Extensive research from long-time property owner Abe Oheb provided a major contribution to the historical information in this article.
With all the changes that COVID-19 has brought to the South Pasadena community — and the people, families and businesses within it — it may offer some respite to take a moment and reflect on how far this city has come. Let’s look back and remember what has been done to grow a town like South Pasadena from the foundation up.
As with any city, the local businesses are the bedrock of the community, serving as establishments of the local economy, while providing lifeblood to a city’s sustainability and overall prosperity for its citizens. South Pasadena businesses are integral to the charm of the town, and have seen many changes since the early years.
We’ve gone over published records, family archives, and library archives, digging deep to see what we could find out about our local business’ roots — specifically what was colloquially known as the “Graham Block,” named after the original developer’s last name.
These series of three buildings can be found on the south side of Mission Street, between Diamond and Meridian Aves, encapsulating the current business residents, Aro Restaurant and La Monarca Bakery & Cafe. Historically, it was found that these three buildings are some of the first that initiated business development in South Pasadena.
In 1906, a business man named Alexander R. Graham cleared a eucalyptus grove at the southeast corner of Mission and Meridian and built the concrete block building at 1001-1005 Mission Street, which he then named the Alexander Building. An article published in the original South Pasadenan on November 29th, 1907, announced that all the stores in the building were “rented, open and doing business.”
The first time the Alexander building appeared in the city directory was in 1909 and, because of its longevity, it is one of the first commercial buildings in South Pasadena’s Mission West Historical District. Currently, this is where La Monarca is open, with residents and studio spaces occupying the second floor.
The First National Bank Building (formerly the South Pasadena Bank), was built in 1908 at the east end of the block at Diamond Avenue, originally built as a one-story building while the second floor was added later. The formal opening of the First National Bank was announced in an article published March 19th, 1908.
In a follow-up story that was published in 1915, it was noted that, “the [First National Bank] was capitalized at $25,000 with a surplus and undivided profits of $9,000.” The First National Bank’s profit was $1000 more profitable than the Local Savings Bank, which was located on Mission St and Fair Oaks Ave at that time. These deposits were a reflection of the increase in business during that era, as banks were supporting the development of the community in hopes of receiving more income from the development itself — a mutually beneficial deal.
In 1908, Mr. Graham built the A.R. Graham Building (1011-1017 Mission) in the middle block, spanning the gap between the two buildings. The design of the building was done by Thornton Fitzhugh, using a Renaissance Revival Influence for the two story building with a basement, store fronts and living quarters on the second floor. Construction of the building was done by the Contractor H.C. McCamant for a total of $12,200, which is roughly $340,000 in todays dollars.
The original building had a frontage of 90 feet and a depth of 100 feet and contains a basement running under the entire block; it also included a freight elevator which ran from the basement to the second floor which the businesses used to move supplies and stock between levels. The first listing of the Graham building within the city directory was roughly between 1910 and 1911, as records could not indicate a precise date.
Once construction was completed for the Graham building, an article published January 14, 1909, announced that the occupants of its four business suites were up and running. From east to west, the original businesses of the building included; Hardware Company, Dickson’s Furniture Store, New England Grocery, and City Barber Shop with a cigar store in front which was owned by Charles Sears.
At that time, Hardware Company was considered one of the most up-to-date hardware stores within the state of California. In another follow-up article about the building published in 1915, it was stated that Hardware Company’s business was doing well and expanding to include all three floors of the building; the basement was completely occupied, the storefront and the sales floor were expanded and the second floor was used for merchandise storage. The adjacent Dickson Brothers furniture store was an original occupant in one of the store fronts, it later changed to the Tadlock Grocery Company.
In another business suite, a firm by the name of S.H. Morrill & Sons established the New England Grocery, a grocery store that offered “first-class up-to-date stock of groceries at rock bottom prices” and also included feed and poultry supplies.
South Pasadena’s business sector has definitely expanded in the last century, but without the original entrepreneurs developing businesses that met the needs of its residents, South Pasadena may have never been able to evolve into what it is now. Although the pandemic has had an adverse effect on South Pasadena, we must remember that our local businesses played a major role, and will continue to do so, in pushing our society forward, having endured much throughout the years, especially now more than ever.
It’s always refreshing to take the time to appreciate what we do have and progress from there, especially within our business community, which requires the support of its patrons, employees, and city to keep the spirit alive.