By Jean Strauber, Travel Editor
For years I have been traveling to Pasadena to see the annual Tournament of Roses Parade, cheer on the Bruins at the Rose Bowl and visit the Huntington Library, the Pasadena Playhouse or the Norton Simon Museum. But, in all the years that I have lived in Los Angeles, I had never really explored Pasadena for a weekend until this past September when I, as part of the North American Travel Journalists Association Conference, was able to enjoy two nights and three days in the city. Yes, some sights we saw I had visited many times, but there were other attractions that I had never visited before.
Here are three of them: Although I have visited the Huntington Gardens several times, I looked forward to visiting again. Our group was met by a docent, who led us past the lily pond to the former residence of Henry Huntington and his wife, Arabella (the widow of Collis), which was built in 1911. The house still is filled with their exquisite furnishings from almost a century ago, but it’s the paintings, etchings and statuary that will draw your attention as it did mine. I’ve been admiring “Pinky” and “Blue Boy” since the late ‘40s when I was on a high school field trip. The library building was constructed in 1920 to house Huntington’s collection of rare books and manuscripts.
In the library you will find one of the very few copies of the original Gutenberg Bibles, original paintings by Audubon, letters and documents signed by our founding fathers and much more. Another attraction is the Huntington Botanical Gardens, whose design was overseen by landscape supervisor William Hertrich in 1904. Hertrich continued working for the Huntington until 1948. Many of you San Fernando Valley readers have visited these Gardens as part of a school field trip, I am sure. Today, you will find a Desert Garden with over 5,000 species of xerophytes; a Palm and Jungle Garden; four-acre lily ponds, which were finished in 1904; a formal Shakespeare Garden that holds many plants mentioned in the playwright’s works; a historic, three-acre Rose Garden with more than 1,800 species; a walled Zen garden; and the new Liu Fang Yuan (Garden of Flowing France) garden.
Many who have visited the gardens look forward to elegant dining in the Rose Garden Tea Room, lunch at the less expensive Huntington’s Cafe, or even a cup of coffee and a muffin at the Coffee Cart at the entrance. I must not forget the new Tea Shop where Chinese tea and refreshments are available for purchase. A second museum we visited was the Norton Simon Museum. It’s been some year since I last visited there. Every year during the Tournament of Roses Parade, there are many shots of floats on the parade route with the museum as a backdrop. When I found that the Simon was on our schedule to visit I was overjoyed. The Norton Simon Museum was originally founded as the Pasadena Art Institute in 1922. The Institute obtained 9.5 acres of land that included a Victorian house at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevard. In its long history museum has been known as the Pasadena Art Museum and the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, but in 1974, the industrialist Norton Simon (who had been in a dispute with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and the trustees of the Museum of Modern Art reached an agreement assuming management duties in exchange for taking on its debts.
The museum closed for renovation and when it re-opened in 1975, the name of the institution was changed to the Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena. In the museum you’ll find one wing and the lower floor devoted to Asian art, a gallery of Impressionist paintings, 14th century medieval art and even a Picasso or two or three. Jennifer Jones Simon, the industrialist’s widow, oversaw the remodeling of the sculpture garden. You can order lunch at the Garden Cafe, take it to one of the outside umbrella tables and enjoy your sandwich or salad while taking in the beauty of the gardens. For years I had been driving through the Arroyo Secco to the Rose Bowl and passed a school-like structure before reaching Parking Lot K. Much to my surprise I found that we were going to visit that school-like building, which is the home of the Kidspace Children’s Museum.
The Kidspace Museum features exhibits, programs and activities over more than four acres of indoor and outdoor space. We visited the museum on a weekday around 2 pm and there were about 50 children there having fun exploring. Some of the exhibits you’ll find are the Raindrop Climber with enclosed climbing platforms sculpted into the form of raindrops that soar 40 feet into the air; the Tike Tracks, with special tricycles to follow marked routes in an outdoor play area; the Bug Collection, where kids are able to get up close to 20 species of live exotic insects; and Bug’s Diner, an exhibit about the anatomy and feeding habits of insects. The museum also offers special programs for museum members and visitors, including a special holiday performance of The Bob Baker Marionettes on December 3 at 2:00 p.m.; free family nights on December 6, 26 and 27; and Snow Days on December 28 with real snow for making snowballs and snowmen. The Huntington Gardens is located at 1025 Oxford Road, San Marino. The Norton Simon Museum is located at 411 W. Colorado Boulevard, Old Pasadena. Kidspace is located at 480 N. Arroyo Boulevard, Pasadena CA.