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In 1929 a red brick building with a dramatic expanse of windows was constructed on the eastern edge of Pasadena, just west of Eaton Wash and south of the Santa Fe railway. Built to the design of McNeal Swasey, architect of the Hotel Constance and other local landmarks, this facility served for more than forty years as the Swanson & Peterson workshop and showroom. Swedish émigrés David Swanson and Erik Peterson were makers of fine custom furniture and cabinetry throughout LA County, and Swasey’s building is a testament to their own high standards of design and fabrication. Modest on the outside, it opens onto a surprisingly vast and well-lit factory floor, beneath a sawtooth roof cleverly hidden from the street. This is a highly evolved example of a daylight factory, complete with passive lighting and ventilation systems — not to mention resistance to fire and vibrations. An excellent example of the golden age of sustainable design and a repository of local history, Swasey’s building has held up for almost a century. A recent proposal to demolish it to build a car dealership would mean the loss of this rare and exceptional historic structure, and those who care about it continue to press the current owners and the city for its preservation.
Graham Larkin is a Pasadena-based historian, curator and advocate for livable streets. After a decade in the US, studying and teaching art and architectural history (PhD Harvard, 2003; postdoc Stanford, 2003-2005), he returned to his native Canada. There he worked at various federal agencies, including six years as Curator of European & American Art at the National Gallery of Canada. An interest in sustainable urbanism led him to found Vision Zero Canada, advocating for the elimination of traffic harm and the promotion of active mobility. During the pandemic he moved back to California, where he is working as an architectural historian.
Image above: A photo from inside the factory, showing the dramatic sawtooth roof.