From Roses to Redevelopment
Pasadena: An Experiment in Time Travel
– Rosemary Comella, Creative Director/Designer
If the old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" holds true, then perhaps two pictures of the same place taken decades apart are worth exponentially more, for they offer us insights into a community's development in a particularly visual way. The exhibition phase of Cultivating Pasadena explored this premise, dramatizing the city's development from the end of the 19th Century to the present. The exhibition and its components functioned as an interactive time machine not only featuring "then and now" photographs but also presenting historians, experts and "aficionados" including Claire Bogaard, Lee Silver, Kevin Starr, Karen Stokes and Robert Winter speaking on topics ranging from architecture, freeways and geography to culture, race and community. This material was exhibited at The Pasadena Museum of California Art through a transmedia network that included a large screen interactive projection, printed catalog and 25 pairs of "before and after" photographs. The excerpt displayed here, as part of Vectors, is a sample of an extensive DVD-ROM produced in conjunction with the exhibition. Currently, the Labyrinth Project and the Pasadena Museum of California Art are proposing a second phase for the project that will expand its interactive potential and degree of community participation. This second phase, Cultivating Pasadena II: From Personal Stories to Homegrown History, will be built around the community's contributions and responses to the city as it is and the city as it was--personal histories and collections entwined with a collective past. Residents, preservationists, enthusiasts and schools, among others, will be invited to collect oral histories, photographs, home movies, and memorabilia for another exhibition and website.
The following is a description of the production of Cultivating Pasadena: From Roses to Redevelopment
Cultivating Pasadena stems from an earlier digital project, entitled Bleeding Through Layers of Los Angeles, 1920-1986, that simultaneously investigates the history of downtown Los Angeles and the nature of storytelling itself.1 While both projects involve rephotography, Cultivating Pasadena relies more heavily on this practice as a way of chronicling the evolving urban landscape. In the course of showing Bleeding Through to audiences, my co-creators and I noted that the digital cross-dissolves between vintage archival photographs and contemporary color views of the same urban scene elicited particular pleasure. This project is, in part, a response to that reaction and further inquiry into its cause.
What is the source of this pleasure? Perhaps it is because in one visual moment we solve one mystery as another is uncovered. Now that we know what the site looked like from one point in time to another, are we then compelled to imagine how and why a site has changed so drastically or so little? What are the forces that transform a site from rural to urban, from well-tended and occupied to neglected and abandoned, from Victorian to modern? And what are the forces that keep something preserved?
As one of the photographers on the Bleeding Through project, I began to think of rephotography as a form of time travel linking one point in time to another. It is also a form of time-lapse photography, demonstrating the passage of time while remaining in the same place, revealing cultural and physical changes that we may otherwise never see. More profoundly it demonstrates the existential nature of space and time - the disappearance of memory, the impermeability of things.
Selecting the images to be rephotographed can be a challenging undertaking, particularly when trying to encapsulate the major characteristics of how a place developed over time. When I first browsed the on-line collection of the Automobile Club of Southern California looking for archival images of downtown Los Angeles for Bleeding Through, I was struck by how such mundane intentions, the documentation of road safety or traffic conditions, had often resulted in capturing something sublime. While a pristine Ansel Adams photograph of the moon over Half Dome demands that we view it in a particularly romantic way, the Automobile Club images had a refreshing unselfconsciousness. They provided a seemingly unadulterated look into the past that caught the unposed, the spontaneous, the inconsequential details that lend authenticity to a scene. In rephotographing Pasadena, we again returned to the collection of the Automobile Club (now our collaborators), looking for such representations of the city's past.
This search proved more difficult than our team (Matt Roth and Morgan Yates of the Automobile Club and Marsha Kinder, Karen Voss and myself of the Annenberg Center) had first imagined. Now, rather than simply looking for something intangible that expressed the feel of the street, we needed a broad range of images that would chronicle Pasadena's unique development. While the Automobile Club's collection is stunning in its quality, its focus on transportation and planning necessitated that we explore additional archives - such as those belonging to USC, the Pasadena Museum of History, the Los Angeles Public Library, Caltech, and finally the California State Library - in order to represent other themes. As the prints were to be exhibited, we looked for archival photographs that contained fine detail and a wide tonal range. In some cases, however, this technical prerequisite was overridden by the desire to retain images that contained significant traces of the past - early prints so many generations removed from their original negative that they simultaneously preserve and erase the past. Although the selection process was methodical, a number of factors made it somewhat arbitrary - which archives we were able to access, how much time and money we had, the limitation on the number of prints to be exhibited and last but not least our personal aesthetic preferences. Thus the final selection of twenty-five pairs of photographs is far from exhaustive.
The next step in our process involved a combination of detective work and location scouting, for the selection of images had to be narrowed to those sites we could re-find.2 We followed clues - the name of a residence, street names, a recognizable geological area, or urban landmark. Often, Lian Partlow, archivist from the Pasadena Museum of History, or some longtime resident, offered invaluable assistance in identifying a depicted site. Once we had a probable location, I then went there to take a series of digital shots that we would use to determine if it was indeed the correct location, and if it should be included as part of the exhibition prints. Some sites, I could not verify. Sometimes I sought out several photographs of the same site to help figure out, for example, whether a disappeared mansion sat facing Orange Grove Avenue or was set back from the road. I took many more photographs than would be included in the final twenty-five pairs, in part, because I was curious. Many of these additional images are included in the interactive DVD-ROM.
Rephotography is an idiosyncratic way of getting to know a locale, a little like playing detective or archaeologist. What will be uncovered? A crime scene (in which something beautiful has been replaced by something hideous), an act of preservation, an improvement, or just a progression? Along with the challenge of simply finding the locations, these questions drove me out into Pasadena, day after day. Looking at so many images of Pasadena throughout its history was like trying to get acquainted with someone by paging through their family albums. After I had walked the streets and highways, entered buildings, climbed around the Arroyo, discovered the obvious panoramas, and met people from the Pasadena area, little by little, our selection grew and changed.
Discovering more than 3,000 photographs by Frederick Martin in the California State Library collection, mostly depicting the San Gabriel Valley, also changed our selection. Well-composed, straightforward photographs taken between 1910 and 1930, they document much of Pasadena's landscape and architecture. Their sheer volume is compelling. Now not only did I speculate about Pasadena's past but also about Martin's reasons for thoroughly documenting so many of Pasadena's houses and gardens. According to Gary Kurutz, photography archivist in charge of this collection, little is known of Martin except that he settled in Pasadena at the turn of the century and began working for Kohler Photo Studio on Colorado Boulevard in 1902. He later took over the establishment, renaming it the Martin Studio. Martin died in 1949. Six of the photographs in the exhibition and book are by Martin, and many more of his images are found in the DVD-ROM.
After the digital scouting, I began the analog photography using either a 4 x 5-inch large-format camera or a 6 x 9-cm medium-format camera. During these sessions, if the situation permitted, I tried to take my photograph at approximately the same time of day and from the same point of view as the original but using color film. (Rephotographing in color works well for cross-dissolves because it gives the viewer enough distinction between the archival and contemporary images to perceive where one begins and the other ends.) Street-widening and incredible tree growth made precision difficult in reconstructing some shots. At certain sites, little if anything of the original composition remained. For example, the Carr House and its surrounding Carmelita Park are now the location of the Norton Simon Museum. Although it was difficult to situate the Victorian homestead precisely, the transformation of a site created by one of Pasadena's early cultural patrons into a modern art museum suggests thematic continuity. In place of the once-massive Moorish-themed Universalist Church, a lone palm tree now stands, its trunk echoing the disappeared church tower.
In rephotographing an early agricultural landscape taken from Monk Hill featuring the San Gabriel Mountains, I shot a wider view, letting the playground of Washington Middle School occupy more of the frame. In changing the framing I hoped to expand the notion of rephotography from an exact science for measuring physical changes to an interpretative tool for examining such cultural phenomena as land use and urban development. Showing what is beyond the periphery of the original view is one way to contextualize the images. That intention motivates Karen Voss's essay, Cultivating Pasadena, and is a primary aim of the interactive DVD-ROM. Designed to be a kind of "vision machine," the DVD-ROM not only performs the cross-dissolves but also provides the viewer with other materials from our inquiry that might enrich the comparison between past and present. It includes the videotaped interviews of Pasadenans, quotes from experts and "aficionados," as well as excerpts from period films and contemporary videos. From these multiple visual and intellectual perspectives on Pasadena's development, viewers can pursue their own investigations, driven by curiosity and chance.
During my exploration of Pasadena, I encountered many knowledgeable people who were eager to help me uncover, in the contemporary landscape, the original views found in these archival photographs. Quite by accident I met Tim Brick of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, whose website I had been exploring (www.arroyoseco.org.) He was walking his dog along the Arroyo and wondered whether I was photographing an Oak tree that the city wanted to cut down. Some were protesting its destruction. Actually, I was trying to figure out the vantage point of a turn-of-the-century photograph of the Arroyo Seco before the Colorado Bridge was built. He joined me in searching for this view and told me where I could find other photographs of the Arroyo.
In trying to locate one amazing Gothic-looking mansion dating from the turn-of-the-century, which I deduced had been located near the intersection of Pasadena and Arlington Avenues, I met a tenant in a house owned by Caltrans. She explained that Caltrans owned her unrestored home (a rarity in Pasadena) and all the others in that historic neighborhood due to a right-of-way battle to connect the 710 to the 210 Freeway. This battle had been going on for more than fifty years. On a subsequent visit, I met another woman who actually remembered the mansion, telling me precisely where it once stood and of its deterioration into an eerie run-down place that frightened the neighborhood children, including her. I went repeatedly to Washington Middle School, drawn by its fabulous location on Monk Hill. Teachers, custodians, administrators, and vice-principal, Robert Tanous, allowed me to use the windows and roofs of their buildings as lookout points from which to make photographs. There I stumbled upon one landscape view that I had been hunting for days: the setting for the original Washington School, built in 1884 and now gone. This school on Monk Hill came to symbolize for me the future of Pasadena, as a harmonious and ethnically diverse population nestled within a stunning landscape.
While searching for the site of reputedly the first house built in Pasadena in February 1874, by early founding father Albert O. Bristol, I met Frank Burkard, Sr., of Burkard Nursery. We surmised that his nursery, on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Orange Grove, is located next to where the Bristol "honeymoon cottage" must have stood. Although Burkard did not recall the cottage (pictured in our book), he did remember the Victorian house that Bristol had built next door in 1888. The cottage burned down in 1936 (a year before Burkard's father opened the nursery) and the Victorian house, of which I could not find a photograph, was most likely torn down in the late 1960s. In its place is a commercial complex that includes, among other community services, the NAACP. There I met Janet Akosua Edge, a charter member of the branch in Altadena since 1984, who also grew up in this neighborhood. Her recollections begin around 1957 when this part of North Pasadena was a self-contained African-American enclave with its own caterers, churches, childcare, library, barbershops, mortuaries, parks, schools, and stores. The dismantling of this large, closely knit community coincided, she felt, with the construction of the Jackie Robinson Center built in 1974 on the east and west sides of North Fair Oaks. Presented as a benefit to the community, she sensed it was really a diversionary tactic that allowed developers to maneuver long-time residents out of their bungalows, cottages and Victorians in preparation for further improvements that never materialized. She graciously agreed to be interviewed about this neighborhood for the Cultivating Pasadena project.
Many residents were especially accommodating. Volunteer gardeners at the Lummis house trimmed away foliage from a tree so that a little more of this stone masterpiece could be captured. Two residents above Devil's Gate Dam allowed me to wander their property several times looking for just the right view. While scouting Bungalow Heaven, one interested owner on Claremont Street suggested the best of Martin's images to rephotograph was the bungalow with the children in front of it, two doors down. When I asked to photograph the famous Blacker House, its owners Dr. Ellen Knell and Mr. Harvey Knell, who are inundated with such requests, kindly agreed.
We also sought out people. Dennis Crowley, a historian and bike enthusiast who is leading an effort to rebuild a modern version of the Horace Dobbins Cycleway, helped me locate his favorite photograph of this raised wooden cycleway and took me to the top of the Green Hotel so I could photograph the place where it once stood. John Harrigan, volunteer park ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, scouted one image of the Mt. Lowe Cable Car for us and, in mid-April, took Morgan Yates and me up to Granite Gate in the San Gabriel Mountains to take a large-format view of it. This spectacular trip was made more memorable by Harrigan's enthusiasm: he pointed out plants in bloom along the way - ceanothus or "California lilac," wild hyacinth, rose, and wishbone bush - and characterized Mt. Lowe's railway as a tourist attraction made compelling not only by its miraculous engineering but also by the breathtaking views and dizzying heights "that would still surpass any thrill-ride found at Disneyland."
While exploring Pasadena with these knowledgeable, enthusiastic residents, who helped transport me back in time, I often reflected on how to best convey the experience of these encounters within the actual physical environment. It is my hope that the DVD-ROM with its "bleed-throughs" and commentaries will enable viewers to move between past and present and to navigate this space as a journey through time, and that this excerpt will inspire you to seek out the larger project.
1 Bleeding Through was produced by the Labyrinth Project and ZKM (Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe) in collaboration with writer and cultural historian Norman M. Klein. Directed by Rosemary Comella, Norman M. Klein and Andreas Kratky.
2 Many people participated in this effort, including Matt Roth and Morgan Yates of the Automobile Club, Scott Mahoy of the Labyrinth Project, Sirirat Thawilvejakul-Yoom of USC's School of Cinema-Television, and Meredith Drake-Reitan of USC's School of Policy, Planning, and Development, as well as students from an experimental summer workshop at the Labyrinth Project called "Interactive Narrative: Theory and Practice."