Pasadena History

Pasadena History Collection

Pasadena City Hall, 1927

The Pasadena Public Library is dedicated to the preservation of local history and culture. Its Centennial Room, located in the Central Library, brings together the Library’s collection of books and other materials which reflect Pasadena’s unique historical and cultural development. Materials include magazines and newsletters, newspapers and news clippings, oral history transcripts, pamphlets, scrapbooks, yearbooks, city directories, historical maps, photographs, sound and video recordings, ephemera, city reports, and many other types of city documents. Special attention is given to collecting “tomorrow’s history,” which means that essential current information about the City is also a part of this collection and available for research or personal study.

Access to current information is provided via the Neighborhood Information kiosk, which has on display City Council agendas, minutes, budget reports, and EIRs, as well as materials from City Commissions for public review. Many of these documents and information about Pasadena can be found on the City of Pasadena’s website.

Books About Pasadena

Pasadena’s well-documented history is represented in the collection of historical and descriptive books about Pasadena and Pasadenans, many of which are housed in the Centennial Room. The book collection includes titles that are relevant to the City, as well as the surrounding communities, such as Altadena, South Pasadena, and San Gabriel. History of Pasadena (Hiram Read, 1895), Pasadena: Historical and Personal (J.W. Wood, 1917), Pasadena Area History (Manuel Pineda, 1972), and Historic Pasadena: An Illustrated History (Ann Scheid Lund, 1999) are a few notable books in the collection that are excellent resources for anyone interested in the Crown City’s history.

In addition to books about Pasadena and its neighboring communities, the collection in the Centennial Room includes city and business directories going back to 1880, architectural notebooks containing news clippings and ephemera about prominent buildings and structures in Pasadena, biography notebooks containing news clippings about Pasadenans who helped develop the area or contributed to its cultural development, yearbooks of local high schools and junior college, a selection of novels set in Pasadena as well as a representative selection of books by Pasadena authors and local publishers and presses.

Because local government is intricately tied to a city’s history and development, an extensive collection of City-issued publications—documents, reports, codes, newsletters, and studies—which provide citizens with historic and current information about the City and its operations are also available.

Historical Photographs

Pasadena’s history is also reflected in the Library’s collection of over 10,000 photographs. The following broad subject areas are covered in the collection: buildings and structures, businesses, municipal departments, people, organizations, transportation, and urban development. The collection encompasses dates from the 1880s to the 1990s with the majority of the photos documenting Pasadena prior to 1925. Since 2010, the Library has been digitizing its photo collection and making them available online through the Pasadena Digital History Collaboration. If you are unable to locate an image you are looking for, please call us at (626)744-4066 (select option 7) or submit an Ask Us! request online for research help.
Historical Materials & Reproduction

Ephemera & Other Materials

Other materials in the Pasadena Centennial Room include historical maps, newspaper clippings, pamphlets, scrapbooks, newsletters, periodicals, posters, postcards, films, videos, sheet music, and sound recordings. The Pasadena Master Index provides a topical index to much of this material.

Pasadena Newspapers

The Centennial Room has a number of historic newspapers stored in map cabinets. Most of them are California and local publications, such as the California Star, Sacramento Daily Union, San Francisco Daily Herald, Pasadena Chronicle, and Pasadena & Valley Union. A few others are from around the nation, such as the Boston Evening Post, New York Tribune, Chattanooga Daily Rebel, and Chicago Tribune. Most of these newspapers are from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s and do not represent a complete collection. A comprehensive collection of Pasadena newspapers on microfilm is available in the Microform Center. The Pasadena Public Library maintains an online news index which indexes articles about Pasadena from the Pasadena Star-News, the Pasadena Weekly, the Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley Journal, and a number of other local papers dating back to 1880.  This database only gives citations and not the full-text article; it's used in conjunction with the Library's microform collection.

California Collection

The Library’s Californiana collection dates back to the turn of the 20th century when Nellie Russ became the second city librarian in 1898. During her tenure, she assembled a collection of books which were rare at the time of their acquisition. These books, including some newspapers, trace the history of California from its discovery to its exploration and ultimately to its development. The collection contains works in English and Spanish that relate to California’s rule under Spain, Mexico, and the United States. The growth of the collection is chronicled in Gertrude Stoughton’s The Books of California.

Treasures in the Californiana collection include:

  • A collection of letters of early Californians such as Antonio Pico, Hugo Reid, and Abel Stearns
  • Copies of The Californian, the state’s first newspaper, founded in 1846 by Walter Colton in Monterey.
  • A vellum bound 1787 copy of Father Francisco Palou’s life of Father Serra, Relacion Historica de la Vida y Apostolicas Tareas del Venerable Padre Fray Junipero Serra.
  • Early accounts and guides to life in California’s gold fields such as an 1849 second edition of Felix Paul Wierzbicki’s California As It Is and As It May Be, Or, A Guide to the Gold Region.

Centennial Room Services

The Centennial Room is open to the general public during the Library’s regular business hours. Reference assistance for the collection is available at the Central Service Desk in the Main Hall.

The collection is for reference use only and should not be removed from the Centennial Room. If you need to make copies, we recommend using a digital camera or camera phone to take an image of the item; however, if you need a print copy, please see library staff for assistance before removing an item from the Centennial Room.

While most items in the Centennial Room are easily accessible without permission, some items must be retrieved by the reference staff and signed out upon the presentation of a library card or some other identification. Some rare, fragile or difficult to replace items, such as photographs, are available by appointment only. Arrangements may be made with the reference staff for making or obtaining copies of photographs or for copying oversize materials such as maps.

The Library reference staff is happy to assist with your research needs in person, online through our Ask Us! service, or by letter addressed to:

Reference Services
Pasadena Public Library
285 East Walnut Street
Pasadena, CA 91101

Pasadena History Research Guide

Find resources for researching general and topical Pasadena history for topics such as Pasadena architecture, the history of different ethnic groups in Pasadena, and historical photographs of Pasadena.

Pasadena News Index

Search the database to find current and historical newspaper citations about Pasadena. The index primarily includes citations from the Pasadena Star-News, the Pasadena Weekly, and the Pasadena Journal from 1996-Present, with some older material from these and other Pasadena news sources indexed as well. Some full-text articles are also included.

Pasadena Digital History Collaboration

Access the greatest collection of digitized items in Pasadena contained in a comprehensive database of images, stories, sounds, and publications relating to Pasadena drawn from various institutions and individuals.

Historical Newspapers

Explore the library’s collections of historical Pasadena newspapers and directories.

Ask Us! or Book Us!

Can't Find the Information You Need?

The Pasadena Public Library staff are always happy to help with Pasadena history research. Call us at (626)744-4066 and select option 7 or submit an Ask Us! request online for research help. You can also Book Us! for a research consultation with our local history librarian for even more in-depth help.