Pacific Asia Museum, celebrating its 40th anniversary in Pasadena, may be one of the most overlooked cultural resources in Southern California.
“People call it a ‘hidden gem,’" said Executive Director Charles Mason.
Yet this Chinese-style building, designed around a gracious garden courtyard, houses a treasure trove of Asian and Pacific Island art — and has a notable, if improbable history.
Built in 1924 by renowned art collector and entrepreneur Grace Nicholson, it served as her residence, gallery space and Treasure House of Oriental and Western Art until 1943, when Nicholson deeded the property to the city of Pasadena as a cultural center. It then became home to the groundbreaking Pasadena Art Museum, a leading venue for modern and contemporary art until 1969 (it was eventually absorbed into the Norton Simon Museum.)
“Before there was a major art museum in downtown L.A.,” Mason said, “you either went to galleries on La Cienega to see what was going on, or you came out here to Pasadena.”