoot cameras with full manual settings including one megazoom that is great for on -the-fly shots. (I think the built-in Fujinon lenses are a great secret, plus the Chrome setting is a lot like old Velvia chrome slide film.) I also use my iPhone 4 occasionally, especially with the HDR setting. The only photo editing I do is basic: cropping, color saturation, contrast and an occasional median filter to battle noisy images. I try to keep the philosophy of catching what is real, not manufacturing something else. If I couldn't have done it in a dark room or with actual lens filters, I don't do it with the computer. There are some wonderful Photoshop artists out there, but I'm trying to capture as close to the reality as possible with my work here and on my blog. (All of that was thrown out the window for my recent Hipstamatic/Retro column, however. There, I used all kinds of photo manipulation from iPhone apps to Photoshop!)
Natasha Prime March 31, 2011 at 12:43 AM
Beautiful pictures! Reminds me of why I moved here in the first place.
Dixie Jane Chapman March 31, 2011 at 03:37 PM
Laurie, you took that color wheel and rolled it into something not merely marvelous. The rainbow of colors that is South Pasadena contnues to fascinate and solve all our passion for eye candy. And the music. Oh yes, the music. Perfect! Beautiful copy, beautiful photographs. Thanks for making this a lovely day.
Gretchen March 31, 2011 at 05:00 PM
You have outdone yourself, Laurie. Wow, what a treat, both visually and in prose. I look forward to your columns like looking forward to a great new movie or novel. Thank you for making South Pasadena shine so beautifully through your lens and keyboard.
Judy Williams April 01, 2011 at 12:47 PM
There are so many favorites in the montage that I decided to pick the one of the poplars (?) with the rainbow. The silhouettes pointing up to the heavens with that hint of the prism colors just did it for me. You don't have the ugly brown and gray winters like we do. South Pas is always infused with beautiful nature's colors, no matter what the season. Truly a kaleidoscope that rivals any painter's palette.
Jessica Yee April 01, 2011 at 03:44 PM
What a treat to watch this. It's like seeing my favorite show except much closer to home. Your beautiful presentation reminds me to take a moment and appreciate our wonderful town. Thanks Laurie.
-k- April 08, 2011 at 05:46 AM
And excellent choice of music.
Kathy April 15, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Colorfully FUN!!!!

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