Founding of South Pasadena

As more of the land of modern Pasadena and South Pasadena was purchased by individuals for domestic purposes, the desire to incorporate as a city grew. Pasadena incorporated in 1886 as a dry city, meaning it was illegal to sell, produce, or consume alcohol in the city’s limits.1 The residents of modern South Pasadena were invited to be incorporated with the city of Pasadena, but they declined. 

Because saloons and the alcohol industry were excluded from Pasadena, many business people established saloons in the northern part of modern South Pasadena (along Columbia Street) and what was then its Southernmost district. The roughly 500 residents of South Pasadena were not pleased with the arrival of the saloons, and organized to self incorporate in order to be able to establish their territory as a dry city, similar to Pasadena. In 1888, the residents voted to incorporate and South Pasadena became its own city.2 

The elected city government swiftly enacted ordinances to outlaw saloons in the city limits, and local law enforcement was instructed to enforce this new ordinance. Many saloon owners were unwilling to leave the city limits and uproot their livelihoods. In that same year, there was  a public election to shrink South Pasadena to exclude its Southernmost district in which the majority of saloon owners were unwilling to leave. The district was voted to be excluded from the city, and South Pasadena’s limits have remained largely unchanged since then.2 

The South Pasadena city website chooses to describe the intent of the founders of the city as their desire to “control their own territory,” and does not specify the exclusionary nature of their true motives. The movement to establish cities as alcohol-free was one associated with religious revivalism and Protestant hegemony in the US.3 The Prohibition movement found early success in cities like Pasadena and South Pasadena, but was quickly discovered to be ineffective after the adoption and repeal of the 18th amendment.3 The true motivations of founding South Pasadenans will never be known, but their intentional exclusion of individuals who made their living in the alcohol industry and the stigma associated with them was clearly communicated by their directly aggressive displacing behavior. 

The following are specific investigations of racist aspects of our city’s history that do not necessarily have an end date in their influence. Each section contains specific dates and/or instances, but their sway over South Pasadena culture and politics is not limited to the events discussed. 


1. City of Pasadena. “Heritage: A Short History of Pasadena.” The City of Pasadena, California.

2. Thompson, Edward Grant. “The History and Development of South Pasadena to 1917,” Department of History, University of Southern California. June, 1938.

3. Editors. “Prohibition.”