State of the art

And art of the state: The new Pasadena Museum of California Art is just one part of the city's cultural renaissance
David Lansing

The view from the rooftop terrace of Robert and Arlene Oltman's new Pasadena residence is breathtaking: vistas of Old Pasadena landmarks―the St. Andrew's bell tower, city hall's red-tiled dome―with the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop. It's the sort of scene designed for plein air painters trying to capture the golden light and Castillian architecture that have long made the city a favorite artists' subject.

That is just as it should be. The Oltmans' new digs sit atop their Pasadena Museum of California Art. Opened in June, it's the only museum dedicated exclusively to the display of California art, architecture, and design.

The Oltmans bought the empty lot on Union Street several years ago with the idea of building a facility that could serve as both museum and residence. "Originally it was just going to be a little mom-and-pop museum," says Robert Oltman, "but the concept kept growing."

Now the museum is an important link in an expanding Pasadena art circuit. That circuit includes the well-known Norton Simon and the renovated Armory Center for the Arts, as well as a gallery scene fed by artists who've studied at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design. "The new Pasadena museum really whets everyone's appetite for California art," says Diane Nelson of DNFA Gallery.

Pasadena's art district is particularly accessible too―even on foot. The Pasadena Museum of California Art is next door to the Pacific Asia Museum (which maintains a collection of Asian art and artifacts) and is a block north of the new Paseo Colorado (with upscale retailers and restaurants, and convenient parking). The Armory Center for the Arts is in Old Pasadena, a few blocks west. A few blocks farther west, the Norton Simon might be a bit of a hike, but a free shuttle service, Pasadena ARTS buses, runs up and down Colorado Boulevard and will stop near the Norton Simon's gates.