Fine art and architecture in the shadow of the Rose Bowl

A love for fine art and football may seem dissimilar passions, but both can be satisfied in a city 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

Pasadena, California, may be best known for the Rose Bowl football game and the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day, but it’s also the home of two stellar art collections and the finest example of Craftsmen architecture in the nation.

And it began with the Indiana Colony, a cooperative of Hoosiers fleeing bitter Midwest winters in the late 1800s.

The colony flourished as a citrus-growing community, incorporating as Pasadena in 1886. To promote their newfound paradise — where they bragged flowers bloomed in winter — members of a prominent social club put on the first Rose Parade in 1890. Football became part of the festivities in 1902.

The love of flowers, football and fine art intertwined when wealthy industrialists began buying up land, building mansions and using their growing fortunes to purchase paintings, sculptures and rare manuscripts.

The Rose Bowl

Officially the Tournament East-West football game, the first Rose Bowl kicked off at Tournament Park. Michigan trounced Stanford 49-0, with Stanford quitting in the third quarter. After that embarrassingly lopsided score, New Year’s Day festivities turned to ostrich racing, Roman-style chariot races and other spectator events until football returned in 1916.

The crowds quickly outgrew Tournament Park and the current Rose Bowl was built in 1922. Designed by architect Myron Hunt after the stadium at Yale, it expanded to seat more than 90,000 spectators. The home field of the UCLA Bruins has hosted five Super Bowls, the 1984 Olympic soccer matches, the 1994 Men’s World Cup and the 1999 Women’s World Cup. It’s also a venue for concerts, summer music festivals and a flea market that draws 2,500 vendors on the second Sunday of every month.

Tours of the Rose Bowl on the last Friday of every month take in the original locker room, the press box, luxury suites, the Court of Champions and the California High School Football Hall of Fame that opened last summer.

Outside the stadium, visitors can play golf on a 36-hole course and walk or run a 3.3-mile recreation loop with the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop. A statue in a rose garden near the stadium entrance honors Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball. Plaques describe his childhood in Pasadena where he excelled at five sports in high school before going on to community college and UCLA.

A short drive south on Orange Grove Boulevard leads to Tournament House and Wrigley Gardens. The headquarters of the Tournament of Roses occupies this Italian Renaissance mansion once owned by chewing gum magnate — and former Chicago Cubs owner — William Wrigley Jr. Four and a half acres of gardens bloom with more than 1,500 varieties of roses, camellias and annuals. Free tours are available on Thursdays April through August.

Only 12 Gutenberg Bibles printed on vellum still exist. One is displayed under glass at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

The Huntington

A Gutenberg Bible displayed in the center of the exhibition hall draws gasps from book lovers at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. The first book printed with movable metal type revolutionized how knowledge was spread throughout the world. Dating from the 15th century, it is one of 48 to survive today, and one of only 12 printed on vellum made of animal skin. Steps away, more rare books beckon: an illuminated manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and a First Folio by William Shakespeare. They are among a fraction on display of the more than 11 million items in one of the world’s great independent research libraries.

The library is just part of works acquired by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington and his wife, Arabella, herself an avid art collector. In 1903, Huntington purchased San Marino Ranch outside Pasadena and built a mansion now housing European art at The Huntington. Visitors are drawn to Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” and to a nearby gallery of American works, including Mary Cassatt’s “Breakfast in Bed” and Edward Hopper’s “The Long Leg.”

A shoya house built in Japan around 1700 was reconstructed last fall at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

Exhibit buildings are surrounded by 130 acres of theme gardens, including a classical-style Chinese Garden and a Japanese Garden with a moon bridge and koi ponds. Last October The Huntington opened the reconstructed home of a shoya built in 1700 in rural Japan. As a village administrator, the shoya served as an intermediary between farmers and the samurai. The 3,000-square-foot residence was both a family home and a community gathering place.

Norton Simon Museum

The man behind a multinational corporation that included Hunt-Wesson Foods and Max Factor cosmetics didn’t buy his first painting until he was in his 40s. Norton Simon began collecting art in the 1950s with the works of Degas, Renoir, Gauguin and Cézanne. By the end of the 1960s, his buying sped up with Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch and Flemish Old Masters, as well as 20th-century paintings, sculptures and works by Picasso, Henry Moore and Braque. His marriage to actress Jennifer Jones in 1971 marked a turning point. During the couple’s honeymoon in India, Simon began exploring Indian and Southeast Asian art, an interest until his death in 1993.

Norton Simon spent more than 30 years amassing an astonishing collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, as well as Indian and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest private art collections, his namesake museum contains a jaw-dropping display of roughly 1,000 items of the 12,000 objects it owns. Among the astonishing collection: Picasso’s “Woman With a Book,” Goya’s “Saint Jerome in Penitence,” Gauguin’s “Tahitian Woman and Boy,” Van Gogh’s “Portrait of a Peasant,” Kandinsky’s “Open Green,” Manet’s “The Ragpicker,” Diego Rivera’s “The Flower Vendor” and what may be the most acclaimed sculpture by Degas, “Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen.” Sculptures from India include “Shiva as Lord of Dance” and “Ganesha with Siddhi and Buddhi.”

Formerly the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, Simon assumed leadership of the financially strapped institution to give his collection a home. After his death, his wife had the galleries in the California Modern building renovated by architect Frank O. Gehry. The sculpture garden was remodeled to evoke Monet’s Giverny, water lilies and all.

The Gamble House, the finest example of Craftsmen architecture in the nation, was used in exterior shots of Doc Brown’s house in the 1985 film “Back to the Future.” Courtesy of Katherine Rodeghier

Gamble House

Southern California is known for Spanish Colonial architecture, but Pasadena also has residences built during the early 20th-century Arts and Crafts movement. Chief among them is Gamble House, built in 1908 as a winter home for Cincinnati residents David Gamble, son of the founder of Proctor & Gamble, and his wife, Mary.

Considered the most complete and best-preserved work of Craftsman architecture by Charles and Henry Greene, the 8,100-square-foot home is on the National Register of Historic Places. The architects also designed the furnishings seen on tours given Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sundays.

Beams in the entryway, built by hand because electric tools were not available, are inspired by the interlocking joints in Japanese temple construction. Leaded art glass wows visitors at the front door and is repeated throughout the house. An art glass pendant hangs over the dining room table that opens to seat 14. One chair, taller than the others, was built for Aunt Julia, Mary’s unmarried younger sister, to bring her 4-foot-10-inch frame to the level of fellow diners. Her bedroom with willow (wicker) furniture has one of the home’s sleeping porches. Fresh air was thought to ward off illness before the era of modern medicine.

The master bedroom has a heated daybed used for naps because it was considered improper to recline on a bed once it had been made. Rookwood vases, made by the Cincinnati ceramics company founded in 1880, stand on black walnut furniture.

Gamble House was considered modern for its time with electric lights and indoor plumbing. The former garage, housing both electric and gas vehicles, is now a bookstore with an extensive collection devoted to the Arts and Crafts movement.

Film lovers may recognize Gamble House in exterior shots of Doc Brown’s house in the movie “Back to the Future.”

Information for this article was gathered on a media visit sponsored by Visit Pasadena and Visit California.

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If you go

Information: Visit Pasadena, (800) 307-7977 or

Where to stay: The Langham Huntington, Pasadena, Los Angeles, a four-star resort and spa once owned by Henry Huntington and a landmark for more than a century. (626) 568-3900 or

Where to eat:

• Pez Coastal Mexican Kitchen: A modern seafood house and bar opened in February. (626) 210-0775 or

• Bar Chelou (“weird” in French): Serves shared plates inspired by the bistronomie movement in Paris. (626) 808-4976 or Start with a wine tasting next door at the wine bar Monopole by WineRX. (626) 577-9463 or

• Russell’s: A prime spot for upscale diner dates since 1930, serves breakfast until 4 p.m. (626) 578-1404 or

• Gale’s Restaurant: Northern Italian cuisine and made-to-order pizzas. (626) 432-6705 or

• Union Street French Café: Casual coffee and sandwich shop. (626) 639-3575 or

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