Walking Altadena: In the Dead Zone

But don't worry, the natives are friendly. And silent as the grave.

I’ll do anything to avoid hearing or reading the W-word these days. The issue has pitted husband against wife, neighbor against neighbor, and caused members of our local gardening group to pummel each other with their heirloom tomatoes.

Brutal, it’s been brutal.

So how about a visit to a place famous for peace and quiet – where no one shouts, and those from different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs co-exist. It’s a place of quiet harmony, even though most permanent residents have nothing more in common than the same heart rate.

Yes, I’m talking about . I don’t think you’d call the pervading philosophy “live and let live,” but then, perhaps that’s the secret.

At Mountain View, the famous share the same real estate with the infamous and the not famous at all. And it works, even though they’ve got some folks with notoriously big egos in the same gated community -- scientist Richard Feynman, inventor and dreamer Thaddeus Lowe, Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, to name only three.

And since local business seems to be the topic du jour, consider this: The Mountain View client base is fiercely loyal; more than 120,000 have checked in over the past 120 years, and not one has voiced a single word of complaint.

That, my dears, is customer satisfaction.

Mountain View first broke ground in 1882. Prior to that, not many options awaited Pasadena’s dearly departed. Most were laid to eternal rest in their own backyard or the back acreage of the family property. Which made eternity a relative term indeed, as land traded hands frequently, and excavation took place on a massive scale, for stores, houses, streets, railroads.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the “garden cemetery” concept landed in Southern California.  The garden cemetery didn’t imitate a park, rather, city parks, eventually and for the most part, imitated the garden cemetery – with acres of lush grass, landscaping, shaded paths, trees, statuary.  Cemeteries were not only a final resting place for some, but a recreational area for others. Visitors strolled the grounds, had picnics.

Though the permanent residents represented a diverse population, in the beginning, a cemetery wasn’t exactly a model of equality.  Maybe the dead couldn’t take it with them, but they could sure as heck let everyone know how much they had to leave behind.  This led to family mausoleums, the bigger the better, and monuments, intricately carved headstones, and statuary.  The wealthy imported the crème de la crème of grave markers from Vermont, where Italian artisans, trained in Milan, produced lasting works of art.

Nowadays, modern cemeteries favor a vista without raised headstones or mausoleums, just granite markers, like nametags, all of the same size, pressed flush with the earth. Tidy, polite, democratic, but reminiscent, I think, of filing cabinets.

Not so Mountain View; well, it is in Altadena, after all. Where one can expect individuality and creativity from the rich and the poor, the scientist and the bohemian, the quick and the dead.

Alison Johnson July 17, 2012 at 04:56 PM
I love Mountain view for a quiet, restful break from work! I work just down the street near the Pasadena Health Department, and it's a beautiful space with large, shady trees. I have been known to go in with my lunch bag and a book, lean up against a tree, and commune with nature. I have no relations there that I know of, although my father-in-law, whose hobby is genealogy, found some distant, long-ago relatives there to fill in blanks on their family tree. I highly recommend it.
Pasadena Adjacent July 17, 2012 at 05:21 PM
You can blame "The Builder" at Forrest Lawn <-- (oxymoron) for the "name tag" look thats become the industry norm. He referred to those other signatures of death as "misshapen monuments."
Angela Odom July 17, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Well, I don't know. There might have been a few who "rolled over" in the last couple of weeks. Funning aside, I've never been there but now I'm encouraged to do a walkabout through there.
doris finch July 17, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Thank you, thank you Karen. It isn't because the last two men I worked for at Caltech, Max Delbruck [Nobel Laureate] and Giuseppe Attardi [National Academy member and delightful Italian], lie there now that someday my husband and I will too. No, it is from appreciation of the history of the place, its fully diverse collection of folks, and sheer love of Altadena, The Place. A wonderful patchwork history could be written drawing on the residents of that ground. I was told once that Pasadena didn't want anything as depressing as a cemetary within its priviledged borders, so where else would they think to dump the bodies? Altadena, of course. I won't swear by that, but welcome any corrections from Michelle or others.
Karin Bugge July 17, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Well, I didn't want to poach on Michele's research in "Altadena -- Between Wilderness and City" (again!), but of course, I did reference it. Interesting stuff -- for example, in the early part of the last century, with all the Altadena health/resorts -- La Vina, etc. -- many people traveled from faraway places to breathe our air. But some did not recover, and many are buried here.
michele Zack July 20, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Thanks for referencing my book, Karin and Doris! Mountain View is indeed a repository of history. As for this lovely spot's location, in addition to not wanting a cemetery in Pasadena, residents there, whose early homes were along the banks of the Arroyo Seco, found it terribly disturbing when winter rains washed out the remains of departed family members. The Giddings family who built the cemetery owned lots of land in Altadena, and also had family members in Pasadena and an illustrious past. Joshua Reed Giddings was named for his grandfather or grand uncle, abolitionist senator from Ohio who wrote the first Republican platform and opened Congressional debate over slavery. I have taken many groups of teachers there to visit graves of such interesting historical characters as Henry and Ruth Thompson. Ruth was daughter of John Brown, leader of Harpers Ferry Raid meant to launch a slave rebellion, and her husband Henry participated in some bloody business in Kansas in the run up to the Civil War. Pasadena was full of Union vets, and about 500 are buried at Mountain View.
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