Yes, there is life after the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. In fact, there is art.
One of the more visually pleasing suburbs north of Los Angeles, Pasadena has several fine examples of Beaux Arts architecture and wide streets lined with tall trees and large homes. And just a 15-minute drive apart, there are the Norton Simon Museum of Art and the Huntington Gallery and Library and its accompanying gardens. The two can easily be visited in a day-trip escape from La-La Land.
The Norton Simon Museum, formerly the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, is conveniently located just off the Ventura and Foothill freeways. Nestled on a hillside, the museum looks deceptively small and unassuming. But Rodin's "The Thinker" casually overlooks the road; his "Burghers of Calais" greets visitors on the entrance plaza; and, once inside the museum, the visitor sees two wings stretching back into a quiet enclave of a garden, enclosing a reflecting pool, benches and more sculpture. A spiral staircase curls down to a sprawling lower floor that echoes half the above-ground space.
The layout is logical and easy to follow: impressionists in the upstairs left wing, with a room of Indian and Southeast Asian art at the tip, and European and 20th-century American works on the right. The artists represented are a surprising, dizzying group: van Gogh (both portraits and landscapes), Matisse, Renoir, Ce'zanne, Goya, Canaletto. Klee and Rousseau (the mighty "Exotic Landscape"). And Picasso. The works are both the museum's own and on long-term loan from the collection of financier Norton Simon.
But if the main floor's treasures aren't enough, the downstairs holds one more surprise: three rooms of more than 100 works by Degas -- ballet dancers, both paintings and sketches, bronzes and equestrian drawings. Dutch and Flemish paintings, including works by Rembrandt ("Portrait of the Artist's Son, Titus") and Rubens, also are downstairs, as well as more Asian works. Special exhibitions have several rooms of their own. Last summer they included two large rooms of Goya etchings, lining the room in double and sometimes triple rows only inches apart, almost too overwhelming in their concentration and number.
The Norton has a well-stocked bookstore, strong on books and posters, extremely weak on post cards. But, in an added quirk, virtually unheard of in museums here in the East, the $2 admission fee ($3 on Sunday) entitles you to a free print when you exit. The museum has its own fair-sized parking lot on two levels. But let the visitor beware: The Norton's hours are limited. It is open Thursday through Sunday, from noon to 6 p.m., so it is wise to get there right at noon to avoid the crowds and to stroll in relative solitude. Then you'll still have time for a leisurely afternoon in the Huntington gardens.
The 15-minute drive to the Huntington takes you down Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena's main strip, past a shopping mall, deluxe shops and a glimpse of the renowned Pasadena Playhouse on the right. A right turn onto Allen Avenue dead-ends into the Huntington's regal gates, actually in the town of San Marino.
The complex was founded in 1919 by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, who lived in what is now the Huntington Gallery and was an ardent collector of British art and rare books. The 207 acres comprise a library, with exhibition hall and research center, a gallery of 18th- and 19th-century European art, a museum of American art and 12 different gardens.
Visitors start at the pavilion, which contains a Friends' Hall for concerts and lectures, classrooms and a bookshop heavy on nature, and which even sells plants. Kiosks contain guides to the various buildings and gardens, and, at 25 cents each, they are well worth buying. The self-guided garden tour pamphlet has an easy-to-follow map of the gardens and clear descriptions. Guided tours also are given.
The library's exhibits are contained in its main hall. An easy zigzag among the flat display cases against the walls and the free-standing glass towers follows the history of the printed book in chronological order. It is impossible to choose the highlights of the collection -- works range from a "Canterbury Tales" manuscript, circa 1410, one of the 12 surviving vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible and a Shakespeare First Folio to manuscripts or first editions of Fielding, Keats, Dickens, Twain and Joyce.
A few steps away, the Huntington Gallery contains an eclectic collection of works: Gainsborough's "Blue Boy," Renaissance bronzes, works by Constable and Gilbert Stuart, and British and French decorative objects. Through the Shakespeare garden and over a tiny bridge is the Virginia Steele Scott Gallery of American art. Cassatt, the luminists, Edward Hopper and John Sloan are among the 50 artists represented. Renaissance and 18th-century French works can be found in the west wing of the library.
Once you've had your fill of Art, there are only 130 acres to go. Clustered around the museums are the camellia garden; the Shakespeare garden, with its luxuriant display of the plants and flowers mentioned in the bard's plays; and the rose garden, arranged to show the history of the flower over 1,000 years and bordered by a trellised arbor.
Sweeping downhill from the Huntington Gallery, toward a magnificent vista to the south, are the more expansive displays. Concrete walks wind through them, with broad swaths of lawn in between. Any point of entry will do. One of the prettiest gardens is the Japanese, where a vermilion "drum" bridge arches over a reflective pond, set below a 19th-century Japanese house. Pockets of bonsai, wisteria and bamboo complete the picture. Farther downhill, eucalyptus and bottle brush dot the Australian garden to the left. Beyond, across a broad lawn and past quiet lily ponds, the humidity rises in the "jungle," complete with orchids, lilies and a waterfall. A stark contrast, to complete the loop back to the pavilion, are the desert garden, with cactuses ranging in height from a few inches to more than six feet tall, and the palm garden.
The Huntington is open Tuesday through Sunday, 1 to 4:30 p.m. Reservations are required for Sunday visits and may be obtained by writing: Sunday Tickets, Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif. 91108, or calling 1-818-405-2141; one-week advance notice is advised. The suggested voluntary contribution is $2. Despite the temptation of the gardens and grounds, picnicking and pets are prohibited. There is lots of parking, but the outlying lots are quite a hike from the main pavilion.