Last Thursday, the man who sold $7.5 million of antiques in three days, John Wilson, tried to sell the people of Pasadena his latest project--the largest commercial historical restoration west of the Mississippi. It's to be the Pasadena Marketplace, a whole block bounded by Raymond Avenue and Union, Green and Delacy streets.
He did it with a trolley party. One of his restored turn-of-the-century red and gold trolleys from Lisbon, with the mayor and City Council aboard, hummed in on a track literally to the center of the party under the big tent. There were marching bands, a swing band and a Dixie band, each out-rivaling the other in sheer joy and enthusiasm.
Outside the tent were klieg lights and vintage cars from the '20s and '30s; inside were vintage grocery carts, produce wagons, farm pickup trucks, every one burgeoning with good things to eat.
Wilson has been criticized in the past as one of the purveyors of "creeping quiche" by the head of Pasadena Heritage, Claire Bogaard, but compromises or amends seem to have been made, indeed Pasadena Heritage was one of the three charities benefiting from the party. The others were the Five Acres Boys' and Girls' Aid Society of Los Angeles and the Pasadena Symphony Assn.
This night old, new, and outside Pasadena seemed to be inside the tent, dipping raw asparagus into the Dijon mustard sauce (I didn't know you ate asparagus raw, but it was wonderful), gulping Louisiana oysters on the half shell, making assemble-your-own salads from vegetables piled in truck beds, enjoying seafood gumbo and soup made from oysters and artichokes, and waiting happily in lines for blackened sirloin steak or snapper and dirty rice.
The Irvine Ranch Farmers Market will be the feature hub of the planned Pasadena Marketplace and judging from the foods at the party, it can't help but be a howling success. Three restored antique trolleys are scheduled to run continually around the block, an antique itself, in the center of Old Pasadena. The facade of the Victorian building will be protected through preservation zoning. Its scale is comparable to Boston's Fanueil Hall, 500,000 square feet. In addition to the Farmers Market a hotel is planned, two restaurants and six cafes, a food hall, theaters, studio and office space and scads of small shops.
It has taken Wilson years to get this far with his Marketplace and the furor isn't over yet. The naysayers may have been there, but they weren't very visible among red band uniforms, produce trucks and old popcorn machines and whatever happens, whether the jolly old trolleys roll Pasadenans around Old Pasadena or not, John Wilson threw a party that gave them all a pleasant jolt.