The name Altadena derives from the Spanish alta, meaning "upper", and -dena from Pasadena; the area is adjacent to, but at a higher elevation than, Pasadena.
The indigenous inhabitants of Altadena, and Pasadena, were the Hahamog-na, a Tongva Native American tribe who lived in the Arroyo Seco. Hahamogna, the chief, was met by General Portola of the Mexican Army in 1770 as he was making an exploratory expedition of Alta California. With the establishment of the San Gabriel Mission (1773) and the City of Los Angeles (1781), the south lands of California were properties claimed in the name of the King of Spain.
Altadena is the northernmost portion of Rancho San Pascual as established by the Mexican Government in 1826 after they had claimed independence from Spain. California was annexed in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and became a state in 1850. The Mexican Ranchos were then open to settlement from other parts of the Country. Rancho San Pascual was settled by the Indiana Colony in 1874 and incorporated as Pasadena, a Chippewa name derived from a translation for "Crown of the Valley", in 1886. The highland areas, such as Altadena, remained undeveloped areas of the Los Angeles County.
In 1880, Capt. Frederick and his brother John Woodbury of Marshalltown, Iowa, purchased 937 acres known as the Woodbury Ranch. John Woodbury established the Pasadena Improvement Company in 1887 with a plot plan of residential development referred to as the Woodbury Subdivision. To attach a name to the community, they contacted Byron O. Clark who had established a nursery in the foothills in 1875 and had since moved away. He called his nursery "Altadena Nursery", a name he coined from the Spanish "alta" meaning "upper" and "dena" from Pasadena. Since Clark had moved away, Woodbury asked if he could use the name Altadena for his subdivision. Clark agreed.
The newly sprouted community of Altadena immediately began to attract millionaires from the East. In 1887 Andrew McNally, the printing magnate from Chicago and his good friend Col. G. G. Greene had built mansions on what was to become Millionaire's Row, Mariposa Street near Santa Rosa. Col. Jabez Banbury, a comrade-in-arms of Frederick Woodbury, built a gorgeous Italianate Victorian house near the west end. Newspaper moguls Armiger Scripp and William Kellogg built side by side just east of Fair Oaks Avenue.
The Southern California land boom busted in 1888, not before the L.A. Terminal Railway was laid through town. But the high ideal of Altadena becoming a real estate dividend all but dwindled for the Woodburys. Still the community grew with wealthy speculators from the East, some seeking fairer weather, some better health, some real estate opportunities, some retirement. The community would grow, but at a slower pace than the Woodburys expected.
Moving into the twentieth century, the vanguard of Altadena pioneers began to change, and with it came more community development, more philanthropy, more services, and more venues. Lafayette S. Porter (from 1887-1932) bought and developed large parcels near the Rubio Wash. The Altadena Country Club (from 1911-1944), now the Altadena Town & Country Club, had an 18-hole golf course that extended to Allen Avenue. There was an airport adjacent to the country club (1919-1921) that was established by Cecil B. DeMille.
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