The Pasadena apartment building President Barack Obama lived in between 1980 and 1981 while an undergraduate at Occidental College will be the scene of a commemorative ceremony and honorary plaque unveiling Saturday.
Obama spent two years studying at “Oxy,” from 1979 to 1981, years the College said “played a major role in determining his future.”
During one of those years Obama lived with roommate Hasan Chandoo in an apartment building at 253 E. Glenarm Street, near Blair High School, where he spent his days much the way most college students do — studying, having parties, going out to a local favorite pizza joint and enjoying his roommate’s “volcanically” hot Indian cooking.
Lena Kennedy, local community activist and political consultant, said that earlier this year she and her brother, Pasadena District 3 Councilmember John Kennedy, gave President Obama a letter telling him about the plaque commemoration.
“As a rule, the President would normally take the letter, say ‘thank you’ and give it to his staff person. But in this case, which was was unusual and special, he took the letter, he opened the letter and then read the letter in its entirety and he smiled and laughed and said something like, ‘boy, do I have some memories of being in Pasadena…’,” Kennedy recalled.
Author David Maraniss wrote in his book “Barack Obama: The Making of the Man,” that Obama, during his sophomore year at Occidental College in the early 1980s, moved into the apartment building (reportedly into Unit 3), between Marengo and Los Robles Avenues in the Madison Heights neighborhood of Pasadena.
According to an online forum on Pasadena’s Library website, a “B. Obama” was listed as living at 253 E. Glenarm in the January, 1981 issue of the Los Angeles – Northeastern Area phone book and the name disappeared by the December, 1981 issue.
“In short, Barry, as we knew him, and Hasan (Chandoo), his friend and roommate (who was my boyfriend), had some marvelous parties there,” remembers Margot Mifflin, Occidental College graduate and fellow friend and classmate of Obama, who has written about their college years for The New Yorker.com and The New York Times.
“…some were huge parties where we danced to the Talking Heads, The Clash, and Bob Marley. We also had study sessions at their apartment,” she wrote.
According to Maraniss, Obama occasionally hitched a ride to school in Chandoo’s yellow Fiat 128S when his own car wasn’t running or he couldn’t scrounge up enough gas money.
No evidence has yet been found to suggest that Obama ever stopped by the Allendale Branch Library, although it was just a couple of blocks away.
Reports indicate that Obama enjoyed hanging out with friends in Old Pasadena, and one of his favorite hangouts was Casa Bianca Pizza Pie in Eagle Rock, according to a Facebook post from the Allendale Branch Library.
Pasadena City Councilmember Steve Madison has spoken to Obama about the President’s youthful days in Pasadena.
“In 2008 I was fortunate to meet President Obama (he was Senator Obama then). When I mentioned in that first meeting that I was on the Pasadena City Council, he replied that he loves Pasadena,” recalled District 6 City Councilmember Steve Madison.
“Over the eight years he has been in the White House I have spoken with him on five or six [occasions], and each time we have touched on his time here,” Madson said.
According to Madison, Pasadena Library staff researchers were able to determine the exact location of his Pasadena residence.
“Now, it is appropriate and exciting that the City is recognizing the former residence of the 44th President of the United States in our great city,” Madison said.
Celebrating Obama’s ties to Pasadena goes beyond recognizing a place where he lived — it represents a legacy that the City is forever associated with, for future generations, said Councilmember Kennedy.
“I think the importance of recognizing the place where the President lived when he was a student is symbolic, but it also is something to point to the humanity of the President — meaning he’s a regular person who had good breaks in life and worked very hard to achieve …. He was in fact a part of our community,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy said Pasadena has always had an oversized influence in what happens in the region, in the State and what happens nationally.
“There is something special in the air of Pasadena that grows leaders and I think that’s what we are commemorating,” Kennedy said.
Obama eventually transferred transferred as a junior to Columbia College, Columbia University, in New York in 1981.
“The plaque itself is very simple and has the year when President Obama lived there. There’s text saying it’s a former residence and that the ‘44th President of the United States lived here’. It will be set in public property on the parkway in front of the building,” said City Council District 6 Liaison Takako Suzuki.
The commemoration ceremony will take place on Saturday, December 17 at 11 a.m. at 253 E. Glenarm Street.
If any further information is needed, please contact Takako Suzuki at (626-744-4739) or Pam Thyret at (626-744-4737).