Part 2 – Block Aid

Little about Garden Club plans for the Arroyo is mentioned for nearly a decade. Then, at a meeting held on May 30, 1931, due no doubt to growth in the region and a burgeoning car culture, “Moved by Mrs. Saunders, seconded by Mrs. Hunt, that the Pasadena Garden Club go on record as urging that until such time as the city of Pasadena is in a position to finance a complete traffic survey of all territory that possibly might be affected by a through boulevard to Los Angeles, and that until such survey shall have shown a boulevard through the Arroyo Seco Park to be necessary and inevitable, no steps toward the construction of such boulevard be taken. Carried.”
Funds for designing and constructing buildings in Depression-era Pasadena had dried up. Determined to employ as many workmen as possible, architect Myron Hunt and his wife, Virginia Pease Hunt, established Block-Aid in 1932 whereby a volunteer in each block of the city applied to neighbors for funds to employ out-of-work construction workers.

At a Garden Club meeting on April 30, 1932, “Mr. Reynolds spoke of the idea of the wild flower sanctuary and the enthusiasm with which it has been received and said that a committee will be appointed to consider it.” At the May 18 Board meeting, “Use of Block-Aid labor recommended by President to clean up Arroyo, without waiting for decision regarding location of Sanctuary.” And at the Regular meeting on May 22, Mr. Reynolds named Caroline S.G. Munro as Chairman of the Wild Flower Sanctuary Committee. He stated “that the sanctuary would be located probably in the Arroyo and that the work would be done by the Block Aid. He also made a plea to members to increase their Block Aid donations, if possible, owing to the very serious conditions.” Mrs. Munro’s enthusiasm for the project is clear because at the following Board meeting only one month later on June 22, 1932, she reports that “one or two meetings have been held with Mr. Skutt and Mr. Thiene. Path to be cleared from California Street to Colorado Street Bridge, work being done with Block-Aid funds. Decided to appropriate $100 of the Garden Club fund to buy plants for the sanctuary. Directors present approved Arroyo Seco for location of Sanctuary.” On October 26, 1932, “Regarding the Wildflower Sanctuary, Mrs. Munro read a letter from the United Unemployment Relief Fund, “urging that contributions to Block-Aid be continued till January 1.” On November 1, 1932 a garden fair for unemployment relief was held at the home of Mrs. John Barber. Then on November 23, 1932, “Mrs. Munro reported on the proposed shelter to be erected in the Arroyo. Mr. Foote stated that the money available from the bazaar would be close to $1100.00. Mr. Reynolds asked for opinions of Board on the use of this money and also for continued pledges to Block Aid till January. Discussion. Moved by Mrs. Seavey, seconded by Miss Graham, that Club cooperate with the City in putting up this building. Carried.” Only three days later, on November 26, sketches were passed at the Club’s Annual Meeting showing “tentative plans for the pavilion in the Wild Flower Sanctuary.” It appears that the entire project was completed by the end of 1932 as an item in the 1931-1932 Annual Report states, “For its major project for the year, and to aid unemployment, the Club raised a generous sum and undertook the planting of a Native Shrub and Wildflower Sanctuary along the borders of the Arroyo Seco.” It is interesting to note that annual expenditures for the Club included a payment of $104.40 to the legendary nurseryman, Theodore Payne for “Arroyo planting.”

On December 10, 1932, Mrs. Munro, President of the Club called a special meeting to order at the Athenaeum at Caltech. “A report was read by the President covering the work being done in the Arroyo Seco by the Garden Club. Special reference was made to the proposed house to be erected by the Club, in connection with the City Park Department and the Block-Aid for the relief of unemployment.” And at another special meeting on January 10, 1933, “Mr. Myron Hunt, who has generously offered his services, presented and explained the plans for the building, answered questions and received suggestions. Mrs. Hunt thanked the Club for its substantial assistance to the Block-Aid work. Votes of thanks were given to Mr. & Mrs. Hunt, Mr. Skutt, and Mr. Thiene. The meeting then adjourned, and Mrs. Munro, our hostess, invited the members to have tea in the library.”

“In order to give these unfortunate people something to do, [the Hunt’s] and others conceived the idea of building a much-needed small community meeting hall on city-owned land in the Arroyo, and Hunt designed the building…pro bono publico. There was no money for materials so boulders were collected from the arroyo…to build the walls and lumber was salvaged from the Velodrome which had been constructed in the nearby Rose Bowl for the bicycle races during the 1932 Olympic Games.” (Baxter Art Gallery, p. 51). The participation of the Garden Club may have been inspired by the Hunt’s who were both active members. In an interview for an article which appeared on January 10, 1933 in the Pasadena Star News, Myron Hunt noted that the Club’s initial donation of $2,000.00 was “the largest organized subscription to the Block-Aid.” He commented that the Club’s additional contribution of $1,500.00 provided adequate resources to complete construction and added that “…arrangements have been made to…purchase locally glass, nails, doors, plumbing fixtures and other material for the clubhouse.” Additional wood for construction was salvaged from fallen trees higher up the canyon at Charlton Flats camp. The article included the information that the clubhouse was to be “available for meetings of the Garden Club and other groups.” Park Superintendent, Gilbert I. Skutt said that “a charge be made for the use of the building which will maintain its upkeep so that it will not add to the maintenance costs of the city…The Garden Club will pay for the use of the building whenever it holds meetings there and that each group renting the clubhouse will pay for its lights, gas and janitor service”…Mr. Skutt added “that the clubhouse will not be available for dances or parties, but will be used solely for more serious events.” The Pasadena Garden Club was joined by the Diggers Garden Club in providing funds for “widening of the bridle trails in the Arroyo, for clearing out poison oak and dead shrubbery, for building rock work walls and for planting native shrubs and trees.”

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