Racial Change Over Time

Just as a pencil line drawn on a map of California in the 1850’s influenced the future of where Lake Avenue would be built — another pencil line drawn from the 1930s-60s denied or limited financial services, such as home loans in certain neighborhoods. It was called “red-lining”, and contributed to an east-west polarization in housing along racial lines in Altadena in the 1960s and 70s. This important story belongs more to the town’s social and cultural history (see Altadena: Between Wilderness and City, 2004, pp 170-187) than in a brief overview on land use. However, because dramatic changes occurred in a short period, it would be an oversight not to summarize how demographic shifts along with red-lining affected Altadena’s residential and commercial land use, and to provide an update.

In 1960, Altadena was overwhelming (95%) white, the majority of its neighborhoods covered with by-then-defunct racial covenants. For a variety of Pasadena-linked causes including urban renewal, turnover of housing stock, and freeway construction — combined with larger events such as the Civil Rights Movement, Watts Riots, Vietnam War, and political assassinations  — many whites began leaving Altadena, especially West Altadena. By 1970, the town was 68 percent white, while the next census in 1980 counted the population as 49% white. This share remained fairly stable for the next 20 years: in 2000 the white population was 47%. In the same period the share of Black residents went from under 4% in 1960, to 27% in 1970, to 43 percent in 1980, to 39% in 1990, to 31% in 2000. Such convulsive racial change in housing spilled over to affect commercial activity in the most impacted areas, causing an overall down cycle in real estate values for a time. Bargains were to be found in homes all over Altadena.

In the years since, Altadena has followed the national trend of becoming an increasingly diverse suburb, but with an unusually stable population of around 43,000. It is now considered an affluent area (under 9% poverty rate, compared with 14% countywide) and a strong homeownership rate of over 70%. This compares with 42% in Pasadena, 56% statewide, and 65% nationally. Today’s census broken down by race: whites, 53.2%: blacks, 19.6%; other race, 14.3%; two or more races, 6.94%; Asian, 5.16%; Native American, .6%; and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, .1%. Altadena’s diversity and wide range of housing stock attracts new homeowners of all stripes.

As in 1980, more Black residents live west of Lake Avenue in 2023, but today’s diverse Altadena neighborhoods are all integrated. Racial housing patterns shift slowly or quickly along with demographics, but no summary of residential land use would be complete without a word about the real estate industry’s role as the homebuyer’s chief consultant. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Fair Housing Act of 1968 legally dismantled the “Red-lining” of neighborhoods, it continued informally, practiced when agents steer clients to this or that community, or side of town based on judgements about class and race, and needs such as educating children. This has decreased dramatically since the 1960s and 70s, when many agents made Lake Avenue a dividing line — not showing Black clients properties to the east of it, or white clients homes to the west of it. Today in Altadena, we hear more complaints from long-time residents about gentrification than integration, and we’re once again in a real estate upcycle. No more bargains, for now.