“My City” Looks Back at History to Guide the Way Forward to Pasadena’s Future

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By ANDY VITALICIO

5:38 am | May 10, 2017


Passionate Pasadenans with a common desire to stay involved in how the city evolves gathered last Sunday at a private home and listened to local architect and urbanist David Robert Wolf as he told the story of how generations of residents have kept the spirit of “City Beautiful” alive for over a century here in the City of Roses.

Wolf, who grew up in a home in the shadow of the Colorado Street Bridge, has dedicated much personal effort to keeping Pasadenans reminded about the efforts of early residents in shaping what Pasadena was, is and will be in the future.

Wolf was inspired to use his talents and resources to produce a grand project he calls “My City,” now made into a book and a multi-media website that follows the history of the “City Beautiful” movement – from the time that Abbott Kinney came to Pasadena and proposed to create the Pasadena Library and Village Improvement Society, to the time when electrical engineer George A. Damon arrived from Chicago and helped organize the origins of “City Beautiful.”


As the demand for tickets to the Centennial Brunch was so great that the event sold out, The “My City” Project will offer another brunch that will include an introductory orientation on Saturday, June 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will also be a series of meetings with affinity groups in order to continue the conversation, explore the potential of revitalizing “My City” and answer the questions: “Are we going to do this?” as well as “Is this something Pasadena wants?” and “Is there interest among different groups to make this a go?” Anyone interested in either the Centennial Brunch or the smaller affinity group meetings should contact The “My City” Project at info@pasadenapassages.org.


One of the most significant events in Damon’s time was an exhibit in 1916 that gathered about 5,000 people who agreed on a vision to create Pasadena from a bottom-up approach, creating a master plan that would last for generations.

After his presentation Sunday, Wolf said he’s excited that so many residents agree that the same kind of community planning effort as was seen locally in days gone should once again take precedence over government agencies dictating how the City should evolve.

“We had a wonderful centennial brunch celebrating the ‘City Beautiful’ movement and we were sold out,” Wolf said. “There were people who were talking about the potential of funding forward. David Czamanske of the Sierra Club is excited it as it applies to the Arroyo Seco and it [is] a vehicle for building momentum for a common vision and ultimately getting funding to accomplish the ambitions of restoring the Arroyo Seco.”

He’s also excited that there is now a lot of activity focused on funding the movement.

“Someone was talking about the National Forest Service targeting corporate funding,” Wolf said.

Wolf’s presentation included some forgotten chapters of Pasadena’s model city origins, and encourages Pasadenans to “claim their civic inheritance” and continue to be “stewards” of community-based planning — in the same way the City’s early residents organized themselves.

Award-winning Pasadena writer and historian Michele Zack said that with the “My City” project, Wolf “is trying to ignite a kind of citizen-led movement.”

“He is telling the story of a mechanism by which citizens can take part in the planning process,” Zack said. “He’s trying to see if it’s possible to re-ignite that kind of civic truth again like the residents of Pasadena of old did 100 years ago when they started the ‘City Beautiful’ movement.”

Wolf has recreated in his home essentially a mini-version of the original 1916 “City Beautiful’ exhibit as an homage to his original inspiration.

Zack said it would be for Pasadena’s benefit if people are always reminded that the people who inspires Wolf, including the engineer George Damon, looked far into the future because they cared about their community.

“There was such civic engagement at that time, and he (Damon) was able to harness that and use it to Pasadena’s benefit and looking forward and planning what sort of a city they want it to be,” Zack said.

Other people who were at Sunday’s event were convinced those plans made a century ago are as relevant to Pasadena’s evolution as a City as they were then.

“We got into talking about how we could make use of the information from history today with updated technology and stuff,” says Sylvia Holmes, a local permaculture landscape designer who also volunteers for Transition Pasadena. “It was pretty exciting to think that we could do a better job now as the people who started Pasadena did when they chose to make the Civic Center-Library-City Hall combination.”

“My City” is available in both black and white and color printed form, and is also available as a free digital edition on www.mycity.is.