Pasadena is an architectural cornucopia. There is a great variety of building styles and sizes in a small area that represent a unique collision of Los Angeles architectural expression. Biking through the city earlier this week, I was incredibly struck by the variety of architectural styles. Leaving the Memorial Park train station, there is the classic architecture of the Pasadena City Hall and then the mission style of the Pasadena City Library. Around the corner from these two is the biggest departure from the architecture in the area at 46 N. Robles, which houses the Pacific Asia Museum.
The building is influenced by Chinese architecture, built as a passion project of sorts by art enthusiast and collector Grace Nicholson in 1924. Nicholson employed Pasadena architectural firm Marston, Van Pelt, and Maybury to create a place inspired by buildings she admired from China. Importing supplies like roof tiles and stone, Nicholson saw that the building was constructed to be as authentic as possible. Nicholson used to live on the second floor of the building, which from 1945 to 1969 served as the home of the Pasadena Art Museum and in 1971 became the current home of the Pacific Asia Museum, a museum that is “one of four U.S. institutions dedicated to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands.”
The building is U-shaped: you enter from one end of the “U”, checking in with the sweetest of sweet employees, who direct you to follow all the way through various galleries that lead to the eponymous 46 N. Robles Pacific Standard Time exhibition, a show that tells the history of the Pasadena Art Museum and how it played an integral role in the cultivation of contemporary art (seeing the first retrospective of Marcel Duchamp, an early Pop Art show with Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and others, and much more). It is a quick run through pre-Modern into Modern art, sharing works from Duchamp to Ruscha to Bell to Kaufman.
Exiting the gallery, you make your way into the courtyard, which is a beautiful garden of tranquility and peace. There is a bridge over a pond, a few pieces of artwork, and a few intricate staircases leading up to offices, a library, and other exhibition and meeting spaces. You could spend hours sitting there taking in the sun and admiring the building. It is undoubtedly one of the best places to house art in the city. Entering back into the building, you finish up with a few more galleries and the gift store, which leaves you with the option of returning to the garden or leaving. If you are like me, you’d reenter the garden to take it in one more time.
The Pacific Asia Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10AM to 6PM. It’s located on–duh–46 N. Robles and has on view a show of the same title through April 8. The museum is also on the same block as the Pasadena Museum of California Art, which houses the fantastic Pacific Standard Time show L.A. Raw. Definitely check it out–it’s one of the most unique art viewing experiences in the the city.
For more on Pacific Standard Time, be sure to check out the Pacific Standard Time blog!