A weekly by any other name

The Pasadena Weekly celebrates its 35th — wait, make that 90th — anniversary

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 7/11/2019

The Pasadena Weekly, which you are currently reading, is 35 years old this year in its modern form. But predecessors to the same paper actually date back much further than is commonly known — to 1929, to be exact. 

Back then, according to a timeline provided by UC Riverside’s Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research and original copies from the Altadena Historical Society’s collection, the paper was known as the Altadena Press. The weekly paper was established by C.F. Hoffman, who published it every Thursday morning at his press at 2708 N. El Molino Ave., Altadena (an area that is now technically Pasadena), and later at 2686 N. Lake Ave., Altadena.

Its first issue was published on Nov. 21, 1929, and its final issue was published April 27, 1944. The paper’s masthead read “The community of deodars” and “Let the folks back east know of the most delightful place in all the world. Send them the Altadena Press.” Later it read “This paper will tell the story to inquiring friends in the frozen east.” The paper was known as “the first real Altadena newspaper.”

One of the main stories in the paper’s first year and throughout the decades to follow was Pasadena’s attempt to annex Altadena.

‘The weekly with a mountain behind it’

Starting in 1932 and throughout the depression and war years, the Altadena Press continued under editor-publisher Grayson M. “Mac” McCarty at 750 E. Mariposa St. and later 870 E. Mariposa St., Altadena. McCarty had previously served on the staff of the New York Herald-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune and newspapers in Paul’s Valley, OK, and Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Mineral Wells, Texas. In 1917, he enlisted in the National Guard and fought in France, and later served as director of the Altadena Chamber of Commerce. After he passed away on May 14, 1943, his widow Janie B. McCarty took over as publisher and editor.

The paper heavily covered Altadena’s contribution to the war effort at the time, complete with ads for war bonds and comic strips mocking the Nazis and Japanese imperialists. “We of The Altadena Press feel we must forgo the luxury of indulging in affairs that have no bearing on the course of the war,” reads a March 9, 1944, editorial. “By that we mean we will not advocate the expenditure of public funds on projects that can safely await the war’s end. To do otherwise, would be to slow the coming of victory.”

In the March 2, 1944, issue, McCarty announced the sale of the paper to Harry W. Smith, a Canadian who had previously served as a reporter for the San Bernardino Sun, managing editor of a weekly, associate editor of Desert Magazine and special correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. Smith and his wife Helen served as publishers of the Altadena Press and changed the name to the Altadenan. Smith also served as editor. The credits read, “Continuation of Altadena Press” and “Your right to know is the key to all your liberties.”

The first issue of the paper known as the Altadenan, which was also a weekly published on Thursdays, was published May 4, 1944, at Smith’s press at 2396 N. Lake Ave., Altadena. In 1960, the Pasadena Mail was sold to Smith, who merged it with his paper and renamed it the Altadenan-Pasadenan. Its first issue under that name was published on Oct. 1, 1960.

In May 1976, Smith sold the paper to publisher Richard S.C. Redman, who also owned the Sierra Madrean, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times on May 23, 1976. Redman kept the paper’s offices at 2396 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, and named his wife Sue Redman as editor. Smith stayed on as a consultant. The masthead read “The weekly with a mountain behind it.” Its coverage included Pasadena’s attempt to annex Altadena.

In 1977, Redman began publishing the Altadenan-Pasadenan through a company called Altadenan Publishing Co. at the same offices. That company also began publishing an expanded, subscription-only addition called the Chronicle on Nov. 10, 1977, for 25 cents. The Altadenan-Pasadenan and the Chronicle ran until Dec. 29, 1983.

‘Continuing but broadening a tradition started in 1929’

In late 1983 or early 1984, the paper was purchased by Pasadena Media, Inc., an investment group that included future Pasadena mayor and current Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole, attorney and chairman Pierce O’Donnell, the late social activist Marvin Schachter, publisher Edward Matys, editor-in-chief Steve Coll, managing editor Dick Lloyd and business manager and assistant editor Larry Wilson, who now serves as public editor of the Pasadena Star-News.

Pasadena Media continued publishing at 2396 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, but changed the name of the paper from the Altadenan-Pasadenan and the Chronicle to Altadena: The Weekly. The first issue of that version was Jan. 5-12, 1984, with the masthead reading “Debut edition” and “Incorporating the Altadenan/Pasadenan & the Chronicle.”

In that first issue, publisher Matys wrote, “We are pleased today to present the Greater Pasadena area a ‘new newspaper,’ continuing but broadening a tradition started in 1929.”

The cover story of its first issue was about those who slept overnight along the Rose Parade route on New Year’s Eve and the cops who tried to wrangle them, and its feature arts and entertainment story was about the resurrection of the Pasadena Playhouse. In its second issue, the cover story was about Pasadena’s attempt to annex Altadena.

Pasadena Media also published Nine to Nine, a newspaper covering the business community in downtown Pasadena.

The Weekly cost 50 cents and was published under variations of its name for several years in the mid to late ’80s, such as the Altadena Weekly, Pasadena: The Weekly and the Pasadena/Altadena Weekly. Under the credits, it read, “The Pasadena/Altadena Weekly honors the past and does not fear the future.”

Later in 1984, Coll and Matys left the paper and Frank Kilpatrick became president and publisher. In 1986, Pasadena Media moved the paper’s offices to 300 S. Raymond Ave. #12, Pasadena, the first time in its history that the paper was produced in Pasadena. In 1987, the Pasadena/Altadena Weekly became part of O’Donnell’s 12-paper group, National Media, Inc.

James Vowell became editor-in-chief and Pamela Fisher became managing editor and later editor. Cartoonist Matt Groening’s comic strip “Life in Hell” made its first appearance in the paper in these early years, before “The Simpsons” cemented his legendary status. In 1987, Vowell left the paper to return to the LA Reader.

‘The Pasadena paper people actually read’

In January 1988, National Media sold the Weekly to Riordan-Laris Publications, a company owned by LA lawyer Richard Riordan, who went on to be LA’s mayor, and longtime Pasadenan and Downtown News Group founder and president Susan Laris. Laris served as publisher and editor, and Marc Porter Zasada served as executive editor.

Six months later, in July 1988, the paper was sold again for an undisclosed amount to Pasadena Publications, a company owned by Marge Wood and Jim Laris, Susan’s ex-husband. Jim became editor and co-publisher along with Wood, his new wife. Shirley Manning later became editor and Dan Hutson later became managing editor. The paper’s offices were moved to 155 S. El Molino Ave. #101, Pasadena.

Starting in April 1989, Pasadena Publications published both the Altadena Weekly and the Pasadena Weekly as two separate issues for the Altadena and Pasadena communities. However, in its July 27-Aug. 2, 1989 issue, Laris and Wood announced they were ceasing publication of the Altadena Weekly after just 16 issues. They continued to publish the Pasadena Weekly (PW).

Bill Evans took over as managing editor of PW in 1991. In 1992, PW became “The Alternative Voice of Pasadena, Glendale and the San Gabriel Valley” and launched several new columns. In January 1996, PW proclaimed itself “The Pasadena Paper People Actually Read,” a dig at the Star-News. In 1997, William Campbell served as editor and former editor Paula Johnson became associate publisher.

At the end of 1997, Laris put the paper up for sale. The last issue of PW to be published by Laris was on June 26, 1998. That month, Laris sold the paper to the Tribune Company’s LA Times, which added it to its Times Community News Division chain of newspapers.

The Times initially kept Campbell as editor, but soon made several staff changes. Judith Kendall, former publisher of the Glendale News-Press, was appointed publisher of PW, and Bill Lobdell, editor of the Costa Mesa/Newport Beach Daily Pilot, was appointed editor. Those two were soon replaced by Joe Pan as publisher and Mary Emerson as editor, who simultaneously edited the Times’ now-defunct San Gabriel Valley Edition. Both publications were based in PW’s current office at 50 S. DeLacey Ave. #200, Pasadena.

Kevin Uhrich was brought on as editor in 1999, a position he serves in to this day. He had previously worked as a reporter at the Simi Valley Enterprise and LA Daily News in the 1980s and the Pasadena Star-News, LA Times, LA Reader and LA Weekly in the 1990s. In 1994, Uhrich was banished from the Star-News after leading a union movement in the newsroom that rubbed management the wrong way.

Uhrich actually wrote his first story for PW on July 26, 1996, under the headline “Scathing Ruling Raises Questions in Kings Villages Case.” Under Uhrich’s stewardship, PW has become a truly progressive alternative newsweekly that actually breaks news and covers important stories that other local news outlets ignore. He has also mentored countless young reporters such as this author, who has written for PW since January 2005.

Free every Thursday

The Tribune Company sold PW to Southland Publishing in January 2001. Southland was founded in 1998 after converting from its former name Ventura Newspaper, Inc., which published the Ventura County Reporter, having purchased it from Nancy Cloutier in 1997. That company grew out of the Sylmar-based Valley Business Printers, owned by Michael Flannery, a conservative businessman who stayed out of editorial decisions of the decidedly left-leaning papers.

David Comden, who started out selling display ads for the San Diego Reader in 1983 and later served as general manager of the Sacramento News & Review, took over as publisher of VC Reporter in 1998 and eventually would become Southland’s vice president. Bruce Bolkin serves as Southland’s president.

Over the years, in addition to VC Reporter and PW, Southland would acquire San Diego Citybeat (previously SLAMM magazine), LA Citybeat/Valleybeat (defunct since 2009), the Argonaut, LA Downtown News (also owned by early PW owner Susan Laris) and others, as well as start monthly magazines Arroyo, Ventana, Verdugo and others.

Southland was able to survive while other alternative papers in Southern California died off in part because it has its own presses, a critical asset.

“The two greatest expenses for a newspaper are personnel and printing costs,” Comden told LA Weekly in 2003. Southland’s press printed LA Weekly for a while until it started its own LA paper in 2003: LA CityBeat/ValleyBeat.

Southland’s papers, including PW, are also unafraid to take a stand on controversial issues. In 2005, for example, PW became the first news outlet to call for the impeachment of President George W. Bush. Uhrich told LA Weekly in 2003 that Comden “pushed [PW] to be edgier” after Southland took over the paper. What was once a “quasi-alternative” paper quickly became a true-blue alternative newsweekly that “frequently scoop[ed] the local dailies.”

“When [Comden] came in, in his first week,” Uhrich told LA Weekly, “he pulls me aside as he’s addressing the group, and says, ‘How come you guys don’t have editorials?’ I say, ‘Newspaper people don’t have opinions about things.’ And he says, ‘You better start getting opinions.’”

Publishers have come and gone during Uhrich’s 20-year reign of terror at PW, including Dale Tiffany, Jon Guynn and now Dina Stegon. Reporters Joe Piasecki and André Coleman were brought into the PW newsroom in 2001 and 2004, respectively, and both would eventually become deputy editors under Uhrich. Piasecki now serves as editor of Southland’s Argonaut. Rounding out the current staff is longtime arts editor Carl Kozlowski.

For the past two years, the Altadena Historical Society has been working on digitizing its extensive bound newspaper collection, including the many variations of this paper over the past 90 years.

Here’s to another 90 years for the weekly that’s free every Thursday.