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.