Throwback Thursday | Heritage Lost: South Pasadena’s Orange Tree City Seal and Orange Blossom City Flower

Official City Flower Change

PHOTO: South Pasadena Public Library | City of South Pasadena sprouting up among its agricultural community of orange growers, Monterey Road in the foreground (1899)

The city of South Pasadena was founded in 1888 during the agricultural citrus boom in Southern California. The area was once abundant with orange groves and the sweet scent of orange blossoms.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | Early postcard of oranges and blossoms

Today, the official city seal shows the image of a tree which is unidentifiable. The city seal has since been redrawn to appear as a generic tree symbol – the classic solid green silhouette of a tree that has no origin.

Official City Seal Change

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But for more than a century, the tree had a name. In fact, the former city seal is still visible in mosaic on the Public Works building at 825 Mission Street. The city tree symbol is an orange tree.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas | Former South Pasadena City Seal in mosaic (Public Works building)
PHOTO: Rick Thomas | South Pasadena City Seal (Closer View)

A simple review of historical records, including newspaper articles, city documents, journals, and city literature celebrating with pride its orange tree heritage.

PHOTO: Chamber of Commerce South Pasadena | South Pasadena Orange Tree Symbol celebrating the city’s 75th Diamond Jubilee (1963)

Official City Flower Change

Another even more poignant example of the city turning its back on its past is replacing the city’s official flower. For more than 110 years, South Pasadena had as its Official City Flower the Orange Blossom.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | Early postcard of orange blossom and oranges

Unfortunately, in 2002 during a late-night voice vote by city council members, the city’s official flower was replaced by the tiger lily. A couple of influential members of South Pasadena Beautiful and one councilmember proposed the change.

The council member claimed the tiger lily was a more desirable bloom for our city because 1) it is a stand-alone flower – not a tree flower, and 2) tiger lily has in its name “tiger” which by word association links it to the high school’s mascot Timothy Tiger.

Interesting fact: the magnolia bloom was the first flower proposed to replace the orange blossom at the city council meeting. Until, during the discussion, it was mentioned also to be a tree flower.

Restoring Our Lost Heritage

The orange blossom was an enduring symbol of our storied agricultural heritage, and it can be again. Perhaps the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation in cooperation with the Cultural Heritage Commission will lead a campaign to restore our City Flower to the orange blossom. That would acknowledge the value of our heritage that gave birth to the city we call home.


Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.