Tuesday, November 20, 2012

California History – Pasadena’s Millionaires’ Row

Around 1900, Pasadena, California, was a famous winter resort.  The town had more bicycles per capita than anywhere else in the country, most likely because of the wealth of its residents and the pleasant climate.  Railroads whisked vacationers from the East and the Midwest to six large seasonal hotels, where they enjoyed winter sunshine, views of tall mountains, and natural beauty right outside of town.

Orange Grove Boulevard, the starting point of the Rose Parade, was Pasadena’s Millionaires’ Row, the location of between fifty and fifty-five mansions until the 1930s.  Homes on the west side of Orange Grove Avenue, as it was called back then, overlooked a wooded stream valley, the Arroyo Seco.  These homeowners spent the cooler months in Pasadena and left for their other mansions during the hot part of the year.

Some of these homeowners’ names are familiar from the products they or their family manufactured that were the source of their fortunes. Three homes that still stand are the Bissell House (carpet sweepers), the Wrigley Mansion (chewing gum), and the Gamble House (Procter & Gamble soaps).  The Bissell house is now a bed & breakfast.  The Wrigley Mansion, pictured here, is the headquarters of the Tournament of Roses, which presents the Rose Parade. 

Wrigley Mansion

The Gamble House is an architectural treasure that is open to the public.  This National Historic Landmark, designed in 1908, could not be more different than the Victorian architecture of a decade before.  This is about simplicity, blending with natural surroundings, and bringing the outdoors in. 

The Gamble House (photo by Pam Tartaglio)

It was designed by brothers Charles and Henry Greene, who also designed almost all the light fixtures and furniture.   The style is Asian-influenced American Arts and Crafts.  The craftsmanship is amazing – the manner in which the wood is joined and fastened is the decoration in the home.  Here’s a link to a photo of a staircase.  Screws are covered by “pegs.”

This stairway is just inside the front door and panels, which has art glass in the design of a tree. 


“Past and Present with Pamela” is a blog celebrating the arts, history, and places, focusing on the late 1800s and the early 1900s.  In a brief departure from this era, Pamela is now posting her vacation photos of Rome on her blog.  Pamela Tartaglio, as 2013 Past President of Women Writing the West, chairs its 2013 WILLA Literary Awards.  She is writing a novel set in the 1890s in “the world’s greatest gold camp,” Cripple Creek, Colorado, and volunteers at the Pasadena Museum of History.  To read a very short story set in the present and published in the e-zine, see


bluejayln said...

My old stomping grounds! My Mom's family moved to Pasadena in 1924. At one time they lived in a house on Orange Grove Blvd. When I was born they lived on Lake Ave. Just up from Walnut and the main Fire station. It was a big two story house with my grandparents mom and me! Lived there until I was 3. The last time I was there it was a Pay Less Shoe store. No idea what it might be now. Those old houses were wonderful! Shame they tore them down. I have been in the Wrigley mansion. My husband drove a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade for 10 years. Thanks for bringing back those great memories!

Anonymous said...

Sorry your childhood home is gone. Big old houses are still on the side streets of Pasadena, some of them Arts and Crafts homes and even offices.

There are many smaller, cozy Arts and Crafts homes, called bungalows. The Gamble House is called "The Ultimate Bungalow." It was a joy to go inside it again so I could write this post. The men on the tour loved the house and the furniture -- the construction shows and it is incredible.

Did you see my other post on this blog about the Pasadena millionaires of this era and impressionist painters? It's October 30, 2012 and called California History: Nature Preserved in Art.

The Wrigley Mansion is open these days and I'll have to go inside. Never been. Thanks for the nudge, Blue Jay. Glad you have warm memories of Pasadena.

Cher said...

Do you happen to know if the Charles Knight mansion is still standing?

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