An Afternoon Tour of the Norton Simon Museum and Old Town Pasadena

Saturday, May 12, 2012 – Today I spent the afternoon with some friends of mine.  One of my friends, Florentine, is from Germany and is staying here in Los Angeles for six months.  We met at the Wende Museum in Culver City, where we are both interning. Florentine’s friend, Daniel, was also with us.  Daniel lives here in Los Angeles, but he is from Canada. As for me, I am a native Angeleno from Pasadena.  So it was a pleasure to hang out with Florentine and Daniel and serve as their tour guide.

We planned our afternoon outing to visit the Norton Simon Museum (NSM) and to explore Old Town Pasadena.  Although Daniel has been to Pasadena, this is Florentine’s first time visiting Pasadena and a first time for both her and Daniel visiting the Norton Simon Museum.

All three of us met in front of the museum at opening time which is 12 noon. The Norton Simon Museum has an amazing art collection consisting of art works created by the Old Masters, modern artists and art from South and Southeast Asia.  Out in front and around the museum are sculptures created by Auguste Rodin. One of my favorites is The Burghers of Calais because it shows bravery in its realistic form, thus making it more relatable for people (click here for more information).  In very expressive form, Rodin shows the struggling emotions these men are dealing with as they are on their way to sacrificing themselves to the English King to save their city, Calais.

Entrance to the Norton Simon Museum

The Burghers of Calais, 1884-95 / Auguste Rodin / Norton Simon Art Foundation

The Burghers of Calais, 1884-95 / Auguste Rodin / Norton Simon Art Foundation

Once we got inside, we took our time exploring each gallery. The museum has two floors (click here to see a gallery map).  The main floor focuses on art from the 14th century to the 20th century and the galleries are organized in chronological order.  Art works created by artists such as Bassano, Botticelli, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Rembrandt, The Blue Four (Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Alexei Jawlensky and Vasily Kandinsky),  Ed Kienholz, Diego Rivera and others are all located on the first floor. To see a list of artists in the museum’s collection, please click here.

Also on the main floor is a gallery specifically used for small rotating exhibitions.  The current exhibition the three of us saw was Lessons of the Cherry Blossom: Japanese Woodblock Prints curated by a colleague of mine, the Assistant Curator, at the Norton Simon Museum. The exhibition is celebrating the 100th anniversary of cherry blossoms given as a gift to Washington D.C. from its sister city, Tokyo in Japan.  The exhibit contains Japanese woodblock prints of landscapes showing the cherry blossom and of people, especially women, serving as metaphors to the cherry blossom in regards to beauty.

Lessons of the Cherry Blossom / Norton Simon Museum / May 2012

The museum also has a theater for lectures, screenings, and performances located on the main floor.

Downstairs focuses on the South and Southeast Asian art from areas such as India, Pakistan, Cambodia and Thailand.  To see highlights or a list of the South and Southeast Asian art in the museum’s collection, please click here.  Another rotating gallery space is located downstairs and is used for larger exhibitions.  This space consists of three galleries.  The last exhibition that was on view here was Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California.  An upcoming exhibition, Significant Objects: The Spell of Still Life will be on view in this space starting July 20, 2012.

South & Southeast Asian Galleries / IN THE FRONT: Guardian Lion, 12th century / Cambodia: Angkor period, 1100-1199 / Sandstone / Norton Simon Art Foundation, from the Estate of Jennifer Jones Simon / IN THE MIDDLE: Vishnu, c. 950 / Cambodia: Angkor period, 925-975 / Sandstone / Norton Simon Art Foundation / ON THE WALL: Lintel with Reclining Vishnu (located on the wall), 11th century / Cambodia: Angkor period, 1000-1099 / Sandstone / Norton Simon Art Foundation

Outside in the back, is the museum’s sculpture garden.  When the museum’s interior was being renovated during the late 1990s by Frank Gehry, he recommended landscape designer, Nancy Goslee Power to renovate the museum’s garden.  Monet’s Giverny in France was influential in the conception of the sculpture garden. An idea that Jennifer Jones Simon (the actress and Norton Simon’s wife) loved.  The garden is beautiful and tranquil.  Sculptures by artists such as Aristide Maillol, Henry Moore, and Peter Voulkos are positioned throughout the garden, surrounding the large pond. The museum’s café is located outside in the garden.

Sculpture Garden at the Norton Simon Museum / May 2012 / Photo taken by Nicole Murph

Mountain, 1937 / Aristide Maillol / Norton Simon Art Foundation

The time we spent at NSM was approximately a little over two hours and both Florentine and Daniel enjoyed the museum.  One of the key things they liked was not only the collection, but that the museum was a perfect size to spend a couple of hours to see the entire museum and its collection without feeling overwhelmed.

After visiting the museum, we began walking down to Old Town Pasadena , which is around two blocks from the Norton Simon Museum.  The main drag in Old Town is Colorado Blvd and the surrounding streets.

Old Town Pasadena: Colorado Blvd. / Photo Taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

Old Town Pasadena: Colorado Blvd. / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

All three of us walked Colorado Blvd from the museum all the way down to Vroman’s Bookstore.  During our walk, Florentine asked questions about the history of the area. I pointed out some of the stores such as the pawn shop, Crown City Loan & Jewelry, that have been in business in Old Town for many years.  I also explained some of the history of the architecture. Overall, the architecture is original but has been restored, renovated, added and altered over the years since Old Town’s infancy during the 1890s when the original Indiana colony established themselves in the “Crown of the Valley” (Pasadena).

Old Town Pasadena: Colorado and Fair Oaks, 1890 / Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library’s Photo Collection

(FIRST FLOOR) Crown City Loan & Jewerly on Colorado Blvd. The building just got a fresh coat of paint recently / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

Some of the buildings in Old Town remind me of an old book that has been passed down from generation to generation and visually shows the signs of age and repair, the original details in its binding and pages as well as any side notes that have been clearly written or erased by various people. In 1983, Old Town Pasadena (a.k.a. The Old Pasadena Historic District) was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. To see more original photos of Old Town Pasadena over the years, check out the Pasadena Digital History Collection .

Architecture design in Old Town Pasadena / Photo Taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

Old Town Pasadena / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

Old Town Pasadena / 35 So. Raymond Bldg / Photo Taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

We also visited Castle Green . It opened in 1888 as the magnificent Green Hotel that stretched two blocks.  Now, the rooms in the Castle Green were converted from hotel rooms to private condominium spaces, but still maintain its original décor and detail.  The size of the hotel has been reduced to be located on one block.  The Castle Green is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Castle Green / The Western Architect, December 1905 (journal); periodical held in the University of Washington’s Architecture and Urban Planning Library

Castle Green / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

Castle Green / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

Towards the end of our walk, I showed Florentine and Daniel Pasadena’s City Hall and the Pasadena Public Library.  (Click here for the history and architecture of City Hall and here for the Public Library). Our last stop before getting on the Gold Line train to go home was the Paseo Colorado, an open mall for entertainment and dining as well as for condominium living. The Paseo Colorado is fairly new – opened since 2001 – and designed as an urban village with the influence of a 1924 Beaux Arts design to fit with City’s surrounding civic buildings. Since the 1970s, the Plaza Pasadena, an indoor mall, use to be where the Paseo Colorado is now.

Pasadena: City Hall / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

Below are more photos I took:

Pacific Asia Museum / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012 / The original location of the former Pasadena Art Insitute between 1940-1960s now the Norton Simon Museum.

Old Town Pasadena: Union Street / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

An old photograph of Pasadena in its early days /

Old Town Pasadena / Photo taken by Nicole Murph / May 2012

**** With regard to copyright, each image shows the appropriate credit where it is due. Please abide.*****

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