The following article appeared in the Pasadena Star-News on July 15, 2014.
Why Mission Street is the soul of South Pasadena – Pasadena Star-News
By Larry Wilson
July 15, 2014
When South Pasadena planners wrote the Specific Plan that guides growth on the city’s Mission Street, it was so long ago that not only was the Gold Line not built — the light rail was still being planned as the Blue Line.
Back in 1996, planners’ key worry was at the top of the document: How to “take advantage of Blue Line transit access as a catalyst for economic development while still maintaining the small-town, pedestrian-oriented character of its Historic District.”
Eighteen years on, the Gold Line solidly in place, Mission has not just retained its pedestrian orientation — it’s a way better place to be on foot. So much so that one New Urbanist blog, Walk Score, gives the Mission/Meridian Village neighborhood a stunning 97 on a 100 scale, a rare nearly perfect score that means “daily errands do not require a car.” Dry cleaner, grocery — bit of a haul west on Mission to TJ’s, but not much — wine store and restaurants up the wazoo. Plus the fabulousness that is Buster’s for coffee and ice cream, run by those Richards sisters since their dad was mayor of the town and the Union Pacific freights rattled behind rather than the light rail.
The apartment ads that pop up on the blog show rents have gone up a bit since my friend Martin had rooms above the current Gold Line stop for $350 a month in the mid-’80s. These things happen.
One of the amazing aspects of Mission is how even as it’s gone upscale it has almost entirely resisted the chain stores that bland out every other Southern California downtown except Los Angeles’s. As the city’s Planning Director David Watkins has noted, before light rail, the area around the intersection of Mission and Meridian was dominated by antique stores “run more as hobbies than as active retail concerns, and as a consequence both the street and its businesses were underutilized,” as he told consultants doing a case study on the city two years ago.
I was out of town in February and had missed Merrill Shindler’s stellar review of Crossings, the extraordinary new restaurant just east of Buster’s. The other night I met Tony George, the South Pas architect who designed the interior space — huge new black I-beams and old brick, bars upstairs and down, a charming patio out back under a big tree — for dinner there. Place was happily packed and the food was great.
Tony is also chair of the city’s Planning Commission, and I asked him what makes Mission work. “It’s pedestrian-friendly and extremely dynamic,” he said. “For such a small stretch of commercial, you have an enormous amount of variety, surrounded by multiple types of residences.”
What do people complain about? “Oh, parking, of course,” he said. “I personally have never had a problem parking. But I don’t mind walking a block or two. It’s when people only want to be able to park right in front …”
I remind him that crazy luck is called a Doris Day space — the way she zips right in to a spot. In the movies. Though few know about it, there already is a public pay structure underneath Moule & Polyzoides’ Mission Meridian Village, and there will be more public parking at the mixed-use development going up at the old school district HQ down the street.
“We have to watch that we don’t lose the essence of what makes Mission Street what it is,” Tony adds. But with the Thursday night farmers market, the historic architecture, the transit options, the schools, a Chamber of Commerce as interested in promoting art and culture as much as business, the heart of South Pasadena is an essence most Southern California cities can only dream of.