The Future of Pasadena's History

Pasadena Museum of History 2005 Annual Meeting
Mayor Bill Bogaard
January 8, 2005

The point of my remarks today, which are entitled, The Future of Pasadena’s History is that Pasadena’s rich history has the power to make it a greater city, to enhance its future, and to increase its quality of life. Our challenge—the challenge facing the Museum—is to make the case to its membership and the community that history is important to our future. There is no doubt in my mind that the Museum is well positioned to meet that challenge.

Let me start by congratulating the Museum for its very successful year. During the last year, the Museum has expanded its educational initiatives—A Child’s Life and the junior docent program—and has reached more young students than ever before. Last year’s exhibits, including Wheels of Change: Bicycles and Their Impact on American Culture and Flowing Waters, Fruitful Valley, have enhanced the impact of the Museum. The program has been increasingly active and effective in recent years, and once again, I offer congratulations.

A couple of months ago I was privileged to participate at the Museum in the opening of The Tender Land. The Museum should be proud that it served as the site for this important event. The Tender Land is a celebration of art, culture, science, and history, created with active involvement of more than two dozen community organizations. It demonstrates Pasadena’s strength as a center for arts and culture in a wonderful way.

The unique feature of Tender Land is the collaboration involved to create a community program much greater than any individual institution could hope to do. This kind of collaboration is unusual on the part of arts and culture organizations—in many communities it is unheard of—but it is common in Pasadena.

There was another Pasadena opening recently that I want to mention which is also a part of The Tender Land. It is a photographic exhibit called Cultivating Pasadena: From Roses to Redevelopment, which is still showing at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. It offers an extremely interesting comparison of historic and modern photos of the same settings in our City. In light of the changes that have occurred over time, not all of the modern photos are reassuring to me as I view what once was, and what exists today. But having this comparative information, so that we might learn from it, is extremely valuable.

I consider this exhibit a call—a challenge—to renew our commitment to thoughtful community development, to architectural preservation, to urban design, and to quality architectural standards for new buildings.

In exploring the significance of history, it might be appropriate to point out that this Museum has a partner that is equally committed to making history an integral and important part of Pasadena’s future. I refer to Pasadena Heritage, the historic preservation organization that recently completed its first quarter century. The current issue of Sunset magazine describes Pasadena Heritage as follows:

“Since 1977 Pasadena Heritage has fought to make sure the city doesn’t forget its luminous past. Its victories include
saving the Colorado Street Bridge and protecting historic
buildings in Old Pasadena; the district has evolved into
Southern California’s most appealing retail center. But the
organization is also using preservation as a tool to enhance
neighborhood life.”

Sue Mossman, of Pasadena Heritage, added, “Saving houses and protecting the community are part of the same effort.”

The two organizations share a common commitment, and make a similar effort to assure that Pasadena’s history has a huge and helpful impact on the future. My definition of history—today and otherwise—includes historic preservation.

Returning a moment to the photographic exhibit, one of the reasons for my enthusiasm is the exhibit program—the written guide—which contains, among other things, a provocative and thoughtful history of Pasadena by Karen Voss. (I should mention that her essay together with Dr. Richard Florida’s book entitled, The Rise of the Creative Class, have inspired a number of the points set forth in my remarks.) Dr. Voss states, “Ever ambivalent about fully embracing urbanism, Pasadena represents southern California’s most sustained effort to adorn the machine with flowers.” She goes on:

“Pasadena history reveals striking superimpositions:
robust oranges photographed against snow-capped
peaks; lavish private estates maintained by a shadow
workforce; and scientific progress pursued as zealously
as wilderness preservation.”

A week ago, I recalled this interesting proposition as the world once again enjoyed the Tournament of Roses Parade, including its famous floats. This annual event embodies Pasadena’s particular mixture of exotic horticulture, competition, technological showmanship, and decorative natural display. This Rose Parade is one of the great chapters in the history of Pasadena and is an example of how Pasadena’s history continues to shape our future.

There is still another recent event I’d like to mention, since it reflects this same theme involving flowers, gardens and a focus on horticulture. The Kidspace Museum held a grand reopening on December 16, to rave reviews. As many of us know, the Fannie Morrison buildings at Brookside Park, which have been adapted for reuse as the Kidspace Museum, started life as a center of horticulture. These three buildings, and one that was tragically lost to fire a number of years ago, were a community center in which the people of Pasadena nurtured their interests in plants, flowers and trees, and strengthened community involvement in the works of nature. So, another example: Kidspace Museum represents a wonderful future for Pasadena, using resources dating more than 60 years ago when the Fannie Morrison buildings were constructed.

Some would argue that in Pasadena the importance of history is obvious, that it is widely recognized, and that no particular effort is needed to demonstrate its impact. My response is that, in any case, the case for the role of history should be made again and again. Connections between history, education, work, community development and economic vitality are not always made. The links are not stressed. All too often the message of history’s value is not coherent, not continual and not communicated.

Oftentimes when people think of history, they think of the past. Things that have happened, are over, said and done with. But history doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s not said and done. It’s happening right now. Each one of us at present is a part of and helping to shape history.

All of us here are convinced that important documents, words, voices, buildings, and places of the past should be preserved. These historic resources can tell us time and again who we are, where we came from, and how we got here.

But we all know there is more.

History is vision. It can help us see where we are going, even though it will not tell us precisely how to get there.

History is tapestry. The lives and experiences of those who have preceded us weave visible threads in the fabric of our community and in the pattern of our lives.

History is experience. It permits us to look at those who lived before us—people who struggled, loved, suffered, triumphed, and reflected thoughtfully and helpfully on their condition.

With these thoughts in mind, I want to suggest that Pasadena, shaped as it is by the forces of history, is capable of becoming an even greater city if we succeed in bringing the lessons of history to bear on its future.

One of Dr. Richard Florida’s points in the book I mentioned—The Rise of the Creative Class—is that people today are drawn to communities that offer a sense of “place”, and that this feature has value beyond cultural, educational and aesthetic considerations, to the serious business of economic vitality.
Developing a sense of place helps people identify with their area and with each other. A sense of “place” is developed through experience and knowledge of a particular area—knowledge of the history, geography, geology, legends of the particular area, its social and economic offerings, and a sense of the land and its history after living there for a time.

Dr. Florida talks about “place” as offering active street life, animated by open-air street cafes. Place has a music scene, an art scene. People want places that are filled with diversity—ethnic, racial, age, lifestyle, and appearance diversity. “Place” provides a sense of authenticity. A sense of credibility. Something to connect with.
We want to live in a city and a community that has a history. We do not want to live nowhere. We want to live somewhere. And that somewhere comes from the unique character of “place”.

The value assigned to a place assures that people will choose to live, work and invest there on an ongoing basis—an essential part of creating sustainability, and an essential part of a place’s history. Land use developments in Pasadena are more than just the sum of their parts—they are intended to contribute to great “places” which make up Pasadena and its future.

Accordingly, the importance of the Museum of History is very clear. Advocacy for the importance of history and its use in building the future is properly a fundamental goal of the organization. It is important to engage community leaders—business, civic, non-profit organizations, and education leaders—who are articulate, knowledgeable and persuasive, and who will stand up and speak out for the importance of history.
My impression of the Museum’s programs in recent years is extremely positive. I particularly appreciate its exhibitions which are based on chapters of history unique and extremely important to Pasadena. I’ve mentioned the Tournament of Roses which has become a partner of the Museum. The exhibit on the history of Hollywood—of filmmaking—is another example. I loved the exhibit of Pasadena’s involvement in science, technology, and astronomy, where partners included Caltech and JPL. The current exhibit, Flowing Waters, Fruitful Valley, is still another example. I’m proud that Pasadena Water and Power was a partner in it.

As Mayor, I know that what the Museum does in preserving history and making it available for future use and guidance is critical to the City’s future.

We can’t innovate, we can’t grow, we can’t compete, we can’t increase our living standards and provide a prosperous and sustainable future for our children and our grandchildren, unless we preserve and protect—and use—our history.

We build on the past to enhance the future. So in this high-tech era, when knowledge, intelligence and human talent are so important, our history and your work are more important than ever before.

I wish you the very best. 

Posted: 1/8/2005 08:55:00 AM
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