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Residents Shape Up Triangle : Dilapidated Lincoln Triangle area of Pasadena is transformed into a quiet neighborhood


Images of old homes, old money and Old Town often come to mind at the mention of Pasadena.

In sharp contrast to these familiar images, a harsher reality once existed in a pocket of northwest Pasadena known as the Lincoln Triangle, where crime, drugs and dilapidated homes dominated the neighborhood.

However, three years ago, Lincoln Triangle residents teamed with the city of Pasadena, nonprofit groups and local businesses to revitalize their neighborhood.

"It's clean now," said Rosalva Estrada, a 37-year resident who has seen the area transformed from a "noisy place with drug dealers down the street" to a "quiet neighborhood."

Estrada, her husband, Manuel, a retired aluminum worker, and their 33- year-old son, Eddie, now feel safe in their neighborhood. "I can leave my granddaughter's bicycle in the front yard and know it won't be stolen," she said.

The most visible changes over the last four years, since the implementation of community-based policing, have been the elimination of drug houses and public drinking in the streets, Pasadena Police Lt. Richard Law said.

The Lincoln Triangle, bounded by Orange Grove and Lincoln boulevards to the north, Maple Street to the south, Fair Oaks Avenue to the east and the 210 Freeway to the west, began to develop around the time of the city's incorporation in 1886.

Pasadena's first house was built there and, by 1905, most of the lots in the Lincoln Triangle had been developed. Only 20 homes were built in the neighborhood between 1906 and 1928.

According to the 1990 census, some 660 residents lived in 270 units, primarily single-family homes. The majority of those houses, 65%, are rental properties.

At its founding and in its early years, the Lincoln Triangle was a working-class, ethnically diverse neighborhood. Over the decades, the population became predominantly African American. However, during the past 10 years, the demographics shifted once again, and the area is now 60% Latino, 30% African American and 10% "other."

A large portion of the "other" category are second-generation Japanese Americans, or Nisei.

"After the World War II relocation (to internment camps), Japanese Americans were only accepted in certain areas. Northwest Pasadena was one of those areas," said Bryan Takeda, president of the Japanese Cultural Institute of Pasadena.

The institute, located in the Lincoln Triangle since 1961, provides support to and cultural activities for Japanese-American families, and it attempts to educate the entire community about Japanese culture. The institute is also the home of a local Head Start preschool program and an office of the NAACP.

In the 1970s, developers came close to converting much of the historic Triangle area into an auto emporium. To avoid such attempts in the future, community activists are working to preserve the history and vintage-type homes in the Lincoln Triangle area.

Typical of the area's historic homes is the Estradas' two-story Victorian farmhouse with Queen Anne detailing, located on a street lined with towering oak trees. Built in 1889, it is one of 10 homes on the block built before 1900 and is one of 56 homes in the Lincoln Triangle Historic District, an area that meets requirements for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Last year, the Estradas' home was painted a daffodil yellow, as a part of a project by "Christmas in April," a nonprofit group of local volunteers who donate time and materials. In cooperation with residents, the "Christmas in April" volunteers painted and repaired 22 Lincoln Triangle homes in 1994.

The city of Pasadena, as part of a $650,000 public works project, widened Lincoln Boulevard and repaved several streets. In addition, the city helped to rehab 13 homes, preserve three historic homes and develop five commercial projects.

The city also installed gas lamp-style street lights, which reflect the turn-of-the-century look of the Lincoln Triangle.

"It looks like downtown Pasadena now" with the street lights, said Nick Platter, an 83-year-old resident who has lived in his 1918 one-story bungalow for more than four decades. His home also received a fresh coat of paint from "Christmas in April" volunteers.

The community also gained two new homes last year, built by the San Gabriel Valley chapter of Habitat for Humanity, a housing ministry that uses volunteer labor and materials to build affordable homes for low-income families.

And civic teamwork created another "new" home in the neighborhood--the Gilman House, a turn-of-the-century Pasadena landmark that was once occupied by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an early feminist, speaker and writer.

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