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Inventing tomorrow

May 25, 2007 |  7:02 am



May 25-27, 1957

Is it terribly cruel to pick apart a 50-year-old vision of the future? Must we laugh at the naivete of the 1950s as the work of well-meaning but misguided idealists?

Let's gently dissect a plan proposed for the Pasadena of the future. 

In 1956, the Chamber of Commerce assembled a brain trust in drafting a suggestion of what the city might look like in 20 years for the Pasadena 1976 Committee and they got some things right--but when they missed the mark, they were off by a mile.

The plan was presented by four impressive men: industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, who created a model city of the future for the 1939 World's Fair; Caltech President Lee A. DuBridge; Consolidated Electrodynamic Corp. Chairman Philip S.  Fogg; and  Walter S. Young, superintendent of Bullock's Pasadena, which opened in 1947 as "the store of tomorrow."
Their underlying premise was sound: Problems of air, water and "a shaking earth" must be solved before any of the vision can become reality, DuBridge said. "All are capable of solution."

Recall that the plan was drafted at the height of the Southland's terrible problems with air pollution.  "No single factor will so much impede the development of this community as the continuation of smog," DuBridge said. Pure air may be as costly as pure water, "but the price must be eventually be paid," he said.

What did they get right or mostly right? Let's take a look:

  • A green belt of recreational parklands running doughnut-shaped around the perimeter of Pasadena.
  • Multiple-story apartment dwellings to house a population which must look upward rather than outward for living space.
  • Futuristic shopping parks with multiple-story garages, footpaths, flowers and pools--plenty of greenery.

And what did they get wrong? Oh, it's painful:

  • Moving sidewalks.
  • Axial express trains (monorails).
  • Public and private helicopters for transportation.
  • The four-day workweek.
  • A large-screen outdoor TV "so that an audience might once again have the excitement of sharing a performance in the pleasant company of others."
  • Recreation parks with with museums, libraries, amphitheaters and hi-fi systems.

Yes, the men envisioned parks with piped-in music: "One might allocate different music to different spots. Listeners could choose between Bach at one park and Rodgers and Hammerstein at another." Clearly, these men did not imagine boom boxes and rap music.

Why Pasadena? Because it was a community in transition.

"Pasadena has changed, they agreed, from a city known as a place where the wealthy come to retire to a city alive with intellectual scientific pursuit, an incubator of small businesses in modern fields," the Mirror said.

My favorite part: "A research park, probably in the vicinity of Caltech, where a 'climate of thinking' would attract industrial research projects--and also bring Pasadena a high-dome type of citizen." I think I'll head to California and Lake in my private helicopter and get a vente cinnamon dolce latte. Yes, I want whipped cream on that.

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