Wednesday, September 9, 2009

George Ellery Hale: the Building

George Ellery Hale was many things. To name just a few he was an astronomer, a telescope builder, and a civic planner. He took such an active role in civic planning that the Pasadena Permit Center is named for him.

From the Permit Center's website:

A History of our Building's Namesake, George Ellery Hale

Appropriately, the namesake for the Permit Center Building is George Ellery Hale. Hale was a renaissance man, personifying the merging of disciplines into an integrated whole. Although best known as a scientist and astronomer who established the Mt. Wilson observatory and inspired the founding of Caltech, Hale was also a pioneer in city planning and was a major contributor to the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery in its formative years.

As a member of Pasadena's first Planning Commission, Hale guided the master plan for the city's Civic Center. He promoted a grand plan, suggesting that an attractive city would be a prosperous one. The impressive City Hall was completed in 1927 and two years later the elegant building which now houses the Permit Center was built for the Southern California Gas Company. Acquired by the city and renamed in 1986, it now bears the name of George Ellery Hale, the visionary civic leader who championed the Civic Center.

Technology. City planning. The integration of disciplines. These attributes of George Ellery Hale are pillars of Pasadena's Permit Center.

In 1994 the city restored the historic 1929 lobby of the George Ellery Hale building to form the environment for the Permit Center service counter. The two-story space features the original decorative ceiling, unusual historic painted plaster walls (hidden for years by wood paneling) and the original tile flooring. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Civic Center district.
On one of my Pasadena trips earlier this year I had to stop and visit the building just to pay homage. Here is a shot of the building from across the street:

From closer you can see Hale's name outside:

A close up of the name:

Once I was there I had to go in. Wearing my Palomar Observatory shirt I explained to the confused (but nice) person behind the counter that I worked at an observatory where we had a big telescope named for George Ellery Hale and that he helped to create it. I then asked if there was any artwork or plaque in the building the commemorated Hale.

Reluctantly the kind receptionist took me in to a back area where this sketch is hanging on the wall:

I grabbed a quick photo, said my thanks and left. According to the Caltech Archives, the original sketch was done in charcoal by S. Seymour Thomas in December, 1929. I didn't stay long enough to see if this was a copy or not. The sketch was likely a study done prior to the painting of Hale that Seymour did which stately hangs in the Carnegie library on Santa Barbra Street in Pasadena.

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