Five Fascinating Stories About Pasadena You Probably Didn't Know

Let's prep for Pasadena's 132nd birthday this weekend with a dose of fun factoids, shall we?

Published : Wednesday, May 30, 2018 | 7:18 PM

It’s no secret that Pasadena has a storied history of space-age wonders, cinematic backdrops, and beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods, but what about the quirkier aspects that often go unheeded in a city which turns 132 years old this weekend?

Archivist Anuja Navarre of the Pasadena Museum of History took out time preparing for this Sunday’s open-to-the-public city birthday party to fish up a few corkers for the Museum’s files.

“This is indeed a city with a great sense of humor and ability to laugh, while at the same time the home of Caltech — an institution that has given 40 Nobel laureates to the world,” says Pasadena Museum of History Archivist Anuja Navarre.

So let’s take a look a few fun factoids from the Museum’s files:

Flurry of Flying Saucer Sightings in Oak Park

In 1956, news clippings show that the Pasadena Police Department received calls from local residents who reported a flurry of flying saucer sightings in the area near Oak Park.

Not surprisingly, it would turn out the residents mistakenly took a Caltech/JPL experimental helicopter for an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO).

News of the futuristic helicopter sighting came to light when scientists alerted the media prior to sending the aircraft up again for tests a few weeks later as not to freak anyone out about an alien invasion.

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Lloyd’s of London, Which Claims to Insure Anything, Refused to Sell a Policy to the Tournament of Roses to Cover Bad Weather

Another quirky footnote in Pasadena history was when the world’s largest insurer, which took a chance on almost anything, did not take a chance on rain during the 1918 Rose Parade.

Specializing in unusual risks, Lloyd’s of London has written some odd policies over the years. It was the first to insure body parts of celebrities. Flamenco dancer Jose Greco took out an insurance policy through Lloyd’s against his pants splitting during a performance. It’s the company that insured the Titanic!

However, for reasons that remain unknown, Lloyd’s backed out of providing services to their prominent West Coast client, the Tournament of Roses Association, due to possibility of a wet forecast.

New Year’s Day 1918 proved to bring the largest spectator crowd in parade history — 50,000 – and beautiful 86-degree weather.

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Pasadena’s First Newspaper Was “The Reservoir” and It Wasn’t Printed

Pasadena’s first known newspaper was published on Dec. 28, 1876, by the earliest settlers who aimed to provide a witty outlet sprinkled with humor during a time when residents were busy with arduous tasks of creating a viable agricultural community.

According to the Pasadena Museum of History, this hand-written paper was read aloud before the literary society in the new shanty school house on Orange Grove and California boulevards.

Because of its success, subsequent issues were hand-copied and distributed throughout the colony.

Norton Simon Museum Site Was Once a Cultural Colony With Shrubs Planted by John Muir

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Long before the Norton Simon Museum made its home on the property near the corner of Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards in 1975, a horticulture school for women was at the original site and served as a magnet for prominent intellectuals during the late 19th century.

Dr. Jeanne Carr, a physician and career educator who had been a professor of agriculture, founded Carmelita Gardens and set the standard for refined Pasadena landscaping in that era, such as using hedges instead of fences and planting flowering shrubs and trees from all over the world.

Carmelita Gardens featured a cultural colony on the property where John Muir, as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Helen Hunt Jackson, Theodore Lukens, Helena Modjeska and other notables stayed for extended periods of time.

Some shrubs were planted by the Scottish-born Muir himself, who was a former student of Carr’s at the University of Wisconsin from 1860 to 1863.

Without her mentorship, who knows whether he would have founded the Sierra Club or convinced the federal government to adopt a wildland conservation policy? Their friendship lasted a lifetime.

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Pasadena Star-News and Radio

For a brief time in 1925, the Pasadena Star-News broadcast reports over the air from its very own radio studios, and its roof hosted a towering radio antenna — which endured through most of the century — servicing its own 1,000-watt radio station, KPSN.

At that time, only three other local stations were available in the area: KNX, KFI, and KHJ.

While it was dabbling with transmitting news over the airwaves, Pasadena Star-News was also a self-sufficient media publication, at the time equipped with a sextuple straight-line Goss press that was 58 feet long, 11 feet high and weighed 142 tons.

The press was capable of printing and folding a 96-page paper in one operation, and had a maximum speed of 160,000 12-page sections an hour.

A 96-page paper? My how times have changed.

The City of Pasadena 123rd Birthday Celebration will be held Sunday, June 3, from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. (and yes, there will be lots of delicious cake). It will be at the Pasadena Museum of History, 470 W. Walnut Street, Pasadena. For more information, call (626) 577-1660.










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