Historic Highlands began at the turn of the century and came of age during the first World War and the economic boom of the 1920’s. From orange groves to early 20th century suburb, by the time of Historic Highlands’ incorporation into the City of Pasadena in 1925 it had transformed from a remote country outpost to a bustling and varied neighborhood.
What is known today as the Historic Highlands encompasses the estates and land holdings of two prominent Pasadena pioneers: David J. Macpherson, a former Santa Fe Railroad design engineer of the famed Mount Lowe Railway and Ezra Dane, an orchardist who settled here in 1883.
Ezra Dane crossed the plains from Massachusetts sometime between 1849 and 1852 and settled in Sonora County in Northern California where he became a prosperous farmer. Driven from the area by an out break of malaria in the early 1880’s, he moved his family to Pasadena in 1883 where he purchased 160 acres in the San Pasqual Rancho area, known as “the place where every tree is pleasant to the sight and good for food” and began planting orchards.
In 1885, Dane and his wife Lois built their substantial ranch home from the first lumber brought to Pasadena by steam locomotive. From the house known for many years as “Sunnyridge on the
Highlands”, Dane oversaw orchard and livestock operations on his land, which stretched north from Washington to Woodbury Road and east from Holliston to a point midway between modern
day Mar Vista and Catalina. He grew peaches, apricots, prunes and citrus, and raised some livestock – including about a hundred hogs – on Elizabeth Street. A driveway from Washington to his home was lined with a double row of palm trees still visible in the backyards of homes between Michigan and Chester.
As Pasadena grew north and east, homes were being built all around the ranch so the Danes began selling their land a parcel at a time. In 1912, they subdivided the land immediately adjacent to the ranch house, creating building lots on Holliston, Chester, Michigan, Mar Vista, Denver (now Howard) and Rio Grande. The lots were sold to members of Pasadena’s prosperous business and
professional class who had substantial homes custom built on the large lots during the ensuing decades. Ezra and Lois Dane lived in the home until their deaths in the early 1920’s. Their daughter Alice and later her grandson and his family lived in the home.
MacPherson owned much of the land bordered by New York Drive on the north and Washington Blvd. on the south, in what is now the western part of the neighborhood. The east/west streets were given names of the railroads: Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe (now Elizabeth), Denver (now
Howard), and Rio Grand. The names Catalina and MarVista acknowledge the great view of the ocean at that time. MacPherson built a home at 1075 Topeka in 1906 and was living at 1120 Atchison at the time of his death.
MacPherson teamed with famous entrepreneur Thaddeus Lowe to design and build the Echo Mountain Incline Railway which made its first official trip on July 4th, 1893. Four million visitors enjoyed the breathtaking views and fresh mountain air for more than 40 years until the railway stopped operating in 1937.