Throwback Thursday | South Pasadena: Trailblazing to the Stars

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | October 29, 1936 – first rocket motor test on in the dry wash of the Arroyo Seco. From left to right: Rudolph Schott, Apollo M.O. Smith, Frank Malina, Edward Forman, and John Parsons.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a testament to the diverse nature of the Arroyo Seco. For over a half century JPL has captured the public’s imagination for its exploration of space and the possibilities of human travel to other worlds.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Earliest known photograph of the GALCIT rocket test facility in the Arroyo Seco (1941)

JPL’s location in the Arroyo Seco (within a few miles of the Rose Bowl, Norton Simon Museum, Jackie Robinson Stadium, Colorado Street Bridge, Arroyo Seco Parkway, and Southwest Museum) further elevates the region as one of the most significant cultural wonders of the world.

Pasadena Museum of History | | May 24, 1967 – curious lads inspect the full-scale model of the Lunar Orbiter I

The early rocket tests by the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT) led to government sponsorship and the establishment of JPL on the same land in 1944.

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On October 31, 1968, surviving members of the original rocket test, Apollo M.O. Smith, Frank Malina and Edward Forman were among the honored guests at a ceremony in observance of the 1936 rocket test.

In the 1930s and 1940s residents who lived near this section of the arroyo recall hearing strange sounds, loud noises, and the occasional big bang!

Pasadena Museum of History | | February 16, 1989 – JPL’s spacecraft assembly room for the Galileo space probe
Pasadena Museum of History | | October 18, 1989 – Jim Arnett, Supervisor of Project Reliability cheers for Galileo’s successful liftoff with the Space Shuttle

 The late 1960s was a time of great success for America’s space program. Kids sported crew cuts to look like their heroes the astronauts. And people of all nationalities looked up to the moon pondering their connection with the cosmos.

Early Spanish explorers trekked through the Arroyo Seco to learn about their “New World.” Two hundred years later the same land is used to build space probes leaving Earth to learn about other worlds in our solar system and beyond.

Pasadena Museum of History | | Today – Arroyo Seco with JPL in the background


Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas


VIARick Thomas
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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.