If you ever have the opportunity to visit the back room chamber of the City Hall of the city of Pasadena, California, you'll find it is exactly what you'd expect. Like most municipalities, nostalgia is on full display including photographs, timelines and relics of the rich Pasadena history - including Pasadena's racist history (un)hidden and in plain sight.
There’s a wall panel proudly showing photos of all 55 previous mayors. It's polarizing seeing it at a glance. The black & white framed portraits, with the exception of Loretta Thompson-Glickman, Chris Holden and Bill Paparian–are all of white men. At some point in the future, Victor Gordo’s photo will join the collection, as one of four to add some diversity to the city's list of 56 to have held the gavel.
When I first saw it and captured a photo, I paused. I had the realization that Pasadena’s history can’t be any different than America’s past. And, there it is–mounted for a select few to see. My escort told me, city staffers call the gallery the ‘White Wall of Pasadena.’
I thought, this could be the origins that established 'The Pasadena Way.'
Last week the City received a correspondence titled 'Pasadena Research.' The sender is anonymous, but the facts pointed out are widely (un)known.
The nine-page document recalled an era of Pasadena's history that some have denied and others wish to remain out of the public view.
The report included legal documents, meeting minutes and a map indicating the geographical locations of where Negro, Mexican and Oriental families lived throughout the city–circa 1940.
Councilmember Tyrone Hampton Jr. called the matter to the attention of the full body in open session last week, “A lot of times we hear these things–that racism exists”, Hampton said. Speaking of the contents of the correspondence, Hampton continued, “The city actually worked on this with the staff, (and) with the City Council. They voted on these things.”
Hampton referenced one former Pasadena Board of Director (now known as the City Council), "That mayor's name is AI Stewart–whose picture is up in the hallway with all the rest of the mayor’s.” Hampton called for Mayor Gordo to agendize the published research for discussion. I think this should be agendized for the city council–discussion, to have his picture removed, as well as Herbert Hahn, head of the law firm Hahn & Hahn being removed from the our Arthur Noble Award, placed outside of city hall.”
The award is described as Pasadena's "highest civic honor."
Gordo responded, “I'll check in with you [Hampton] to make sure I've got the spirit of your comments.”
The research paper that was anonymously mailed covers redlining. covenants and a joint effort from what is stated to be "ORGANIZED AS A NON-PROFIT CORPORATION TO FURTHER THE INTERESTS OF THE CITY OF PASADENA, ITS CITIZENS AND PROPERTY OWNERS." Signed by Colin Steward.
The author of the research is asking the City Council to formally;
1. Remove the portrait of A.l. Stewart from its place of honor in City Hall
2. Posthumously stripped Herbert L. Hahn, former head of the law firm Hahn & Hahn1, of the Arthur Noble award given to him in 1974 and remove his name from its place of honor in City Council Chambers.
3. Issue an apology to the descendants of the African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans the City excluded from its municipal swimming pool.
4. Apologize for the City's failure to support and defend the civil rights of its Japanese American residents during World War II.
5. Pasadena should acknowledge its history of denying home ownership to ethnic groups and adopt a rent stabilization measure.
Excerpts from the research titled ‘Selected history of Pasadena’s Social Inequality’ can be read below.
News stories from 1939 report on the Pasadena Improvement Association's increasingly successful campaign to impose racial segregation: "Pasadena's property race restriction campaign swung into high gear last week as a total of 340 restriction agreements limiting use and occupancy of property to members of the white or Caucasian race were filed with the county recorder by the Pasadena Improvement Association. The wave of race restrictions on property throughout the Pasadena area was brought by the recent Brookside plunge controversy. Negroes contended for equal use of the swimming pool, basing their attack upon residential factors. Progressive elements (sic) look upon the restriction campaign as a serious outbreak of "American fascism". The Improvement association has signed up 1,250 property owners throughout Pasadena, City Director A.L. Stewart (sic), secretary-treasurer of the body, announced. "The Pasadena Chamber of Commerce today endorsed (sic) the plan of the Pasadena Improvement Association long-range program of property restriction to avoid racial conflicts and disturbances. Chamber directors voted to co-operate with the improvement association in a plan which sensibly settle problems to the satisfaction of Caucasian and non-Caucasian homeowners. Racial conflict was termed today as Pasadena's "No. 1 problem."
News stories from 1940 continued to highlight the Association's successes: "A.l. Stewart reported, "The area from Fair Oaks on the west and Orange Grove on the south to the city limits on the north and east is being rapidly restricted." "Fifty percent of the property owners in the neighborhood of Marshall Junior High School have joined the Pasadena Improvement Association's city-wide movement to restrict properties as to occupancy."
On February 20, 1940, Colin Stewart, the signer of the letter, reported that "under the direction of the Pasadena Improvement Association, restrictions have been restored to more than 2,000 properties."2 By 1941, Stewart announced that "95 percent of the Oak Knoll District is participating in the near-citywide restricting campaign. The district is south of California Street and east of Marengo Avenue."
As of 1941, the directors of the association included "nine bankers, six real estate men, three attorneys, one Pasadena City Director, and others. The organization is endorsed formally by the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, Pasadena Junior Chamber of Commerce, Pasadena Merchants' Association, Pasadena Civitan Club, Pasadena Realty Board, and Pasadena Property Owners' Division".
A 1941 academic study reported that "...about 7,500 pieces of property have been restricted, or about 60 percent of all residential property in the city." Stewart was elevated by his City Council colleagues to Mayor in 1941 and declared his intent to run for state assembly. He was condemned in press accounts: "A.l. Stewart is soon to run for assemblyman from the district in which Pasadena is located. The hatreds which the Pasadena Improvement Association fostered resulted in many Negroes losing their jobs and in many important losses which the Negro has felt."
"...the notorious Pasadena Improvement Association, father of the racial restriction campaign which has barred Negroes from almost every desirable neighborhood in the Crown City not already occupied by them."
The report's conclusion is “Ethnic conflict leads to tremendous human suffering. Ethnic conflict is usually not about ethnic differences themselves but involves conflict over political, economic, social, cultural, or territorial matters that are defined in ethnic terms.
Indeed, the primary argument offered in favor of the racial covenants was economic, i.e., an expressed concern over property values. Local attorneys crafted documents that "legally" denied non-whites the ability to purchase homes in most of the City, thus denying these non-white residents the ability to build intergenerational wealth through home ownership.
In crafting public policy and creating economic opportunity, the current City Council should constantly ask itself "Are we creating opportunity for all or are we creating opportunity for just the wealthy and privileged few?"
A desire for "quality" and "exclusivity" can quickly degenerate into prejudice and exclusion from opportunity based on perceived social class.”
More to come...