Scientologists take the awnings down

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After I complained in my column about how much the sight of the awnings promoting businesses no longer there made me, and other passersby who had mentioned it to me, miss South Raymond Avenue’s Braley Building — La Fornaretta, the Pasadena Antique Mall, Moji’s — the Church of Scientology, which has owned the building for two years, asked me over to show that it’s finally taken the awnings down.

Good job. But Pasadena branch church President Eden Stein also noted that when I expressed fear that criticizing the famously thin-skinned church might earn me a snake in my mailbox, I was thinking of retribution meted out by Synanon, not the Hubbard-founded Narconon. No relation between the two. I stand corrected.

After staffer Janette Williams then wrote a story about widespread Old Pas concern about the building, which has been empty for over a year and is looking weathered and disused in the midst of the otherwise bustling district, the church says it has kicked into high gear, and will have plans for a renovation within a few weeks and expects to begin work by the end of the year and to complete it by March 2009. Eden showed me photos of similar historic buildings taken over by the church in Madrid, San Francisco, Milan and London. They look good. Not that they probably have really good Sicilian-style pizza joints in them.

The Scientologists couldn’t say whether the new churchy place would include an educational diorama version of the mansion on South Orange Grove Boulevard where in the 1940s church founder L. Ron Hubbard lived with JPL rocket scientist John Parsons , the Aleister Crowley protege. They didn’t know if the house is still extant. Or perhaps it’s this one, pictured in a front window of the Braley Building, reflecting the Vandervort Building across the street:

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Adios to Elise


Former Star-News and SGVN science reporter Elise Kleeman had a going-away bowling bash Friday night at the All Star Lanes in Eagle Rock. She’s heading back to Philadelphia in search of the next step on what I think will be a brilliant career ladder.

Of all the Pasadena science reporters I hired over 13 years of doing so, Elise was the first one who had a crucial insight into the local techno world: She had an undergraduate degree (in geology) from Caltech itself. Two of our science reporters had graduate degrees from the institute — but that’s not the same experience. Older students are not part of the same pressure-cooker culture, with its all-nighters for days on end and its big releases of Ditch Day and student house parties.

That’s two ways good: Just being able to get into, and then graduate from, the best scientific college in the nation means you really get it. You’ve got both the smarts and the know-how to talk to the engineers and scientists in their own language, rather than in the head-scratching, “Gee, could you walk me through that one again?” conversation those of us who are untrained have to go through.

Not only that: There are plenty of Caltech profs and researchers — and to a lesser degree JPL engineers — who do not suffer fools gladly. It makes for a hard interview for the average Jane.

Elise is never that. Brilliant, funny, an excellent translator of high-flying research into stories the rest of us can understand — a perfect science writer. (She also got the no-sidewalks culture of Altadena, where she lived, and did a very good job of covering the Town Council there as well.)

We’ll miss her excited trots through the newsroom, and we’ll miss Elise.

A Westridge legacy

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When the trustees of Westridge School on South Orange Grove held a going-away party for Tuesday night for Fran Scoble, the head of school for 18 years who is retiring, we were surrounded by at least parts of her legacy.

Not the intellectual parts, as such. Those go forward into the world with her students. In addition to her administrative duties, Fran taught a senior honors seminar I once guest-lectured in, and the level of discourse in that room and at the famously high-achieving school in general would have left many a graduate-school gabfest in its wake.

Under the camphor trees at dinner, it was the physical beauty of the extraordinary campus, unified under Fran’s — well, under her reign — that stunned. Already a campus with a Greene & Greene, a Roehrig and Whitney Smith buildings, it all came together with a new master plan that includes the Fran Norris Scoble Performing Arts Center. Beautiful.

Just the place for future alumnae to begin to rival past ones such as aviatrix “Pancho” Barnes and Pasadena’s greatest writer, Harriet Doerr.

Lots of fellow heads of independent schools were at the gathering to praise Fran, including a very funny James Astman, headmaster of Oakwood School in North Hollywood.

He recalled that Fran often started off her talks with the loveliest parable of the Buddha:

It is said that soon after his enlightenment the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha’s extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked,

“My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?”

“No,” said the Buddha.

“Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?”

Again the Buddha answered, “No.”

“Are you a man?”


“Well, my friend, then what are you?”

The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

Simply awake — and open to the world — is what the best teachers are.

The Gold Crown Awards

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There is no cooler spot on Earth to hold an awards ceremony, or a party, or to hold anything at all, than the Castle Green on South Raymond Avenue. This year the Pasadena Arts Council had an especially good reason for giving its annual Gold Crown Awards there — this year the Golds were the Greens, for people who give a lot to the arts in the Pasadena area and who did it in a eco manner.

The awards went to David Brown of Descanso Gardens in Flintridge, Susanna Dadd and James Griffith of the Folly Bowl in Altadena, and the Mother’s Club Family Learning Center in Pasadena.

In the photo below, that’s David and Judy Brown; Annie and PAC board Chair Steve Nowlin; Susanna and James.

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The bash was a blast, and Lightbringer’s Tom Coston and Paddy Hurley and I conspired.

I did not see Miss Havisham, but she was surely there somewhere.

The little ol’ electric car from Pasadena

My step-brother, Bart Hibbs, a Caltech grad, one of the world’s leading experts on batteries of all types and an AeroVironment engineer, has put his money down on a Tesla and so is in line to get the fastest little Lotus-bodied electric sports car ever built.

The line’s a year long.

Until the zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds thing comes along, here’s a video from Pasadenan Bill Provence showing his much cheaper and much slower electric car, which our former staffer Melissa Pamer wrote about a few weeks ago, and which he hopes to put into production next year.

Bill Provence driving on El Molino

The integration of PUSD

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Left: Marge Wyatt and Delores Hickambottom Tuesday at the Museum of History

Dorothy Garcia, PHS class of 1973, was naming all the great electives a Pasadena student could take in the district in the early ’70s.
“Asian literature, science fiction, African studies,” she ticked them off on her fingers. “And” — here she looked toward the rear of the conference room at the Pasadena Museum of History Tuesday where a bunch of us had gathered to discuss the early years of desegregation of the schools — “it was because you all took us really seriously.”

“You all” would be revered former school board members Al Lowe, Marge Wyatt and Ann Hight, who helped preside over the schools during the busing period, and who took the wrath of the reactionary community for doing so. They eventually were booted by a new board majority that literally tried to make John Birch Society propaganda required reading. Dorothy and the rest of us hardly suffered from that lack of overly narrow standards that practically eliminates electives these days. Then she could be student body president, a cheerleader, a hippie artist and a political leader simultaneously. She went on to a storied academic career of her own at Bennington and Mills and teaching future teachers at Pacific Oaks, and now operates Art Aids Art out of Cape Town, promoting education and sustainable economic development in South Africa through the arts.

Al gave a joking reply to Dorothy’s praise of the dynamic between students and the schools then.

They took us seriously, he laughed, “Because we were scared of you!”

The conference was themed “The Integration of PUSD: How it Happened by Many of the People who Made it Happen & Its Legacy Today.”

Its legacy is clearly dismal, but it was not integration’s fault. And integration was not the darling of only the progressives — Ann, a stockbroker, future president of the Chamber of Commerce and lifelong Republican, recalled being appalled by the L.A. Times headline when she joined the board: “Liberal Integrationist Appointed to the School Board.”

It was those who left town who destabilized the schools. Conference co-organizer Michele Zack recalled how by 1975 Newport Beach was known as “Altadena By The Sea.” Al recalled federal Judge Manny Real, who ordered the district to integrate, saying in 1974: “I wonder what would have happened in Pasadena if all the energy expended in trying to block desegregation instead went into making it work.”

And it didn’t work because some in the educational establishment maintained the old legacy of institutional racism. Robin Kelley, recently lured away from Columbia University by USC, where he is now professor of history and American studies, became at 32 one of the youngest tenured full professors in the nation. At PHS in the late ’70s, though, the schools by then battered down, he was told by a counselor from whom he sought help with college applications that he shouldn’t even bother to apply.

The schools left us rather than we them. But anyone who hasn’t lifted a finger to remedy that, who has never been on a campus — or not in 30 years — has no credence in this conversation.

Dog day afternoon

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For some reason, by the time I get down to the Pasadena Kennel Club’s annual dog show at Brookside Park, it’s always late in the afternoon of the second and final day — so late that you might be able to sneak in your own hound, aka border collie mix Charlie, seen howling at left.

Last year when we got there, the only thing going on was a few stragglers from the agility trials. When the expert borders, Aussies and other herding dogs are on their game in agility — jumping hurdles, diving through soft tunnels, hip-hopping through fence posts — you’ve never seen anything like it in your life. What we happened to catch was somehow even better: the agility beginners, who often as not would completely fail to do anything agile whatsoever, declining to leap, halting when they should hit the teeter-totter, wandering off to sniff the lawn and other normal dog stuff. It was really funny.

Sunday when my mom Marka Hibbs and her caregiver Amala and I got there for the end of the centennial version of the dog show founded by Lucky Baldwin’s daughter Anita, we were just in time for the grand finale, the best in show. I was of course all for the border collie entry, seen below, which had won the herding group:

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Or at least for the gorgeous Bernese mountain dog, below, which probably really should have won:

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Instead, the judge unaccountably gave best in show to the standard poodle, which was sheared into one of those frou-frou ‘dos with a big basketball-sized Afro on top, shaved legs and topiared balls atop each foot. It looked like a space alien, so scary that I just couldn’t find my way toward taking its picture. I like the looks of standards all right when they are not made grotesque.

Could we maybe ban shearing for dog shows? And the bobbing of tails while we’re at it? I’m just saying. The AKC world is not my world.

See you at the 101st!