By Joe Lusnia
Things are feeling different, somewhat back to normal, and some of us maybe venturing out to
places we haven’t been in a while, rediscovering what we once lost and maybe some new
things along the way. The Gold Line is a great way to explore this “new” world and to feel a part
of something again.
In case you’ve forgotten, the Gold Line now stretches all the way from
Azusa to East L.A. That’s a lot of traffic hours. Still, I don’t know why most Angeleno’s don’t take
advantage of what the Gold Line offers. Besides getting you around for next to nothing, there
are some real hidden gems to be found along some of those stops, places maybe you didn’t
know even existed, or maybe overlooked. Let’s see what we can find.
We’ll start our treasure hunt at the Sierra Madre Villa station. At one time this was the end, or
beginning of the line, depending on how you looked at. Here, you don’t even have to look hard
to find some gems: there’s a Best Buy, an El Torito, Starbucks, and the Pasadena Sandwich
Company across from the Bed, Bath, and Beyond. But we’re talking about the hidden treasures,
the placers you maybe didn’t know existed, like A Noise Within! A Noise Within is an award-winning theater company whose home it tucked away behind the Sierra Madre Villa station, in
the old Stuart Pharmaceutical building, a mid-century modern masterpiece designed by Edward
Durell Stone, a gem in and of itself. The company puts on about six plays a season, with always a
Shakespeare or two thrown in for good luck. They also put on their rendition of A Christmas
Carol every holiday season, a treat for the entire family.
On to our next stop, the Allen Station. If you’re a PPC student and you take the Gold Line, you
are probably very familiar with this stop. Top’s Burgers is right down the street but everybody
knows about Tops. Then there’s Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters! First, let me inform you this
has no affiliation with the distillery. I know, I was disappointed too. With that said, this is not
your typical coffee place either, not your Starbucks or Peet’s. This is a serious coffee drinkers’
establishment, as it says in their name, they roast their own coffee right there on the premises.
Next up is Lake Avenue Station!
Lake Avenue Station shares part of its name with a very well established and well-known
neighbor, Lake Avenue Congregational Church. The church takes up the entire block on the
northwest side and deservedly so as it’s been severing thousands of people both spiritually and
physically since 1896. Just south of the station you will find Colorado Blvd and just a short walk
from there Vroman’s bookstore. Vroman’s is not our find, but it is a genuine fourteen karat
solid gold pick. No, the hidden gem here is a little north of the station, a bit of a hike. No, not
Echo Mountain, which sits at the top of Lake, but a few miles down from there at the corner of
Lake and Mountain. That’s Roma Deli, the home of The Sandwich! If you are looking for
authentic Italian products from Italy in Pasadena, this is the place. And if you’re looking for
arguably the best sandwich in all of Los Angeles, this is the place. This was the late Pulitzer
Prize-winning author Jonathan Gold’s favorite sandwich, allegedly, and is well worth the trek.
You don’t order the sandwich; you just grab it and go; they make hundreds every day. I’m not
telling you what’s in it because it is what it is, and has been that way for years. One sandwich,
one way. No condiments, no lettuce, no pickle, no tomato. Just bread, meat, cheese and a bit of
heaven every bite.
Now we’re getting to the heart of Pasadena, the Memorial Park Station. This stop puts you right
at the tipping point of Old Town Pasadena. There is not a want or need that can’t be satisfied at
this station. But the real gem here is the park itself, a rolling plot of land covered with immense
trees and an amphitheater. It’s not your typical flat piece of land that most parks are made of
and that’s why this is such a jewel. This one more resembles the land it’s laid down upon, the
San Gabriel Valley as it slowly rises in to the foothills. It’s also a great place to just sit and relax
while you decide where you should go eat at next.
Our next stop, the Del Mar station, brings to the outer reaches of Old Town Pasadena, just
skirting that imaginary borderline that surrounds the old part of the city. There’s no need to
venture very far. Just as you exist from the train, you’ll find The Luggage Room. Where they’re
slinging pizza’s out of a wood-fired oven in a what was once the luggage room of the old
Pasadena Railway Station And of course there’s La Grand Orange, which pre pandemic was
always packed, with people lined three deep at the bar waiting for a table. But Old Town has
plenty of choices when it comes to food, here at Del Mar we have some other things to whet
our appetites. Just a short walk from the station is the home of the Pasadena Human Society.
There you can find lots of dogs and cats looking for someone to come by and make them a
wonderful home. Softies beware, you will not leave empty-handed. Just up from the station is
Stats Floral Supply. Even though it is just a fraction of the size it used to be, come Christmas
time there is no better place to be than Stats, it truly is a Winter Wonderland. Then there’s
iconic Pasadena Central Park, the grand dame of the Rose City parks - here is where you
will find our hidden gem, The Pasadena Lawn Bowling Club! If you’re not familiar with Lawn
Bowling, this is a great place to get started. The Club welcomes beginners every Saturday
offering free lessons and a chance to play. As an added bonus, the Pasadena Croquet Club is
housed at the same site, a two for one find!
The last official stop in Pasadena is the Fillmore Station, offering convenient access to
Huntington Memorial Hospital. While this is a great find if you’re ever in need of a hospital, (if
you have an emergency and find that you really need to get to a hospital don’t take the train,
just dial 911) it’s not the jewel at this stop. It’s not even close. Here you have two stalwarts of
the Pasadena epicurean scene, Trader Joes and Lucky Boys, along with two new insurgents,
Shack Shake and Guisado’s. And then there’s Porta Via, for those who fell the need to be
transported to Italy, only to wake up and find that you 're still in Pasadena. But man does not
live by bread alone, and for that we have Bellefontaine Nursery! The nursery has been a part of
Pasadena since 1936, not only will you find all kinds of fruit trees, plants, and vegetables for
your home and garden, but the horticultural knowledge to go along with it. We can definitely
classify Bellefontaine Nursery as a gem, but since they are very well known, we are going to dig
a little deeper and walk a lot less farther to find the hidden gem at this stop. Right across the
street from the Fillmore station, set back on Raymond Avenue, you will find Jones Coffee
Roaster. Jones’ is a legend in the mom-and-pop coffee industry, and no they are not our find.
I’m using them as a guide. To Pie Life Pizza! Pie Life makes great piazzas from a little hole in the
wall right next to Jones Coffee. You don’t go inside, you can’t, there is barely enough room for
the oven. Here is what you do, step up to the window, order your pizza, then when it’s ready
grab it from the same window. Literally a hole in the wall. Where they make great pizza.
That’s it, we’re done, it’s time to leave Pasadena. With pizza in hand, we head to the Gold Line
for what lies ahead, South Pasadena and beyond. So long for now, see you at the next stop!
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