Pasadena has never had a problem defining its image around the world as the Rose City, what with the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade televised into millions of homes each year.
But back home, the city has long been in a quandary about how to distinguish itself in the endless Southern California urban sprawl, which seems to dissolve communities into a bland landscape of tract homes, convenience stores and gasoline stations.
When it comes right down to it, parts of the Rose City look a lot like the Canyon City (Azusa), the Camellia City (Temple City) or even the Headquarters City (West Covina).
Although this may seem a low-priority problem, it is one that the city, the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation and an architectural design class at the Art Center College of Design decided was worth tackling.
As part of Barton Choy's class last semester, eight students designed "gateways" that would mark the boundaries of the city and trumpet its unique character.
"A gateway is a good way to generate some individual identity for a city," Choy said. "Everyone wants a sense of community again."
All of the designs were class projects, and none will be built. But Alice Thomas, a coordinator of the event, said the city and the foundation are hoping that the city will eventually hold an open competition to design a gateway for the city.
The final designs ranged from a modest circular stone plaque to an awesome display of metal spires with laser beams shooting into the sky.
The projects were put on display at City Hall last month and judged by members of the Planning Commission, the Design Commission, the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation and two instructors from the Art Center. Pasadena Beautiful provided $850 in prize money, and the city Public Works Department gave each student up to $100 to pay for materials.
The winner was a series of arches designed by Philip Freer, to be placed at Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards. The base would be built of stone and the arches sculpted out of rose bushes and other plants that would blossom at different times of the year.
"You could look at it year-round with a different view," said Dorrie Braun Poole, a park and recreation commissioner and one of the seven judges.
The idea for a gateway originated about a year ago with members of Pasadena Beautiful.
The civic group, dedicated to improving the city's appearance, was planting 100 trees on the traffic median on Sierra Madre Boulevard when members noticed that there was nothing to mark the entrance to Pasadena at Sierra Madre Boulevard and Michillinda Avenue.
"On the east side was this lovely sign marking Sierra Madre, but on the west there was nothing," said Thomas, a member of the foundation's board of trustees.
The foundation approached the Art Center, and Choy agreed to have his fourth-semester class work on the project.
Choy said the class usually takes on more traditional projects, such as designing a building. But the gateway was an interesting challenge because the students had to try to symbolize the identity of a city, he said.
For eight weeks, the students researched Pasadena's history, talked with city officials and hashed out their ideas on encapsulating the Rose City's identity.
Poole said Freer's design reflected a traditional view of the city as an old community of graceful estates and gardens.
The arches were reminiscent of turn-of-the-century buildings in Old Pasadena, and the roses and other flowers were an expression of the city's image as the Rose City.
Second place went to Patrice Begovitch's metal obelisks, which would be wrapped with a scroll-like metal mesh and decorated with a single neon rose. A pair of laser beams at the top of the obelisks would shoot into the sky.
"I loved the lasers," Poole said. "You would really be able to see those from all over."
Third place went to an inlaid stone plaque that would be mounted in the middle of the intersection at Colorado and Orange Grove.
Poole said judges liked that design because it used a crown, which many longtime residents consider the original symbol of the city.
One of the most imposing designs came from Tony Zorilla, who proposed building four spires, as high as 100 feet, along the Foothill Freeway. The spires would be built of steel, brick, glass and wood on a foundation of arroyo stones.
Conspicuously missing was any estimate of how much the gateways would cost.
Choy said the plaque could be done for a few thousand dollars, but others, such as Zorilla's spires, would cost hundreds of thousands.
"I just asked them to make their designs somewhat buildable," he said. "No budget. I didn't want to inhibit their thinking."