January Norman, of Altadena, right, and Therese Brummel, of Pasadena,… (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer )
A historic Pasadena church that had fallen on tough times has found renewal in transforming its once-dilapidated grounds into a fertile garden.
The landscape around Throop Unitarian Universalist Church, a 1921 landmark at the corner of Del Mar Boulevard and Los Robles Avenue, had degenerated into unsightly patches of dirt, grass and weeds when volunteers set to work last fall.
Church membership had dropped from more than 100 people in the mid-1990s to just 39 souls, most of them elderly. Repairs from a Thanksgiving-night fire in 2007 had taxed the small congregation’s ability to keep up with the demands of the property.
“I drove by the church for years thinking it was abandoned. It just looked very forlorn,” said January Nordman, an Altadena resident and member of the sustainability group Northeast Los Angeles Transition.
The organization planned and oversaw planting efforts after it began holding meetings in the church’s community room.
The roughly 5,000-square-foot Throop garden has sprouted apple, plum and persimmon trees, several raised vegetable beds and healthy patches of herbs and drought-tolerant native plants. Much of the harvest is donated to Union Station Homeless Services.
A broken-stone patio doubles as a permeable rainwater catchment area to replenish the grounds, said Therese Brummel, a Pasadena resident and Northeast L.A. Transition group organizer. Another 1,200 square feet facing Los Robles are due for conversion in the coming months, Brummel said.
Church members and garden volunteers will gather at 9 a.m. Sunday for a dedication ceremony led by Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, City Councilman Terry Tornek and Pasadena Public Health Director Eric Walsh.
The city helped fund garden efforts through a $5,000 Pasadena Water & Power turf removal and conservation grant, but the church’s civic ties date back much further.
The Throop congregation was founded in the mid-1880s by Amos G. Throop, who in 1889 and 1890 served as Pasadena’s third mayor. A Chicago politician and abolitionist who headed west in 1880, Throop also founded Throop University, which later became Caltech.
Caltech donated a Manzanillo olive tree for the church garden.
Since work on the garden began, membership in the church has increased to 45.
Newcomers include the Rev. Tera Little, who joined Throop as the church’s minister six months ago, after learning about the garden.
“Our religious principles include living as sustainably as possible,” said Little. “The day our board voted to go forward with the garden was the day our congregation started a new chapter. It gave our church a new sense of direction — a new sense of who we are — and something to feel really proud about. It’s been a huge energy boost.”
Nordman also recently decided to join the church.
“My heart is in this garden,” she said. “I spent a lot of time at the church because of it, and it seemed like a natural fit.”
Michael Kelley, a member of Throop’s board for the past three years, described caring for the garden as a spiritual exercise.
“The garden has brought new members to the church, but even more significant is that it is revitalizing the church as an active place in the community,” Kelley said. “Now when people walk or drive by they can see people working together outside, and I can’t imagine a better picture than that.”