Like many grande dames, two cultural landmarks in Old Pasadena — the Castle Green bridge and the Pasadena Playhouse lobby and stage — have recently undergone a bit of a facelift. You can check out the refreshed theater the next time you see a play; you can see the bridge for yourself during Castle Green’s Mother’s Day open house and tour — if you’re not fortunate enough to know a resident there.
CASTLE GREEN BRIDGE
Around the turn of the 20th century, Pasadena was a popular destination for affluent visitors wanting to escape winters in the East and Midwest, and in 1893 developer George Gill Green built the luxurious Hotel Green on the east side of Raymond Avenue. The destination was so popular that the hotel soon expanded, and a second complex was built across the street, which became known as Castle Green. Today Castle Green is the only phase of the development that remains intact after Hotel Green was largely dismantled and replaced by Stats Floral, which still houses part of the lobby.
The Castle, an architectural mix of Moorish, Spanish and Victorian elements, was converted into apartments in 1924, says architect and architectural historian Bill Ellinger, who will be a bridge docent during the May tour. “They added kitchens, added bathrooms to serve each apartment,” he says. “They’re so different, from small studios to the tower units,” says Susan Futterman, chair of the Friends of Castle Green, which is hosting the Mother’s Day event; visitors will be able to see the grand lobby with its Moorish and Turkish sitting rooms, plus about a dozen apartments and the enclosed bridge that used to connect Castle Green to the Hotel Green across Raymond Avenue.
Today the bridge juts out perpendicularly from the building toward Raymond but stops at the sidewalk — the other half having been taken down some time ago — and it has been undergoing much-needed repairs and updating. It is a wide corridor lined with windows and a tower at the end, and has at various times been home to several artists, as well as a private bookstore. In the 1960s the noted African-American artist Charles Wilbert White used it as studio, as did director Tim Burton and Pasadena artist Kenton Nelson, separately, later on.
The tower’s window frames were recently restored by Mary Gandsey, who stripped, repaired and shellacked the wood. The wainscot panels propped on the floor against the wall await remounting — they’re made of slate painted to look like marble, a feature apparent throughout the building, Ellinger says. The old floor covering has been taken up, revealing a set of small-gauge tracks running the length of the bridge. What were they used for? There’s a clue in a charming news blurb from the inaugural issue of Sunset magazine in May 1898, which begins, “The aristocratic residence town of Southern California and rendezvous for the traveling upper ten has enjoyed a remarkably gay season and the hotel accommodations have been sorely taxed.” It then mentions the Hotel Green and its new addition — the bridge. “The Hotel Green has an annex under construction which will be completed about July 1st and one hundred additional rooms will be added to the La Pintoresca during the summer which will relieve the pressure next season.
“The Hotel Green annex will be connected with the main building across the street by a covered archway forming a charming promenade and furnished with a miniature trolley car which will convey guests to and from the office.” That was certainly a much-appreciated amenity after the long trip from back East.
The tour runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Advance tickets cost $30 and are available at brownpapertickets.com/event/2891231; on tour day they’re $35 at the gate. The tour plus a Mother’s Day tea at noon go for $85 and tickets must be purchased in advance on the website. Proceeds benefit Castle Green preservation.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away on El Molino Avenue, the Pasadena Playhouse has been undergoing its own renovations. That’s thanks to a special allocation from the State of California, part of a measure authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) because of the playhouse’s special status as the State Theater of the California, an official honor bestowed in 1937. The funds have been used for some much-needed repairs and upgrades, such as new lobby lighting and a new stage floor, as well as an overall lobby redesign.
“As our productions have grown larger and larger, the stage itself needed to be rebuilt to accommodate that,” says Joe Witt, the theater’s general manager. Many layers of the old flooring were torn out, says Brad Enlow, the theater’s technical director, as he pries away a bit of paneling from the side of the stage to show what’s underneath. Workers installed four new layers, starting with one made of marine-grade tongue-and-groove plywood, topped with two layers of marine-grade plywood and finished with Masonite. “That adds a tensile strength that will take the weight that we require,” he says. He mentions the 2016 production of Casa Valentina, which “had a two-story house that rotated 360 degrees up and down the stage. That was 18,000 pounds, and we had to engineer around it.”
The interior designer hired to redo the lobby is Rozalynn Woods, who says, “The building is Spanish Colonial Revival, built in 1925, and we wanted to do things in keeping with that style.” She quickly saw that the wall-to-wall carpeting had worn down, and the mustardy color of the paint seemed too dark. So she ordered wide-planked oak for the flooring, typical of the 1920s, and had the walls repainted a creamy white. “Just by doing those two things we were able to create a fresh, bright and welcoming space,” she says in a telephone interview. To make the area even more welcoming, a sitting area was added where the reception counter used to be. Two loveseats face each other across a low table, and behind the table is a console — a 19th-century Spanish antique.
Various elements in the lobby remind visitors of the theater’s long and celebrated history. On the landing of the two staircases leading up to the balcony are oil portraits of Pasadena Playhouse founder Gilmore Brown. The wall facing visitors as they enter boasts six vertical banners, adorned with a selection of past hit plays and historical photographs, including one of Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett in the 2006 production of August Wilson’s Fences and another of Mary Bridget Davies in A Night with Janis Joplin from 2015.
A particularly significant oil painting hangs nearby, over the Spanish console. It shows the jubilant crowd in front of the Pasadena Playhouse on opening day, and it was painted by the architect Elmer Grey himself. After years hanging in the playhouse’s library, where it was seldom seen by the general public, Grey’s work now has its proper pride of place.