Altadena is an unincorporated community within Los Angeles County served by the Pasadena Unified School District
A brief history of Altadena
The Hahamog-na were the indigenous inhabitants of the Altadena area until 1770, when the tribe’s chief was met by General Portola of the Mexican Army, who was exploring “Alta California.” In 1773, the San Gabriel Mission was established and the city of Los Angeles was founded in 1781. By the turn of the century, the lands of southern California were claimed in the name of the king of Spain. When Mexico declared its independence from Spain, Altadena became the northernmost portion of Rancho San Pascual. Rancho San Pascual was incorporated in 1874 as “Pasadena,” a Chippewa name derived from a translation for “Crown of the Valley.”
In 1880, two brothers, Captain Frederick and John Woodbury from Iowa, purchased 937 acres of land, which became known as the Woodbury Ranch. They soon planned residential development and renamed the community “Altadena,” “alta” from the Spanish for “upper” and “dena” from Pasadena. Although an idea came about in the 1930s that the name Altadena came from an Italian mixture of “alta-eden,” it was actually a strategy devised by the new Altadena Chamber of Commerce to attract new residents.
In the late 19th century, the Altadena area remained an undeveloped area of LA County. The new community’s country location soon attracted well-known public figures from the East– some sought better weather, some real estate opportunities, and some retirement. In the early 20th century, the area continued to develop, now including more philanthropy and services such as the Altadena Country Club (now known as the Altadena Town & Country Club). Zane Grey bought a house in 1920 and lived there until his death in 1939.
Altadena also established its quality education system early. Altadena Elementary School was built in 1903, and has long been known as a “jewel in the crown” of the Pasadena Unified School District. The school district is devoted to caring for its students and committed to providing broad, integrated education in a safe environment.
Business also flourishes in Altadena today. The largest technology incubator in California, the Business Technology Center, is located in Altadena. The BTC opened in 1998 and is a 40,000-square-foot facility housing 30 technology tenants. Altadena is also close to Cal Tech’s world famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Recently, outstanding master-planned communities have been established in Altadena, such as La Viña Crest and La Viña Oaks. Both developments feature Spanish Monterey and Craftsman architecture and luxurious amenities such as Jenn Air gourmet cook tops, extensive walk-in closets, wood burning fireplaces and city lights views. Homes in these communities also feature steel framing, which promotes environmental awareness and has the highest earthquake resistance rating.
Altadena residents can enjoy Altadena Town and Country Club, an equity-owned club encompassing several gorgeous acres of tennis courts, gardens and a swimming pool. The club serves as a cultural and social gathering place for the communities of Altadena, Pasadena, Sierra Madre and Monrovia.
The Zane Grey Estate, once the author’s home, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Completed in 1907, the then 7,400 square foot estate was originally commissioned by Edith Norton Woodward and her husband Arthur H. Woodward, a wealthy Chicago couple. Mr. and Mrs. Woodward retained Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey (no relation to the author) to complete the Mediterranean-style home which sat on five acres of land along Altadena’s famed “Millionaire’s Row.” The foundation, floors, walls and ceilings are made of reinforced concrete. This somewhat unusual request was made by Mrs. Woodward after losing her sister in the Paris Opera House fire and then herself surviving the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, the deadliest theatre fire in U.S. history.
In 1920, the Woodward’s sold the estate to Zane Grey, famed author whose breakthrough novel, Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) established him as one of the 20th century’s leading writers of western lore. Many of Grey’s novels and short stories were written at the estate. Grey greatly expanded the size of the house by adding an additional 7,000 square feet. The two-story addition is known as “the east wing” and it is in the second floor studio that Grey wrote from 1928 until 1939. Grey died in his home on October 23, 1939 and his wife, Lina “Dolly” Grey, passed away in 1957. Grey’s eldest son, Romer, retained the home until 1970 at which time it was sold to its current owners. It is not open to the public.
A Victorian home in Altadena provided a set for the film “Catch Me if You Can.” The community is also known for its Christmas Tree Lane, an avenue lined by 150 towering cedars, which are decorated with lights in December. Altadena also is home to the Altadena Foothills Conservancy, an organization devoted to preserving natural habitat and wildlife in the area.
A 1928 quote by Judge Arthur P. Will still suits Altadena today: “We desire to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors; we are a residential community and we have just what we came here to get – country life with city advantages.”