01-06-2017 Pasadena Delights and Sierra Madre Memories

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs California

First, a little bit about Catalina Spa.  Fellow bloggers who travel to this part of the desert sometimes enjoy time here.  I am thinking of Betty Graffis, who we met here a couple of years ago, also of George and Suzie, who have enjoyed this park as well.  Imagine my surprise when we drove in the familiar entrance, only to find the sweet little gate house empty, and the friendly guys who always welcomed us “home” nowhere in sight.

Always fun to be in the desert and see the bad weather stacked up on the western horizon

We checked in on the 4th, after leaving the busy days of the rally behind.  Friend Laura once again drove to the fairgrounds before we left and we had a great lunch at Walter’s in LaVerne.  It is nice to actually see her in person, for Mo to meet her, and for Mattie to get more pets from the person who went to great effort to make sure she was well cared for while we were gallivanting around during the Rally.  It was nice to thank Laura in person.

As we approached Catalina, I was having visions of warming up my chilly body in my favorite whirlpool tub in the world.  Uh Oh.  It was a bit of a shock to continue down the main entrance road to find this. The gate is still there, but the new management doesn’t feel the need to have anyone guarding it. Better be sure you remember your gate code, as it is closed all the time now.

Catalina Spa was sold to a new owner and he has big plans for turning it into a 5 star resort, beginning with gutting the old game room, store, showers, and spa area.  There are a lot of 5 star resorts around, they are a dime a dozen, and I find them quite boring.  Catalina is a bit funky, or at least it was.  The now gated pool was open all night, and was an adults only pool.  The spa was just steps away from where we like to camp in the 30 amp area, and my favorite thing was to walk there in the dark and slip into the pool at 4am, swimming and soaking while watching the stars and waiting for the sunrise.

It is a good indicator of my age that I discovered I am NOT very flexible.  I was furious, and frustrated, and especially angry that no one had mentioned a word of this when we made our reservation last fall.  The office building is gutted as well, and rumor has it that what we call “the lower park”, with 30 amp service, sites that are much less than level, and old trees to provide desert shade, will become an area of park model rentals and permanent homes.

Yeah, sure, the big pool in the upper park is still open, with its spa and game room available.  I would avoid that pool, and think in all the years we came here, only swam there a time or too.  You know…stuff like teenagers courting by jumping on each other and splashing isn’t really conducive to a relaxing swim.  It isn’t quite the same to walk the distance in the dark, or jumping into the car to go swimming.

We are here.  We are enjoying our site adjacent to the dog park, as is Mattie.  We have been swimming, so far just in the evening, with the aforementioned teenagers, and all the busy-ness that is part of the upper clubhouse, aka people.  The hot tub is a lot smaller, and more full, at least when it is usable.  So far that has been only once, when the rest of the time the temperature is hot enough to actually scald a tentative foot used to test the waters.  Ah well.  Only thing in life that is sure is change, but I sure don’t like it.  I guess other people have a bit of the same idea, at least the ones who are not here.  The park is about half empty.

Without knowing about the changes, we recommended Catalina highly to our new friend Claudia, co-owner of Adventure Caravans, and she is staying here as well.  With a big rig parked right next to the upper clubhouse and a great view over the desert, I think she is enjoying herself. With a personality as big as Texas, Claudia loves people, and can talk to anyone.  Our first night here she invited us to join her at the clubhouse for one of the dinners.  It was interesting, and we had a great time with Claudia, but we probably don’t have to try the clubhouse dinner again. 

Even though we are 90 minutes farther east than we were at the fairgrounds, Mo and I decided long ago that on this trip we would travel back to Pasadena for something special to us.  Friday morning, with the predicted rains expected to hit on Saturday, we drove back west.  We were blessed with gorgeous skies, views of the mountains to the north and light traffic on the 210 for the entire distance. Our destination was the Pasadena Museum of History.

As most family and friends are aware, we are building a house at the cottage property this year, and while it won’t be a completely traditional Craftsman house, we hope to incorporate some of the elements of style that make Craftsman homes so welcoming.  The history of the Arts and Crafts movement in America is fascinating, with several names that stand out.  William Morris, creator of designs that were rich with floral motifs, Greene and Green, architects famous for their Craftsman style homes, and another name not quite as familiar to many, Batchelder.

Ernest A Batchelder was a tilemaker who settled in the Pasadena area in the early part of the 20th century.  His style is unique, and his fireplace and fountain installations are well known throughout the Los Angeles area especially, but occur all over the United States.  We were thrilled to discover that the Pasadena Museum of History has a special exhibit scheduled while we are in Southern California, and we weren’t about to miss it.

We do have an extra special interest in the exhibit and Batchelder installations because Mo has been hauling around crates of antique un-set Batchelder tiles for a couple of decades.  She installed a few of them in her house and in the cabin in Rocky Point.  (The new owners had no idea what they had there, so we left a bit of literature for them).  Our plan is to use the tiles in the new house, including the fireplace. 

As we entered the exhibit, both of us were tickled pink and very excited to be there, and to see our tile guy so honored.  The show was small but beautifully done.  One of the largest installations of Batchelder tile is the  now closed Dutch Chocolate Shop in downtown Los Angeles.  It is inaccessible to the public, except for special tours, and we have never managed to get here at the right time to participate. An especially delightful exhibit at the show was a simple chair in a small alcove and a virtual reality headset.  Mo and I put on that headset and walked all around the interior of the chocolate shop.  There was also a visit to the interior of Batchelder’s home and gardens, now owned by Robert Winter who donated tiles and curated the exhibit. 

We loved seeing several of our tiles on display, especially the “City of Hearthside Dreams”, a 12×12 tile which will be the center feature of our fireplace.

I have always wanted to visit the Gamble House, another Pasadena Arts and Crafts site, and had no idea that the location was just a couple of blocks away from where we were at the Museum of History.  Our timing was perfect, and we snagged tickets for the last docent led tour of the day through the house.

The architects Greene and Greene were highlighted in a special exhibit that we saw last week at the Huntington, and it was exciting to enter the house for which they are most famous.  The artistry of this home is magnificent, with the connection to natural materials, and the simple ethic of the Arts and Crafts movement so well used.  Arts and Crafts style was a move away from the doo dad complexity of the Victorian style that was so popular during the late 19th century.

The tour was fascinating, and as is often the case, we were not allowed to take photos of the interior. I am sure they want to sell the expensive books that are in the lovely bookstore!  Here is a link to a ton of images from the web of the exterior and interior of the house.What we discovered was that no matter how impressive and wonderful the Arts and Crafts style can be, it is often quite dark.  The interior of the house was incredibly dark, and reminded us why we are going to go much lighter in the house that we build.  Light!!  Need Light!!

Southern California is a haven for old Arts and Crafts homes, from simple bungalows to huge mansions like the Gamble House.  We once again drove the streets of Pasadena’s Bungalow Heaven, only this time we had a different thought in mind.  Instead of simply looking for cute houses, we wanted to check out the stone veneers that grace so many of these homes.  Our new home will have stone veneer, but we want it to look like this, not like the brightly colored big fake stones that we see around Grants Pass.  Who knows if there is anything like the real thing around our part of the world that isn’t cost prohibitive.

I was born in Sierra Madre, where my grandmother bought a piece of property in the upper reaches of Sierra Madre Canyon.  It is an eclectic place, and has been so ever since 1929 when she bought the property.  She left in the mid 70’s, and her own home high on the hill burned in 1980, but she owned the lots and the second house that was lower on the hill until close to her death in 1993.  I lived in this little house in 1962 and 63 and my husband and I brought our first born daughter Deborah up these steps in January of 1963.

I have returned here with my girls, to show them where they came from, but never had been here with Mo.  Trying to explain how my grandmother spent decades climbing more than 100 steps to carry her groceries to the tiny 1 bedroom house high on the hill wasn’t easy.  Mo kept saying, “Where?  How did she get up there?”

The steps are almost gone now, and I had to hunt to find them.

One year Mo took me to visit her roots at the family home in North Dakota, and again in Columbia City, Oregon, where she grew up. Both homes were traditional bungalows, lovely and solid, much like Mo.  It was interesting to compare our roots, to think about how the people who were influential in our lives affected how we turned out. 

Here is a photo of my grandmother in 1955 at the lower end of her steps.

I keep saying I have a reason for my somewhat off the wall history, I can blame it on my eccentric grandmother who lived this canyon, drove this road in her 1937 black Buick, and climbed the stairs to her tiny house, so small the fridge had to be kept on the porch, for almost 5 decades.

This is the tiny house that was at the top of the hill, bought in 1929 and where my mother grew up

Mo and I drove around Sierra Madre, enjoying the old rock walls and home facades that are such a part of this town.  I realized that the reason I am so attached to the idea of rock facing and bungalow style might have to do with my roots so long ago in Sierra Madre. 

The city square in the hill town of Sierra Madre, California

Our return trip was later than we expected, with the extra time we took to tour the Gamble House, and traffic was as it often is on the freeway.  We ambled along Huntington Drive instead, with evening approaching and traffic so heavy, decided it was time to find food.  A quick check of “Chinese Food Nearby” on google maps yielded a restaurant just minutes from where we were.

We settled in for a great meal at Youngs, with orange chicken done right with lots of real orange and red peppers, crispy and perfect, and Mandarin beef, spicy enough and tender.  Daughter Melody always said never eat Chinese food in a town of less than 50,000.  I think Duarte has fewer people than that in the actual city limits, but as LA people know, all these cities run together and the Chinese restaurants are great.  Anything from current Asian fusion, to the more traditional “Chinese” that is like comfort food is available, and the traditional big aquarium was the perfect finishing touch.

Back on the 10, the traffic was pretty slow all the way east until we were almost to Palm Springs, but we didn’t mind.  The day was so fulfilling the drive didn’t matter in the least.