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The Bubble House

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South Pasadena’s Airform Bubble House was designed by architect Wallace Neff, who also designed for some of California’s wealthiest, including Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Judith Garland. Despite his extensive architectural resume, his Airform “Bubble House” is said to be one his finest–and most proud–works.

Like many great design stories, this one has a humble beginning. In the early 1930s, the housing crisis put a halt on many promising construction sites, as companies and individuals struggled to find reliable funding. Neff was shaving at his bathroom sink when a bubble formed on his finger and he realized that if he could find a way to build with air, he could save money and build quickly, with no need for wood or nails.

The construction was therefore one of the most curious of its time. It was built using an inflatable balloon covered in chicken wire and then sprayed with gunite, which is a mixture a sand, water, and cement that’s applied through a pressure hose. The gunite then produces a dense layer of concrete, and is often used for structural repairs. Using this method, open-plan, curved homes could be built within 48 hours.

Neff tirelessly attempted to campaign and convince the U.S. government to adopt this style of design in their wartime housing initiatives. After World War II, there were simply too many people and not enough houses. Neff believed it would be the most cost-effective, efficient way to industrialize housing efforts. According to one book printed by Hennessey, another goal of his was to “resolve the dilemma of being an architect close to affluent clients and a designer for a mass of anonymous clients with low budgets.”

However, many people weren’t convinced that the igloo shape successfully optimized space, and the unconventional structure deterred large money-makers from adopting it completely. While 400,000 were originally planned for construction in the United States, only 3,000 were actually built. However, overseas Neff had better luck, and he constructed airform houses in cities around the world like Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, and Senegal.

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Today, the only existing Airform house in America is in South Pasadena, California, where the current owners take special care to maintain it. The ceilings are seven feet high and the domed ceilings stretch up to 12 feet. It was built in 1946 and the neighbors weren’t receptive to it, because at the time, it did not fit into the Period Revival aesthetic of the nearby homes.

Despite criticism of its elliptical structure, it was featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Home Magazine, and was eventually praised for its inventive solution to the mid-century housing crisis. The South Pasadena home is where the architect personally lived until he died in 1982.

Current owners Sari and Steve Roden, who purchased the house in 1998, said in a Los Angeles Times article that they “can’t imagine living anywhere else.” The couple also inherited several pieces of vintage furniture originally owned by the architect.

The house comes with its own share of fame and rumors. The owners have heard that Elvis once visited the house, most likely to discuss a home that he wanted Neff to design for him. The irony here is not lost: while Neff is most renowned for his elaborate designs, his heart was in simple, open, and flowing architectural spaces. Though the house is occupied, you can still drive by 1097 S. Los Robles Avenue for a look at piece of design history.

Cawston Ostrich Farm

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South Pasadena is steeped in history, and one of the greatest examples of that is the Cawston Ostrich Farm. If you’re a South Pasadena native, you’ve likely heard of it, and if not, it won’t be long before you do.

The Cawston Ostrich Farm was a nine-acre farm where visitors could ride ostriches via a carriage that was attached to their neck and body (much like a horse). This was the first ostrich farm in America, as well as the first tourist destination in California, and it provided a fully immersive experience. Not only could guests ride the ostriches, but they could also purchase ostrich-themed memorabilia, such as ostrich feathered hats, fans, and capes.

As you can imagine, starting an ostrich farm is no easy feat. Edward Cawston brought 50 ostriches from South Africa to California via Texas in 1886. However, the journey to Pasadena was extremely strenuous on the birds, and only 18 of them arrived in tact. Originally, Cawston’s primary plan was to cash out on the popularity of ostrich feathers. He had accessories and fashion items in mind, and wanted to cut out the middleman and raise the ostriches on his own farm.

After over half of the birds failed to survive the harsh trip, Cawston decided to breed his own birds with the remaining 18. Through breeding, he was able to balloon his total to over 100 ostriches total. From here, the farm, located in Arroyo Seco Valley, began to boom. Back then, it was a modern day theme park, full to the brim with roaming, able-bodies ostriches and decorated with pyramid-style structures to represent the birds native Africa.

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There was such a keen interest in ostriches and their feathers that it drew tourism for years to come. Some visitors rode the ostriches with carriages, others rode it bareback, but mostly, one of the most captivating facets of the ostrich farm was observing during feeding time. Because ostriches swallow food whole, it became quite the spectacle to see the birds swallow oranges whole.

The farm was located next to the Pacific Electric Railway, and its popularity eventually led to the creation of the Red Car trolley, which took visitors from the railway directly to the ostrich farm.

Cawston’s ostriches weren’t just a moneymaker in Pasadena. The farm was also attached to a factory, where he shipped genuine ostrich feathers and products all around the country, and other parts of the world. Visitors could also watch the animals as they are plucked to gain a better understanding of the feather-gathering process, as well as to witness firsthand the authenticity of its products in the making.

Around 1910, the market for ostrich tourism started to plummet. Around this time, real theme parks with motorized rides and entertainment began to take precedence. The factory closed down in 1935. Today, the original brick structure of the factory remains, and is an official cultural landmark (#18). The South Pasadena Public Library spent many years digitizing photos from the Ostrich Farm, which are available for viewing at Online Archive California. Today, although the farm has long since been shut down, it attracts tourists around the world.

Top Outdoor Activities In South Pasadena

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Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you South Pasadena is a city that’s full of charm.The city works hard to preserve its original culture and history, and retains a small-town feel that makes it desirable to people around the world. Because what’s better than being able to reside in a town that’s far enough to exude community spirit in a small-town scene, but close enough to head over to Hollywood in just a short car ride?

Whether you want to stay indoors or catch some air, the area is versatile enough to appeal to all types of activities. And when it comes to South Pasadena, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities to keep you busy during the nicer days (which is pretty much year-round). Here are a few to keep in mind:

Visit The South Pasadena Farmers’ Market

The South Pasadena Farmers’ Market is the place to go for all your local California cuisine needs. Live music enhances the ambiance, and locals and visitors alike scour the dozens of vendors for some of the best food trucks and take-home options. The market takes local shopping to another level, and has a strong community presence that resonates throughout the space. Options are endless here. Head over to Nicole’s for fresh goat cheese, Nana’s nachos for drizzling cheese and tortilla, Apple Sherrill Orchards for freshly squeezed natural juices, and Mama Musubi for gourmet rice balls.

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Visit The Fork In The Road

South Pasadena’s infamous Fork in the Road is one of the city’s best photo-ops, and it never goes out of style. Whether you’re new to the area or have seen the Fork dozens of times, it’s always a welcome reminder of all that South Pasadena has to offer, no matter which way you go.

This 18-foot wooden fork sits at the intersection of Pasadena and St. John Avenues. It was installed by local businessmen Bob Stane and Ken Marshall, who originally placed it without permission from local city officials. Since then, it has become a popular site for city events, such as fundraisers and food drives.

Go Horseback Riding

The San Pascual Stables have been offering horseback riding to South Pasadena since 1978. This is an ideal outdoor activity for all ages and riding education levels. There are all types of lessons available, too, including a summer camp program for kids and regular riding lessons for adults. San Pascual Stables is also known for hosting family-friendly events, such as the San Pascual Holiday Horse Show during the Christmas Holiday.

Go On A Park Crawl

South Pasadena has no shortage of parks, and there’s a hundred different ways to explore them. One of the best and most popular parks in the area is Garfield Park. It sits on seven acres and is beautifully landscaped throughout. It has tennis courts, fire pits, picnic tables, playgrounds, and more. Every year, the Summer Concert in the Park series takes place here. A massive easter egg hunt called Eggstravaganza also takes place here. Check the South Pasadena Events page for an updated list of current happenings.

Arroyo Park is another popular South Pasadena staple. It sits on nearly 20 acres of land, and has athletic fields, playgrounds, picnic tables, a barbecue, and a small amphitheater. This is the go-to spot for local sports and ideal for watching a game of soccer or baseball. Other parks include Orange Grove Park (which also has a 9,500 square foot recreation center), Library Park (home to the library and Senior Center, with plenty of meandering walkways), and Legion Park (which has a landscaped memorial garden).

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Taste of South Pasadena

South Pasadena is prime real estate for food, and it might get difficult to narrow down your top choices—especially as a newcomer. That’s where Taste of South Pasadena comes in, an walking tour event that takes you to some of the best eateries in town. One Yelp reviewer said, “Taste of South Pasadena is a great way to explore the city, stroll, and sample yummy treats, food, and wine.” The next Taste of South Pasadena event takes place on April 17th, 2018. Last year, the event had 22 participating restaurants and 12 wineries, and had a whopping 850 attendees. There will also be live music and an optional wine tasting. Children under 7 are free.

Rose Bowl Stadium

Just a hop, skip, and away from South Pasadena is the Rose Bowl stadium—a must for locals and visitors alike. The stadium is home to a slew of events, from some of the most renowned football tournaments, to concerts, and even a monthly flea market held every second Saturday of the month. And of course, it’s home to UCLA’s Bruins team. No matter what month of the year, there’s always something going on here.

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Take Golf Lessons

The Arroyo Seco Golf Course is the perfect place to take a golf lesson–or simply play golf if you’ve already mastered the art of the swing. According to the official City of South Pasadena website, the golf course has an 18-hole, Par 3 course, full driving range, 9-hole miniature golf course, and putting and chipping practice areas. Anything a golfer could need is readily available here.

The range was recently renovated, and now features a spacious practice area and  state-of-the-art hitting mats. It’s also an illuminated course, which means it stays open late until 10pm. There are five professional teachers that take up residence at the Arroyo Seco Golf Course.

There’s also a full-service restaurant and bar on site for before or after your game. And lastly, the site plays hosts to weekly events, such as Wine & Song, the Arroyo Seco Men’s Golf Club, and the Arroyo Ladies Golf Club.