Throwback Thursday | South Pasadena’s First Fighters Were Tree Huggers

PHOTO: Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library | SouthPasadenan.com | South Pasadena residents fight to save an oak tree on Edgewood Dr. (1950)

Before South Pas residents were known as “freeway fighters,” they earned their chops fighting the city to protect its trees. On August 18, 1950, South Pasadena citizens made national headlines when they created a human blockade on Edgewood Drive to save a 200-year-old oak tree from removal by the city. They gained support from around the country when they defied city officials shouting “Do not take this tree!” carrying brooms and armed with rolling pins. They would not budge until the city agreed to spare the precious oak.

A half-century earlier on April 24, 1894, our town folk gathered out front of the newspaper office, The South Pasadenan. They arrived with shovels and picks, planting 1,000 shade trees in a single day. Horatio Nelson Rust donated the trees from his family-run Rust Nursery in town. Members of the Woman’s Improvement Association also gathered to clean up the area around the Santa Fe depot (near South Pasadena’s Gold Line Station today). The local paper noted, “the women planted trees and made a park.”

South Pasadena’s Urban Forest Today

From the city’s water tower on Monterey Hills, a variety of trees are visible, including palm, elm, oak, eucalyptus, magnolia, pepper, cypress, jacaranda, and pine. The two major streets of Fremont and Fair Oaks are only identifiable because of two large towers sticking up through the tree canopy: The Holy Family Church (Fremont Avenue) and South Pasadena Middle School (Fair Oaks Avenue). The surrounding neighborhoods are shrouded in a dense treescape known as the city’s “urban forest.”

South Pasadena’s love of trees is a unifying experience that can be enjoyed by motorists and pedestrians alike. Residents call it “purple rain” when the jacaranda blossoms fall like rain covering the street, front yards, cars, and people as they walk along the sidewalks on Marengo Avenue. During the height of the jacaranda tree blossoms, motorists say it feels like they are traveling through a purple tunnel.

Whether it’s the magnificent mature palms on Stratford Avenue, or the Morton Fig at Library Park, or the jungle-like tree cover and screeching parrots on Diamond Avenue, neighborhoods acquire their unique character from the trees that line their streets.

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.

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