Viewing the Past Perfect By Larry Wilson - 06/04/2006 Pasadena Star News
As our history - except that which we're making now - gets farther away, our history books get better and better.
I suppose I mean that in a general sense, an American and world history sense, as well as the local reference I intend. Never before have so many books that so fairly and without prejudice divine the past been published. Egregious glossings-over that once were common are now, well, tossed on the rubbish heap of history. Propagandists for knee-jerk patriotism may complain, but the fact is that academic history has never been finer or fairer (or more gruesome or more dismissive of old great-man theories) - and a glance at best-seller lists shows our appetite for it is strong.
Pasadena's best historian, Ann Scheid, who knows where all the bodies are buried, has a new volume out - "Downtown Pasadena's Early Architecture," part of Arcadia Publishing Company's (nothing to do with the local city, by the way) Images of America series.
Lavishly illustrated, as they say, with many dozens of pictures never seen even by faithful readers of Sid Gally's Sunday history photos and captions on our Page A2, the book is indispensable for all who stroll what we now call Old Pasadena and long to know how and when all the marvelous buildings got there.
Not to mention the way it catalogs the many more cosmopolitan buildings, especially the ornate wooden ones, that burned or were lost to the massive widening of Colorado Street. The truly old Pasadena was more marvelous than most anything we have today. For instance, while I bow to no one in my love for Myron Hunt's Central Library on Walnut, the Romanesque original library in what is now Memorial Park - lost to an earthquake -was, according to the pictures on pages 48 and 49 of Ann's book, if anything even more fantastic.
And the grand mansions that used to line East Colorado - including the block where the First Methodist is today - were, as Ann writes, simply "exuberant" in their architectural bravado.
Talking of grand mansions, I was surprised to see a newspaper ad last week announcing the availibility of one of the finest of Greene and Greene's masterpieces, the Duncan-Irwin House overlooking the Arroyo Seco, that never once mentions its provenance. "1906 historical treasure," it reads. "Beautifully executed 7 br, 5 ba bungalow ... 20 room home w/ spacious floor plan w/ room avoiding strict definition." Having spent much time there as a teen when a friend lived in it, I would have to second that last clause - whatever it may mean. But there was a time when Pasadena Realtors would headline their blurbs, "Greene & Greene? Who knows?" even when we knew, and it wasn't. Has the time come to downplay the genius of Charles and Henry?
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