Clarence Day: Pasadena Contractor

You see his name stamped in the sidewalks all over town. He is Clarence Parkman Day, who for more than sixty years served Pasadena and Southern California as a civil construction consultant. His work in this city by the mid-1950s involved more building sites and land developments with more miles of new roads than any other engineer in the community. Nor did he limit his expertise in construction, grading, road building, surveying, and landscaping to Pasadena. His work was in many communities from Santa Barbara southward.

This photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Day was published with the original article.
This photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Day was published with the original article.

He was born in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts on October 4, 1885, the son of I. Franklin and Ella Frances Lovering Day. His early training under the New England engineer J. Leslie Woodfall was supplemented with courses at MIT before he moved to Pasadena in 1904. His first job in this city was the preparation of the official map of the newly annexed area known as North Pasadena. He worked under the supervision of T.D. Allen, the City Engineer. When the Allin brothers formed their own engineering firm, DAy worked with them on the development of Oak Knoll and Annandale.

By the time he was twenty-three he had his own business and was busy with the engineering of San Rafael Heights for Henry Huntington and George Patton. As the years went by his staff increased to some 200 employees as he was involved with everything from surveying and grading to construction and landscaping. He did the topographical survey of the site for Caltech and engineered the landscaping for Pickfair.

His local subdivisions are too numerous to list, but among them are the Altadena Country Club, Poppyfields, the southerly 400 acres of the Hastings Ranch and the Dane Ranch. His construction company built the Grace Nicholson Building (USC Pacific Asia Museum), the Westminster Presbyterian Church, and many public buildings as well as homes both modest and immense. 

Mr. Day believed that the curved line was more pleasant than the straight, so his subdivisions have streets laid out in pleasant curves. Examples come to mind: the streets in Oak Knoll, the curve of Rosemead from Foothill to Sierra Madre Villa, the juncture of Michigan Avenue with Howard Street.

Eldora Park, a small development off North Los Robles, had straight streets laid out before he bought the land. So, the gravel paths along Eldora Road were curved and winding, and when some years later, they were surfaced with concrete, who did the job? Of course, Clarence, and those sidewalks still curve. The home in which he lived from 1921 to 1930 is at 492 Eldora Road.

This photograph shows Mr. Day’s home in 1939 at 415 S Lake Avenue. Note the sign on the tree on the right edge of the photograph that reads “Clarence P. Day Engineer Contactor.” (Main Photo Collection, D15-2)
This photograph shows Mr. Day’s home in 1939 at 415 S Lake Avenue. Note the sign on the tree on the right edge of the photograph that reads “Clarence P. Day Engineer Contactor.” (Main Photo Collection, D15-2)

Panorama pictures in the Archives show the C.P. Day company on picnics. The 1920s Fords and Chevys are lined up behind rows of smiling men and women sitting under oak trees, little boys in knickers and little girls in white dresses and hair bows down in front. Clarence is in the middle. According to Mr. Tish of the City Engineering staff, a man who knew Day well, Mr. Day’s work was totally trusted by other members of his profession. If his monument (a boundary or position marker) was found on property, it was accepted as valid and accurate. The library of his own maps and blueprints was of benefit to younger engineers, and during his last years such people frequently consulted him. Clear to the end he could remember the figures for grades and elevation and retain the details of his vast work.

After his death on February 19, 1969, the remaining blueprints were sold. Both his wife, Sally Munn, who had been his secretary, and his son by a previous marriage, Ralph L. Day, had died before he did.

So if you are out walking on San Pasqual east of Hill, or you pass along one of the streets running east of Allen below Washington, or are standing in the gutter along Altadena Drive, notice the logo in the concrete and say “Hi, Clarence!”

- Mary Borgerding

This article was originally published in the June 1983 issue of the Pasadena Museum of History (then Pasadena Historical Society) newsletter. Some updates have been made to the original article (such as the current name of USC Pacific Asia Museum). The author, Mary Borgerding, was a long-time museum volunteer and the Mary Borgerding Award for Outstanding Library Service was created in her honor.