What do President Eisenhower’s architect, Amelia Earhart and Pasadena have in common? Answer: Hastings Ranch.
BY: Sara Smola
Images: Courtesy the Pasadena Museum of History
Pasadena’s architectural history runs the gamut from Spanish to Craftsman to mid-century modern, each with a unique story about what catalyzed the movement and perpetuated its growth. However, the iconic status these styles have achieved can lead to the dismissal, as simple tract housing, of perhaps less aesthetically dramatic, but no less significant styles. Yet, the ranch style homes that make up the community of Hastings Ranch, just north of the 210 Freeway off the Michillinda Avenue exit, have an unexpectedly rich past.
The story of Hastings Ranch’s began back in the 1880s, when Charles Cook Hastings bought over 1,000 acres for a mere $7 an acre (roughly $150/acre today. Still a bargain in Pasadena!). Hastings turned the property into a ranch called “Mesa Alta Rancho” which was used as the home base for over 300 acres of grape vines and a mansion. After the senior Hastings died, his son, Charles Houston Hastings, took over the property. The younger Hastings had an appreciation for the exotic, filling the property with rare specimens of foliage as well as peacocks, collies (rumored to be upwards of 30), pheasants, cats and horses.
Around the early 1920s, the Sierra Aircraft Company of Pasadena built the Sierra Airdrome on property directly adjacent to Hastings’ ranch (The same land where the Hastings Village Shopping Center currently resides). According to an article in Aeronautical Bulletin, the airport was where a “safe landing can always be made.”
Though the airport made an impact conducting aerial surveys and was the site of the first Pasadena-built airplane, perhaps the the Sierra Airdrome’s biggest claim to fame was came in 1921, when a rookie female pilot graced the runway as one of the stars of the city’s second air rodeo with pilots performing dangerous maneuvers in the sky to impress the crowds. The pilot’s name was none other than Amelia Earhart—the legendary pilot who later disappeared during a flight. The young pilot had yet to make a household name for herself but proved her skill by participating in the event just two days after passing her flying test. Like Earhart, the airport disappeared without a trace less than 10 years after its inception.
Meanwhile, life on Charles Houston Hastings’s ranch continued on its eccentric way until 1928 when a fire broke out and burned down the Hastings manor. Following that unfortunate event, life was never the same and the ranch fell into a state of disrepair as time went on, never fully recovering.
When Charles Houston Hastings died in 1942, the Hastings Foundation sold the property, which was then divided into one of the earliest versions of the later ubiquitous “housing tract.” Well-known Los Angeles architect Edward H. Fickett (who served as architectural advisor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower) led the design of what we now know as Upper and Lower Hastings Ranch. Better Homes & Gardens called Fickett, the designer of thousands of homes, the “Frank Lloyd Wright of the ’50s.” The open floor plans of the North Pasadena homes evoke an inviting atmosphere but similar to Wright’s forward-thinking architectural elements, Fickett’s Hastings Ranch homes were designed with a rather minimal and modern approach for the period.
By 1951, 1,800 sprawling ranch style homes were completed in the Hastings Ranch development. Even today the area continues to develop exponentially with the addition of shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants and a golf course. Of course, though much has changed, one piece of the past is preserved: while out and about in East Pasadena to Arcadia, if you’re lucky and if you’re keeping a close lookout, you may just see a peacock or two (perhaps a direct descendant of the original Hastings Ranch peacocks) roaming or perched on a rooftop.