Pasadena's Gold Line Will Travel a History-Laden Route

Times Staff Writer

Oh! you railway station

Oh! you Pullman train!

Here's my reservation

For my destination

Far beyond the western plain.

*

It's odd that Pasadena, with its majestic snowcapped mountains, lavish mansions and fragrant gardens, would have an official song whose opening lines extol its train station.

But Pasadena's official 1923 song, "Home in Pasadena," by Harry Warren, Edgar Leslie and Fred Clarke, evokes the picturesque Santa Fe depot that for nearly 110 years was the scene of welcome arrivals and emotional farewells, and an extravagant stepping-off point for Hollywood stars.

The old depot's next incarnation will include a museum, adjacent to one of the new Metro Rail Gold Line commuter stations. The Gold Line makes its debut July 26; the old station will take a bit longer. Cut into pieces in 2001 and shrouded in bubble wrap, it was moved across the street to Central Park for restoration. It should be back in place by October and open early next year with exhibits of train history, including the old Red Car commuter line; shops and perhaps a restaurant. A new modern station will welcome commuters.

When the venerable Pasadena station opened in 1887, its travelers were wealthy Easterners who "wintered" in the luxury resorts of Pasadena, such as the now-vanished Sierra Madre Villa and the Raymond Hotel.

The next wave of travelers was also rich -- but very different from the society folk whose mansions grace Pasadena. When movies came to Hollywood, stars poured into Los Angeles by way of Pasadena. Such celebrities as Clark Gable, Mae West, Will Rogers, Gary Cooper and Jeanette MacDonald were photographed stepping off trains and into their chauffeur-driven Lincolns, Duesenbergs and Pierce-Arrows.

The new passengers won't be so legendary, but transportation planners hope that they'll be legion. The Gold Line will traverse 14 miles, carrying commuters past hundreds of years of history.

The line will begin at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, where elevated tracks will run to an above-ground station in Chinatown. On the way, the train will pass near the city's oldest settlement, El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park, as well as the 1938 twin-tower postal landmark, Terminal Annex on Alameda Street.

After postal employees moved to a new location in 1989, film cameras rather than mail carts began to roll, turning it into a primary film location. "Dear God," "EZ Streets" and "City of Angels" are among its alumni. The old postal building has so convincingly doubled as a movie hospital that film crews have had to redirect would-be patients to real emergency rooms.

From the Chinatown station, passengers will be able to see the 170-year-old Capitol Milling buildings where, until 1998, wheat was ground into flour for Los Angeles' bakeries. Little Joe's Restaurant below the station has stood vacant for nearly five years; it, too, has been used as a film set.

Leaving Chinatown, the train will pass Cathedral High School, which was built atop the 19th century Old Cavalry Cemetery, which closed in 1910. Then it will cross part of Taylor Yard, a former rail maintenance site also known as "the Cornfield" because of the crops growing there before the railroad's arrival.

It was there, two years ago that a five-foot portion of the Zanja Madre irrigation system was discovered. Believed to have been dug in 1781 when the city was founded, the three-foot-deep ditch carried water from the Los Angeles River to the infant pueblo. In the 1880s, a double-layered brick dome covered the ditch, which remained in use until 1913.

Los Angeles plans to transform half of this weedy, 30-acre field of dreams into ball fields and playgrounds. The state intends to develop the rest into meadows and trails.

Before crossing the newly rebuilt 1910 Buena Vista-Broadway Bridge, the oldest of nine downtown bridges spanning the Los Angeles River, passengers will be able to see the western entrance to Elysian Park. The park was once a Gabrieleno Indian village and the place where Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola's 1769 expedition first camped along the riverbanks. In 1892, it became the home of a massive pigeon farm that supplied squab to downtown restaurants until 1914 floods destroyed it.

Elysian is the ancient Greek word for "paradise," the home of Greece's gods, and legend holds that there is a divine hoard of loot nearby. Frightened residents are said to have stashed gold coins and jewels in the hills, hoping to keep invading American troops from seizing them as Mexicans and Americans fought over California nearly 160 years ago.

As it crosses the bridge, the train will follow the old Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe right of way as it heads toward the Lincoln Heights / Cypress Park Station.

On the east bank of the river stands the historic abandoned Lincoln Heights Jail, the "Gray Bar Motel" that once housed some of Los Angeles' most unscrupulous characters. It was also the scene of the unprovoked beating of seven prisoners on what came to be called "Bloody Christmas" in 1951.

The lockup closed in 1965 and has since been the setting for equally lurid film productions, including "L.A. Confidential," which was inspired by the "Bloody Christmas" incident.

Next stop will be Heritage Square / Arroyo Station at French Avenue and Figueroa Street. French Avenue was named for a nearby landmark, the now-vanished 1886 French School of Theresa B. Henriot. In the 1870s, the French community numbered 2,000 and French was the third most commonly spoken language in Los Angeles.

Less than three minutes later, the train will pause at the Southwest Museum Station on Marmion Way, only a few blocks from where two cable cars carried passengers to the lavish Mt. Washington Hotel 1,000 feet above beginning in 1910. The hotel closed in 1919; now, it's the Self-Realization Fellowship, and the cable car depot is a private residence.

This is the jumping-off spot for three museums of the Arroyo: El Alisal, the stone-and-concrete home hand-built by Charles F. Lummis, a colorful historian and art expert who was, among other things, the first city editor of the Los Angeles Times.

On a hill above his home and garden, he built the Southwest Museum, which houses one of the nation's finest collections of Native American art. The museum's neighboring Casa de Adobe is a reproduction built in the 1920s of an 1850s California hacienda.

The train will cross high above the Pasadena Freeway on the reconstructed Arroyo Seco Bridge before arriving at South Pasadena's Mission Station, near the site of the former Cawston Ostrich Farm. From the moment it opened in 1896, supplying feathers to the millinery trade, the farm drew tourists who gawked at baby chicks and rode full-grown ostriches. The farm closed in 1935.

Mission Station replaces the Santa Fe's old South Pasadena Station, which was just a stone's throw from the Meridian Iron Works. In the 1880s, the iron works was a rollicking general store, with prostitutes hanging out the upstairs windows as trains pulled into town.

A small museum is housed in the 1887 foundry building and near the front door, a stone horse trough stands as a reminder of the days when locals commuted by horseback.

The building and trough are part of South Pasadena's original business district, centered at Mission Street and Meridian Avenue. The area is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Heading into Pasadena, the train will pass Raymond Hill on the right, where the posh Raymond Hotel stood before it burned to the ground in 1895. It reopened in 1901 and flourished until the Depression, when the bank foreclosed. The caretaker's cottage survived and is now the Raymond restaurant.

The train will pull into the new Del Mar Station on the edge of Old Town, where luxury condos, apartments, stores and offices are under construction, and where the historic depot will be moved in October, next door to the new station.

Visible to travelers before the train heads underground -- to the Memorial Park Station, skirting Old Town -- is the historic Green Hotel and its Castle Green annex.

The train will surface at Lake Station in the middle of the Foothill Freeway. From there, it will follow the freeway east to the last three Pasadena stations, ending at Sierra Madre Villa.

The historical turf that the Gold Line traverses is on display in an exhibit called "Next Stop, Pasadena: From Red to Gold," sponsored by the Los Angeles Railroad Heritage Foundation. The display, which ties the eras of the Santa Fe, Red Cars and Gold Line together, is open through November at the Pasadena Museum of History.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Friday August 01, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction Gold Line -- A photo caption with the "L.A. Then and Now" column in the July 13 California section incorrectly said the historic Pasadena train station will reopen as a museum. It will reopen early next year as a restaurant and may include an exhibit of train history. For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday August 03, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction Gold Line -- A photo caption with the "L.A. Then and Now" column in the July 13 California section incorrectly said the historic Pasadena train station will reopen as a museum. It will reopen early next year as a restaurant and may include an exhibition of train history.
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