Pasadena in World War I

Thomas Banigan poses next to Lyle Richard Barnett's Civ Aide A.R.C. Ambulance Driver's Uniform on display in the Starting Anew exhibition.

As the exhibition Starting Anew: Transforming Pasadena, 1890-1930 illustrates, this region was deeply affected by two global crises that occurred in the second decade of the 20th century - World War I and the Influenza Pandemic.  PMH is especially fortunate to be able to tell real-life stories and display personal items of some who lived through those times.  Lyle Richard Barnett (1896-1970) is one of them.

Before the U.S. officially entered the war on April 6, 1917, Pasadena residents supported volunteer and humanitarian relief efforts, including volunteering for the American Field Service Ambulance Corps, headquartered in France, and joining the British and Canadian military forces. The greater Los Angeles Chapter of the American Red Cross sent food and medical supplies to the front and, after the U.S. entered the war, organized the all-volunteer Pasadena Ambulance Company No 1.

Iowa-born Barnett, who was living in Pasadena, joined the Pasadena Ambulance Company No. 1 in 1917 at the age of 21. While serving in France and Italy, he wrote letters to his parents describing the overwhelming response the American soldiers received in Italy. “The street was covered with beautiful flowers of all kinds and colors, and still they continued to fall. We could not have received a more royal reception or hearty, sincere welcome. It came directly from the hearts of the Italian people.” Excerpts from his letter were published in the Pasadena Star-News.

After returning to Pasadena, Barnett lived in several different residences, including one on Summit Avenue and one on Wilson Avenue. He may have been a member of the Elks Club; Pasadena city directories list his occupation as a salesman. Barnett and his wife, Ora Bell Barnett, are buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena.

Exhibition curator Brad Macneil giving donors Thomas and Cheryl Banigan a tour of Starting Anew.
Detail image, Lyle Barnett uniform.
Thomas Banigan tells the story of his father's acquisition of Barnett's WWI memorabilia.

Thanks to a generous donation from Thomas and Cheryl Banigan, the Starting Anew exhibition includes Bennett’s Civ Aide A.R.C. uniform (circa 1917) along with his A.R.C. wallet and the foreign currency it contained. Thomas shared that the items in our display were originally purchased by his father, Dr. Thomas F. Banigan, from an antiques shop in Old Pasadena in 1969. They were tightly packed inside a trunk bearing Lyle Barnett’s name, along with numerous other articles from WWI.  On a recent visit to PMH, the Banigans were delighted to see the uniform and ephemera in our exhibition and enjoyed meeting with Museum personnel and taking a tour of Starting Anew with curator Brad Macneil.

The Bennet memorabilia, along with the 1917 American Red Cross nurse’s uniform that belonged to May Henderson Wells (1872-1952) and the uniform of 1st Lt. U.S. Air Service Walter M. Boadway (1894-1976), are tangible reminders of the personal sacrifices and overwhelming response from members of the Pasadena community during a time of global upheaval. Don’t miss the opportunity to see them in person.

Starting Anew: Transforming Pasadena, 1890-1930 is on view 12-5 pm Thursdays through Sundays now through February 12 in the History Center Galleries.

by Jeannette Bovard
Photos by James Staub