PCC gets to the root of the problem in repairing its mirror pools

Times Staff Writer

Pasadena City College’s dilemma over what to do with its mirror pools has taken an unexpected turn now that the pools have nothing to reflect.

When a tree dropped dead of old age just as graduation ceremonies began last month, the fate of the mirror pools was finally settled.

The rotten tree, next to the pools, split and fell within a few feet of hundreds of visitors and students who had just gathered for the ceremony. The processional was interrupted by an ear-splitting crash.


The near miss, and an inspection that followed, made school officials revise their plans for landscaping the front of the college. Only two days earlier, the Board of Trustees had allocated $300,000 for sealing and resurfacing the two pools and replacing a few nearby trees. But the board remained undecided about how much work would have to be done.

The fallen tree ended that indecision. The entire front of the college facing Colorado Boulevard is being renovated.

“Someone upstairs was looking out for us,” said Bonnie James, assistant superintendent and business manager of the college, who was standing just a few feet away in the processional when the tree fell.

“That tree could not have done that at any other time without hurting someone,” James said. The tree had stood in an area often used by students going from class to class. “It seemed kind of funny later, but not until we knew for sure that nobody had been hurt.”

Since then, more than 20 carob trees--whose roots were the major cause of cracks and leaking that left the mirror pools empty for years--have been removed. Many of them were found to have a rot that is common to old carobs, and the rest were close to the end of their 60-year life expectancy.

College officials learned that they had no choice but to uproot all the offending trees and begin their long-argued plan to resurface and waterproof the pools. The heavy work involved in removing the trees destroyed the asphalt walkways around them, and these, too, are being replaced.


Construction work includes installing a new filter system for the pools, planting carrotwood trees and installing root control barriers and a deep watering system to keep the roots away from the pools.

The board had discussed the project for two years. The problem had festered for at least a decade, but the college never had enough money for beautification projects.

The pools may be the most attractive spot on the crowded campus. They were designed in the early 1930s by famed Pasadena architect Cyril Bennett, who also designed the three PCC buildings that face them, as well as several other local landmarks.

In recent years they have been filled with water only for major events, such as graduations. Then they served their purpose: mirroring the carob trees that shaded them.

The college board rejected other proposals that have been made over the years--to replace the pools with buildings or a parking lot.

“The board had the decision made for it,” said James, who next week will leave Pasadena to take a job with the Los Angeles Unified School District. “The base plan that the board voted for just before the tree fell is still good. Now it just might cost a little more to replace all the trees. But the project has started.”


Uprooting more than 20 trees has left a barren campus, but James sees it a little differently.

“I happen to like openness and space,” he said. “Now you can see the campus, and it has a particular beauty. It’s going to be better with younger, smaller trees. Then there will be something for the pools to mirror.”