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Altadena Is No Sierra Madre

And that might be a good thing.

Recently, a reader took exception to one of my Patch columns. Oh, why be so modest--she takes exception to almost everything I write, but prefers to send her comments to me, personally and offline.

“Shut up already," she wrote. “Enough complaining about Altadena. I like the town, just the way it is.”

Really?  Well, what about the new second-hand store?

“I found a dress.”

Rite-Aid?

“I get a discount.”

Store-front churches?

"What's wrong with religion? The thing is, Karin, I moved to Altadena because it is Altadena. It’s funky, and not an imitation of any other place. You don’t want us to be,” and here she sneered, “another Sierra Madre, do you?”

Well, no, of course not.  Just … maybe. Sort of, a little bit.

“Because if you really like Sierra Madre so much, why stay here?”

She has a point. If downtown Altadena (wherever that may be) looked like Sierra Madre, given time, I might suffer from an overdose of quaintness, develop a cobblestone hangover.  I admire Sierra Madre, but in a guarded way.  I find the town’s wholesome and innocent image a little on the insistent side. As in, the city doth protest too much, methinks.

Besides, I wouldn’t want Altadena to go from one extreme to another. Lose our obsession with cashing a check every 50 feet and develop a fascination with hair instead. Not to be indelicate, but Sierra Madre is way too preoccupied with hair and where it’s grown. How else to explain all those salons, one or more on every block, and their  formidable menu of exfoliation techniques--shave, pluck, pulse, laser, electrolysis, bleach, thread, wax, sugar wax, chemicals.  Pick your poison.

On our side of the tracks, we’re also weird, but weird in an astrophysicist or artistic sort of way. I consider former residents Feynman and Zorthian to be our bookends, and most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

We differ from Sierra Madre in other ways, too. For example, we’re not aggressively pleasant, we don’t go in much for group hugs. In Altadena, we prefer to maintain our independence and lead our separate lives. When we do get together, as citizens, it’s often just for some recreational argument.  

And it seems we’ll argue about almost anything.  Maybe that’s why things never get done around here, never change. We argue for improvements, but can’t agree on where, why, or when to change, or how do it, or who screwed up last time we tried.

And so we soldier on, carrying our reputation proudly as the go-to place where everyone is welcome to cash a check, wash a car, buy a pre-owned shirt, or praise the lord. Not that any one of those items is a problem, it’s just such a limited selection.

No, I don't want to be a copy of Sierra Madre, even a first-rate copy. I’m just wondering if we’ll ever agree on some way out of a second-rate Altadena.

terry Morris January 18, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Am I the only one who absolutely HATES the idea of a Trader Joe's?
Leslie Aitken January 18, 2012 at 06:59 PM
To emphasize my point above, it has been a year since the Altadena Town Council interfered with a newly established Farmer's Market on Lincoln Avenue. So far, all that has resulted is endless conversation, meetings, promises -- and no market. This paradigm has proven itself a failure. Without change, we will be the same in five years as we have been for the past five years.
Lisa Maiorana January 18, 2012 at 07:01 PM
yes......lol ;)
Laura Monteros January 18, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Ha. ha! Many years ago one of the networks did a story on a planned community in the South that intentionally sold to blacks and whites in about equal numbers. They got along, but, at least in the interviews chosen by the editors, they didn't really mingle and a lot of the parents of both colors did not want their kids to intermarry. I almost wrote a letter to tell the reporter, "Come to Altadena and see how we get along and how many mixed families there are!" (Including mine, by the way, white & brown.) But I decided against it because I didn't want a bunch of furriners from east of the Sierra Nevadas moving in. ;-)
Laura Monteros January 18, 2012 at 07:05 PM
At one time, I thought of buying a 1-bedroom fixer-upper in Sierra Madre. I thought my eldest son could move in, get it in shape, and resell it. It was almost as much as my 4-bedroom in Altadena, and it was falling apart! It was just a shack to begin with. And it was in the line of both fire and mudslides. Overpriced doesn't begin to apply.
Laura Monteros January 18, 2012 at 07:08 PM
I thought most of those businesses were in West Altadena, and like it or not, those check-cashing places do a good business over here. But I admit ignorance of most businesses east of Lake. Has anyone tried the Armenian restaurants on Allen? I'd be interested in knowing how good they are, and what price range. Then I might make my way over there!
Lisa Maiorana January 18, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Are you kidding me Laura, they are fabulous? have you ever eaten Armenian food? Not only is it healthy but it's D-lish!
Steve Lamb January 18, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Armenian food is GREAT. I like both the Lebanese Kitchen and Bliss.
Steve Lamb January 18, 2012 at 09:58 PM
The Town Council has failed, sadly, as an institution because the reflexive question most members ask is "What will the County/Antonovich think about this?" and then they attempt to satisfy what they believe the answer to that question is. They have the intellectual and emotional content of courtiers. not representatives of a free people. Until that changes, or until the people of Altadena ignore the ATC and speak for themselves, things will not change. And the ATC has been working on a Farmers Market on and off for twenty years already. The answer is its not possible to serve the people and make the County happy. As Abe Lincoln said, quoting Jesus, "No man can serve two masters. He will love one and despise the other." Since the ATC is serving the County, guess who it is they despise?
SteveB January 18, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Bliss? Is this in Altadena?
Lisa Maiorana January 18, 2012 at 10:14 PM
idk about Bliss but you can go to the Altadena Food Fair on New York/Allen in Altadena across from Pattycakes and get homemade Armenian food and it is family owned by a wonderful Armenian family! ;)
Steve Lamb January 18, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Bliss is in the section of Altadena that was annexed to Pasadena against its will in 1960. (Bet I'm more or less the last living person who knows about this) And Yes, I've been meaning to try the new sidewalk cafe in front of the Altadena Food Fair. I bet its excellent, the produce there is.
Nico January 19, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Hey thanks, good lead for the Armenian food at Food Fair on NY/Allen. Will be my first stop after Mota's!
Lisa Maiorana January 19, 2012 at 01:18 AM
np - make sure you ask for the homemade Tabouli - The recipe is a healthful, delicious Mediterranean food recipe with cracked wheat, mint, garlic, lemon, tomatoes, green onions. Awesome place!
Dan Abendschein (Editor) January 19, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Btw here is a review of the place we ran on the site in 2010: http://altadena.patch.com/articles/altadena-food-fair-market-has-branched-out-with-new-cafe. I also have been a couple of times.... I like it. Good lamb sandwich and tzatziki. Also interesting Black Sea country sodas and beers.
Laura Monteros January 19, 2012 at 08:44 PM
No. I don't understand the Trader Joe's mystique. While you can get some things other stores don't carry, it is expensive and limited for week-to-week shopping. I do suspect a TJ's would do quite well in the Rite-Aid spot, though.
Laura Monteros January 19, 2012 at 08:47 PM
I have eaten Armenian but not for some time. It is definitely a matter of personal taste; I like it on occasion but not frequently. And not all restaurants of any ethnicity are good! I tend to forget about the restaurants on the east side. I know some are in Pasadena below Washington, but still, close enough. What are the prices like? That's an important consideration for me.
terry Morris January 19, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Trader Joe's is okay. I just don't like buying shrink wrapped produce. They started taking it out of the plastic, but frankly, I don't want to feed my family food grown overseas. A nice, locally owned market, with fresh produce, good meat, decent bread. sigh.
Lisa Maiorana January 19, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Prices are excellent Laura that's why I go there, I'm on a budget like everybody else. They have 5 stars on yelp, go check them out.
Susan Campisi January 20, 2012 at 05:41 AM
What a great conversation. If I had money, I'd open that alpine cafe. I have a name picked out! Someday, maybe. I can't wait to try Mota's.
Lori A. Webster January 21, 2012 at 12:47 AM
I used to work for Trader Joe's (you know their US headquarters is in Monrovia - used to be in Pasadena). While I agree that the prices are good, they are not American-owned. Trader Joe's, originally owned by a Pasadena native, has been owned by the family that owns the Aldi supermarket chain in Western Europe for years. Much of their fresh produce is brought in from Mexico or elsewhere (not US grown) and their other merchandise is mostly imported. So no, Terry, you're not the only one who is not wowed by TJs. They do, however, have a great business model, pay above the average scale for retail and have a 401-k match program that can't be beat. I worked with a guy who'd worked for TJs part time since he was 18. He was in his late 30s and already had over $100,000.00 in his retirement account. But I digress....a locally owned shop with decent food and prices would be ideal. This is why we invested in the Arroyo Food Co-op.
Lisa Harris January 28, 2012 at 06:55 PM
I disagree with Lisa M (there sure are a lot of Lisas on this thread :) that everyone prefers Sierra Madre to Altadena and that price is the main reason someone would choose Altadena. Just in this thread we've had one person, Mary Brandenburg, saying she'd rather live in Altadena than Sierra Madre. I like Sierra Madre a lot but our first choice was Altadena because of the location -- it's closer to the western destinations our family is committed to. I also wouldn't want a million dollar house... diff'rent strokes :)
Tony Brandenburg January 28, 2012 at 11:54 PM
oh, i wouldn't put too much credo into mary bandenburg's statement. they burn an effigy of her and l'il subject in the 'madre every couple of weeks. lol
Richard February 11, 2012 at 06:47 PM
altadena is far from perfect. that is the problem with altadena many think they are perfect and yet reality is far from it
Richard February 11, 2012 at 07:54 PM
lol the sad truth is that there are alot of altadenas who also don't like the fact that browns and blacks are more in altadena lol sad truth. personally ran in to very ignorant people in "beautiful altadena" who think that way... altadena has alot of work to do on itself.
Richard February 11, 2012 at 08:37 PM
I HAVE TO AGREE WITH MRS FINCH i've known seiko and her father and Kimmy her sister and her other sister lulu there are very famly oriented and very nice and respectable. i would always bring my cleaning here
Nico March 19, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Surprised that Patch is not covering this upcoming meeting...anyone concerned about Altadena's lack of services planning on attending? This article appears on the Altadena Blog. http://www.altadenablog.com/ Saturday, March 17, 2012 County to start "visioning process" to update Altadena community standards by Timothy Rutt
Steve Lamb March 19, 2012 at 07:51 PM
?????????
Dan Abendschein (Editor) March 19, 2012 at 07:53 PM
@Nico - Looks like we will have some more information about that community standards process and what the public input sessions will be like at Tuesday's Town Council meeting. I mentioned it today in an article previewing the meeting and I will have a full article about that upcoming process on Wednesday. http://altadena.patch.com/articles/town-council-preview-farmers-market-flag-update-community-standards
ed meyers March 19, 2012 at 11:29 PM
All, The mtgs are on 4/4, 4/25 & 6/6 at Loma Alta Park Gym 7-9p. This is a GREAT opportunity for residents & business voices to be heard. More info to come.

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