YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

YMCA to Honor 'Mr. Pasadena' at New Facility

September 29, 1988|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

When Lathrop Leishman was a little boy, he stood on his father's lumber wagon to watch the Tournament of Roses, and he rode his bicycle "along dirt streets and cobblestone curbs" to the Pasadena YMCA when it opened in 1911.

Then came the entrepreneurial years, when he sold coffee at a stand along the parade route and was a Y camp leader.

Except for one little lapse in the 1930s, when he aspired to elected office in a national organization, Leishman has been "strictly a local yokel," he said.

But to others he is "Mr. Pasadena," an informal title he picked up years ago through his lifelong involvement in the Y, the Tournament of Roses, the Chamber of Commerce and dozens of other activities.

Leishman will be honored with a large, sculptured likeness of him on a wall in a YMCA-YWCA gym that will bear his name. The Lathrop K. Leishman Activities Center will be in a new building at the YWCA at 235 E. Holly St. and will feature a running track.

The 5-foot-square brick relief was unveiled Wednesday at a ceremony on the site of the new facility, the country's first such joint YMCA-YWCA, which Leishman helped to establish.

Eugene Gibba, executive director of the YMCA, said both Ys will remain autonomous and will operate independently in the new complex but will share some facilities. The complex is expected to open in 1990 and the national boards of both organizations "see this as a model for the future," he said.

The local YMCA board wanted to honor Leishman, Gibba said, because "we looked around and there was no permanent type of recognition for him. This is to make a lasting tribute to a man who has done a tremendous amount to improve the quality of life for the people in Pasadena."

Now 84, slowed by arthritis that began to afflict him when he was in his 20s, his neck in a brace and using a cane to walk, Leishman is still stirring up action.

"We've been trying to get the Ys together for 20 years--that's how long I've been on the committee," he said.

As a child, he lived a few blocks from the Y when it opened, and "did all the things kids do at a place like that." He has continued to use the Y, first for physical activity and later for its spas, steam baths and massages to relieve his arthritis.

When he was a teen-ager he drove his father's touring car in the Tournament of Roses, and that began another lifelong interest.

It was his father, William Leishman, who got the idea for a football stadium in the Arroyo Seco, "and it was condemned by everyone," the son remembers.

Nevertheless, the senior Leishman, who grew up in New Haven, Conn., raised $262,000 for the 62,000-seat stadium that was patterned after the Yale Bowl. Because rose bushes were planted along the banks surrounding the stadium, someone casually suggested calling it the Rose Bowl, and the name stuck, Leishman said.

About five years ago Leishman decided to check on the rose gardens around the stadium before the 1984 Olympics, "and they were in such a state of disrepair I couldn't believe it," he said. "I went in and found fault with the manager, and he said, 'If you know so much, you do it.' So I did."

Leishman got growers to contribute 3,500 rose bushes, and he goes to the Rose Bowl every day to check on their condition.

He was president of the Tournament of Roses at the age of 32 in 1935, when Shirley Temple was the grand marshal. He was on the football committee from 1945 to 1979, and took part in the first negotiations for television broadcasts of the game.

The only time his ambition took him outside of the Pasadena area, he said, was when he was a candidate for president of the national Junior Chamber of Commerce in its infancy in 1932.

"I got handsomely defeated, which was depressing," he recalled. "Then I got more involved here and figured being a local yokel was better than being everywhere else."

Describing his favorite kind of civic activity, Leishman said, "I like the creative things, where you can sit down and dream. You know--make it bigger and better. Pasadena has a lot of people like me."

He also likes to keep a hand in the family business of building and managing commercial properties, which his sons William and Robert run. He and his wife, Marie, have been married for 62 years and also have a daughter, Linda, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"This has been an absolutely fabulous time to be alive and see all the things that have happened," Leishman said. "And to think of all the things that will happen in the future!"

Los Angeles Times Articles