Dorian Cohen's Sierra Madre Page

Updated 2/16/14

Text and photo © 2014 Dorian Cohen

I discovered these two Sierra Madre related business cards today as I was perusing a box of items belonging to my grandfather.

On April 6, 2013 I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with poet Michael C Ford for a themed program we created: URBAN RENEWAL. 

Mr. Ford read Pasadena and Altadena related sections from his extended One Southern California concerto After Another.

I performed a prose/poetry hybrid  Pinney House Secret Memory  accompanied on guitar/effects by my long time collaborator, Keith Ullrich. Our presentation also included a "short" filmed at the Pinney House many years ago by Craig Rice.

This was the public debut of Pinney House Secret Memory, which was adapted for live performance. Mr. Ullrich composed and arranged the music.  I'm currently in search of a publisher for my  manuscript.

Design and image © 2014 Cynthia Paige Aaron

Inchoate intimations of immortality!

All material © Dorian Cohen

I drive up Lima Street to the house where I once lived. Standing on the sidewalk I aim my Nikon at the freshly painted Victorian mansion looming before me.

Three decades suddenly drop away and Darlene clatters down the steps of the veranda in her scuffed-up white clogs. She pulls the Winston from her mouth, tilts her chin, exhales, and greets me in an oblique, yet familiar way. I'm a young man again; in tight shirt and Levis. Clutching my bottle of Olympia, I glare suspiciously at the middle-aged gentleman at the curb, snapping photos of the Pinney House...


Pinney House. A picket fence with missing gate at the sidewalk, an ambiguous prompt to venture up the uneven path, climb the steep steps to the disreputable veranda. Double doors unlocked and propped open: an invitation -- or dare. No security codes or cameras. Three clunky turns up the grand stairway delivered you to our front door. Apartment nine on the right hand side. We seldom used it. We favored our kitchen door, "Come in our kitchen" we were always up for the blues; or deliriously stranded at our chrome table next to the huge O'Keefe and Merrit stove. "Let you down easy, like jelly on a plate." Anything could happen there. The narrow stairs down the back, out to the parking lot was our usual route: working stiffs off to the grind, or vampires slinking back before sunrise.

Excerpt from Pinney House Secret Memory a mixed-media work in-progress. Dorian Cohen, Copyright 2013.

 Juicerator window display.
What I remember:

 I don't know what ultimate form this piece will take. With some old photos as kindling, I proceed with memory and imagination.  Compared to any surrounding city; Sierra Madre has largely been spared the hyper-development that engulfed much of the Los Angeles area. Superficially at least, it resembles the town I first encountered decades ago. Yet, virtually every downtown business in existence when I moved away in late 1984 has vanished. 

A while back, I returned to help a friend move. I strolled downtown in the evening and found a lively scene: eateries open  Al fresco dining; a lot of foot traffic. When I lived there it was dead by 8:00 in the evening, with the exception of liquor stores and bars.  I felt as if I were vacationing in a charming town for the first time.  Then I  passed  The Hotel Shirley and was stricken with a visceral feeling -- that I could climb the stairs, enter my apartment and it would be exactly as it was when I had lived there so many years ago.  Strange.

 In the early 1970s my junior high school buddy Jim P. and I would bike up from Arcadia to Porgy and Mudheads a smoothie bar named after two Firesign Theater characters.  It was a tiny place in the small arcade on Sierra Madre Blvd. west of Baldwin.  In retrospect it had the sort of  bogus "hippie" ambiance that crept into suburbia when the sixties were finished. 

The town was full of stories. Those upstairs apartments above that little arcade where Porgy and Mudheads once was were nicknamed "Heartbreak Hotel"; men exiled by wives or girlfriends ended up there. That's what I heard anyway.  I had several friends who lived there whose circumstances weren't congruent with the myth. Yet those  tiny studios were dim and stuffy; definitely fit  for a guy who got his ass kicked out of the house.

I also recall a sandwich shop called Brunos on Baldwin that was a sort of corollary to the movie-themed Stottlemeyers  in Pasadena. However  Brunos' sandwiches were named after actors and actresses. Alas, I can't recall any of the names or corresponding ingredients of any of the sandwichesWhen I lived in the Hotel Shirley it had become The Sandwich Stop. Casa Del Rey now occupies the space. 

Next door to the south was the unforgettably named; P.S. Gotta Dance , a studio full of frenetic,  spandex — clad women. This was during the Great Aerobics Era of the 1980s. 

 When I first moved to Baldwin Ave. Garduno's Taco King, was still around ; it later became Lozano's. Garduno's was a pretty basic Mexican take out as I recall -- and  it stayed open until 10:00 pm; unique to S.M. eateries in those days. I always arrived just before closing. They were always mopping up and not particularly happy too see me. It always smelled like grease -- and bleach.

I don't remember the name of this shop -- Sierra Madre's version of Victoria's Secret. 

 The Headliner, was a newspaper-themed coffee shop. I remember it being bright orange. Around 1980 it morphed into the yuppified The Only Place In Town, but I still felt the pride of being a local, receiving a congenial nod from the owner as he walked by. It endures to this day, when virtually every other establishment that comes to my mind has vanished.

The Raven and The Rose near the Southeast corner of Sierra Madre Blvd. and Lima, was a bar that was also referred to as  The Craven of the Hose. It was small with a low ceiling -- very smoky and claustrophobic. It featured live music. The band Sumner played there regularly. They got a record deal,  released an album then vanished into oblivion. The sole time I saw Sumner was at the Troubadour in Hollywood, when my friend's band The Trend opened for them. The club scene was lively back then. A local band getting signed by a major label -- that's the stuff of legend now... The Raven became The Sunset, a respectable looking place that I never set foot in.

I noted without regret, the recent demise of the KFC.  It lingered for decades on the West end of town like a mangy dog. I stepped in once, when I really needed coffee. I pointed out a prominent ring of mold in the glass coffee urn . "Oh," the counter girl replied and gave it a cursory rinse, before brewing a new batch. The embodiment of corporate mediocrity. If the wind was northerly, the smell excreted by the fryers followed me as I walked up Lima St.

The Sierra Madre Kentucky Fried Chicken.

 She was atoning for something -- that's what I was told. The woman had the indeterminate weather-beaten face of  an old homeless person, though I don't know if she was actually homeless or "old". Her body was always wrapped in plastic and she was always carrying bags that appeared to be full of something heavy -- rocks perhaps. These days she would scarcely draw notice in many cities, but thirty years ago she was a striking sight, trudging along Sierra Madre Blvd.  Strange, scary and  heartbreaking.  Every time I encountered her she was always on Sierra Madre Boulevard; a penitent  swathed in plastic sheets,  struggling with her heavy parcels in the summer sun.  Her unsettling, tragic memory suddenly springs into my consciousness after many years.

The transfiguration of KFC 2011.

 Does anyone remember these places, people or remember them differently? 


  1. You photos are fabulous. I invite you to join us on Facebook at Sierra Madre Old Time Warrior's. There is an ancient photo of the Pinney house posted today. Share your photos, they will most likely create many posts/comments. Your blog is a true Treasure of Sierra Madre!

    1. Colleen, thank you so much for your comments! I apologize for the long delay in responding. My life has been calamitous since the start of this year and this is the first time I've logged into my blog in ages.

  2. Ps. Oh my gosh, I remember the lady in plastic. I haven't thought of her in years.
    BTW, I still live in S.M.