21 Aug 2014
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Walking Lincoln Avenue

Since Walmart announced it would open a store on Lincoln there has been a lot of discussion about what it means for the neighborhood. But how many of us do more than drive through?

Walking Lincoln Avenue Walking Lincoln Avenue Walking Lincoln Avenue Walking Lincoln Avenue

On one of the Walmart strings last week –  and this could have been on Altadena Patch or Altadenablog, because I read them both -- someone said, and I’m paraphrasing from memory here, “How many people weighing-in on what’s best for Lincoln Avenue know Lincoln Avenue as anything other than a way to and from the freeway.”

And I thought, that’s not fair. Well maybe it is. A little. Sort of. Hmm, yes.

When it comes to Lincoln Avenue, I’ve always been a spectator rather than a participant. Other than a means to an end – freeway or Super King, I know Lincoln Avenue by reputation, mostly. A local battleground.  First there was La Vina to the north -- the fight between open-space advocates and those who wanted a very closed-space, indeed. Then there was Lincoln Crossing to the south. And now the Walmart.

It’s  true – I have  treated Lincoln like one long onramp to the 210. I really know nothing about it at all.

And with only a little research one can find some nice bits of history:

 “Carl and Ruth Curtis…raised oranges and Russian Wolfhounds on North Lincoln from 1906. West Altadena developed as a haven of small idyllic ranges…” Michele Zack, Altadena, Between Wilderness and City

Lincoln Avenue was born and christened Fair Oaks Avenue sometime at the tail end of the 1800's. A dirt road leading to a middle- and upper-class pastoral paradise in Altadena,  an extension of Pasadena’s main drag.  Aside from the craftsman house and groves belonging to the Curtis family, the adjacent areas included other small farms and dairies.  You could ride your horse or buggy up there. Alternately, you could take the urban railroad which tracked the road about a half a mile to the west.  The train brought the rich to their villas, the hikers to their trails, and the middle-income workers in Pasadena and Los Angeles to their own little piece of heaven.

At some point, a street to the east joined with the Fair Oaks of Pasadena, and this became the New Fair Oaks. They eventually rechristened the original Fair Oaks, “Lincoln Avenue.”

From the early part of the last century and up until about the 40s, West Altadena remained primarily agricultural. Though not entirely. In 1919, the dawn of prohibition, Altadena followed its own path:

"Altadena had a strong historical connection with grape growing, wine production, and resisting temperance movements." Altadena, Between Wilderness and City

Where the Community Garden stands today at Lincoln and Palm, locals and others from far flung towns, including Hollywood types, ritzed it up at the Marcell Inn -- a high-end restaurant that served fine food and hooch. Wow, we had a place for dining and dancing. Who’d have thought?

Times change.

If you amble south on Lincoln, from Altadena Drive to the sign that says West Altadena Business District, little of paradise remains. Well, that’s true almost anywhere, isn’t it?  

There are small stores along the way, but if they’re “Mom and Pop Shops,” with a few exceptions, you won't see a lot of moms and pops in evidence. I didn't, anyway.  

But sandwiched between stores hawking liquor, second hand clothes, religion, dry cleaning and other, unlabeled, facilities, there are places where people live. Homes.  Some which were built in the early part of the last century; preserved in some cases, or partially transformed and refurbished.

This was the first time I walked the length of Lincoln Avenue in the 10 years I’ve lived in Altadena. Will a Walmart serve this neighborhood well, if at all?  I don't know. But I know who I want to ask -- those who have roots in the general vicinity. Those who live here and walk the area every day, tend the landscape, plant the flowers. In the best of all possible worlds, I think the choice should be theirs.

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