Many Pasadenans are aware that among our most illustrious past residents was world-renowned chef Julia Child, who was born and raised here, mostly in the tony Madison Heights district.
By Terrence Butcher
Her last Rose City residence, now a Caltrans property on Pasadena Avenue, has received the lion’s share of publicity due to its location along the infamous 710 freeway extension corridor. However, Child, born Julia McWilliams, spent many of her formative years in two other houses just a stone’s throw from today’s hectic intersection of California Blvd. and Arroyo Pkwy.
The Langford-McWilliams home at 627 S. Euclid Ave. is an imposing 1886 Queen Anne Victorian currently situated behind wrought iron gates and copious amounts of dense shrubbery, which conceal a carriage house and pool. After dark, the house’s vertical orientation and dusky green color lend it a forbidding look, the sort of property that might have been deemed “haunted” in lesser TV sitcoms and B movies. And a circular driveway serves as a sort of asphalt moat before one arrives at the front entrance. Owned by Julia’s grandparents, Julia visited often, especially for formal Sunday dinners, presided over by patriarch Grandfather McWilliams, a Civil War veteran.
In 1970, the home had the honor of being selected as a Showcase property and, more recently, it received a nomination for historic preservation status from the Historic Preservation Commission, as one of the oldest extant structures in the city. It was briefly threatened with demolition in 1972, as a 60-unit apartment complex was erected next door. Over a period of six decades, additions and alterations were made, for comfort and convenience.
A few steps around the corner – at 625 Magnolia Avenue – proudly stands a stately 1912 Colonial Revival house – among the few Colonials on this block – that Julia McWilliams Child was raised in. The celebrated Reginald Johnson (All Saints Episcopal Church and several significant buildings in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and La Jolla) designed the cream-white stucco-clad home, including two chimneys, French doors spanning the facade, and neoclassical columns. Add-ons were made in the 1920s and again during the Second World War. 625 Magnolia is now protected by a Landmark District designation which covers the northern block of Magnolia Avenue.
Anyone who spends a modicum of time here in the Crown City will notice that we have more than our fair share of architecturally distinctive houses, a legacy of the arrival of socially – and financially – prominent transplants from the Eastern Seaboard and Midwest, the sort of people the late Kevin Starr would have categorized as “Babbitts” and “oligarchs.” Like Jackie Robinson, I don’t think Julia Child ever again lived here after rising to prominence – though admittedly for very different reasons – but Pasadena was her launching pad.
Terrence Butcher is a freelance writer who has previously written for popmatters.com and the Pasadena Weekly, among other publications. He resides in the San Gabriel Valley.
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