South Pasadena Side Trip

South Pasadena: 1-2 hours (via Metro Gold Line). The Gold Line gets you there and back (or you may continue home from the Mission Street station).

What you’ll see: The unique shops, antique stores, art galleries and restaurants of South Pasadena’s Mission Street are clustered within just a few blocks of the Mission Street rail station. It all adds up to a “small-town” feel – something of a rarity in a county of over 9 million.  

The Gold Line, at first feared by residents of South Pasadena, is now largely embraced by them – something you’ll witness firsthand when you arrive and depart their in-town station. Patronize the stores, coffee houses and galleries here and be sure to tell them the Gold Line brought you!

This Side Trip is wheelchair accessible. 

How to get there:

  1. Return to the Gold Line Memorial Park station, located on Holly Street at the northern end of Arroyo Parkway, just two blocks up from Colorado Boulevard. 
  2. Enter the station via the “To Los Angeles” ramp. 
  3. If you’ve already purchased a Day Pass (always the practical thing to do) you’re good to go. If not, purchase your ticket from the vending machine. Click here for MTA fare information.
  4. When the train comes (about every 10-15 minutes), hop on board. The front of the train should read “Atlantic Boulevard,” the train’s final destination in East L. A.  
  5. Travel three stops and get off: Del Mar, Fillmore and Mission Street – your destination.
  6. Follow the ramp to the corner at Mission Street – one of South Pasadena’s main routes. Most of the area’s shops and attractions are to the east, up Mission Street towards Fair Oaks Avenue.   

How to get back:

  1. Return to the Gold Line Mission Street Station.
  2. Enter via the left side ramp (“To Sierra Madre Villa” – the train’s destination).
  3. If you don’t have a Day Pass, buy your ticket again at the vending machine.
  4. Reboard when the train comes, traveling three stops to Memorial Park station.
  5. Exit the train and follow the stairs or ramp up to the street.
  6. If you’ve put this Side Trip at the end of your “Pasadena Adventure” tour, there’s no need to return to the Memorial Park station; just continue onward to your origination point.   

The Tour: There’s no “tour” to tour here. Just follow your eyes – and your nose. But there are a few local sights we’ve marked on the map. Try to take them all in.

A) South Pasadena Historical Museum. 913 Meridian St. (right next door to the train station). There aren’t too many of these wooden “Wild West” storefronts left in town. Wrought iron products were made at the Meridian Iron Works (erected circa 1890) but today it’s a museum with artifacts dating from South Pasadena’s original Native American inhabitation up to the last century. South Pasadena’s luxurious Raymond Hotel and the Cawston Ostrich Ranch are long gone but they live on in exhibits within this little museum. Open Saturday 1 -4 pm and Thursday 3-8 pm. “Outdoor Movie Nights” are held during summer weekends, with movies projected on the museum’s side (the white screen you above). To visit the South Pasadena Historical Museum site, click here.

B) Watering Trough. Look for it opposite the South Pasadena Historical Museum on the Meridian Avenue park strip. OK, so it’s not up there with the Eiffel Tower but it does make you pause to ponder the past. Way back in 1906 the Woman’s Improvement Association installed the trough to sate thirsty men and horses as they (the men and the horses) made their way between Pasadena and Los Angeles. The trough was repaired in 1968 and a plaque “errected” [sic] to note the work.

C) Fair Oaks Pharmacy. 1526 Mission Street. (Architect unkown, 1915). Try to make this soda fountain your Side Trip destination. It’s just four long blocks down Mission Street to the corner of Fair Oaks; walk on one side going down, the other coming back. The soda fountain apparatus hails all the way from Joplin, Missouri, likely arriving here via Route 66 (which the pharmacy overlooks). Despite the vintage lunch counter and gift shop section (lots of old-time curious here), this remains very much a working pharmacy. To visit the Fair Oaks Pharmacy site, click here.  

D) Comerica Bank (formerly Security First National Bank of Los Angeles). 824 Fair Oaks Avenue. Confirming the “location, location, location” strategy, this well-placed corner bank also suffered for its prime spot. “Renovation, renovation, renovation” visited the bank and by the 1960s, the 1922 structure had been stuccoed and streamlined beyond recognition. Even its signature corner entrance (seen at right) was history. Most recently occupied by a furniture store, today’s renovation is the result of the Pasadena Cultural Heritage Commission’s push to return the building to its original state, an undertaking that Comerica Bank (though not even owners of the property) chose to help underwrite. The corner entrance, a new clock and most of the building’s original detailing are in fine shape once again.

E) Rialto Theatre. 1023 Fair Oaks Ave. (less than two blocks south from the Fair Oaks Pharmacy). It’s no longer open but maybe someday they’ll find the money to resurrect this theatre. Despite being “haunted,” having one of the worst sound systems and some of the most uncomfortable theatre seats in California, the Rialto was loved. Built in 1925, the Moorish design – there are also traces of Egyptian and Spanish Baroque – is the product of  theatre architect Lewis A. Smith (Academy in Pasadena, El Portal in N. Hollywood, Highland in Highland Park, Olympic in downtown L.A.). Almost leveled for a parking lot in the 1970s, a recent redevelopment project that would have included the theatre’s renovation, has been scrapped. The theatre’s last show was in late 2007: a farewell presentation of the “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” – a movie that played this Rialto for 30 years.

F, G) Churches. If you walk out to Fair Oaks Boulevard, consider returning to the station by way of El Centro Street. Half-way back, at the corner of El Centro and Fremont Street is the Grace United Brethren Church whose façade is done up in an interesting Mission style. Behind that “modern” façade stands the original 1886 church building. Just down Fremont is the Gothic-styled Calvary Presbyterian Church (Marsh, Norman Foote, 1927) whose stained glass installations are the work of Judson Studios of nearby Highland Park. Judson has filled contracts all over the map including the U.S. Capitol, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, L.A.’s Natural History Museum, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, the Diamond Head Mortuary in Honolulu and Caesars Palace and the Tropicana Resort in Las Vegas.      


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