An Alhambran for eight decades dies
Edna Basmajian, who lived in Alhambra for more than 80 years, passed away on Dec. 22 in her Alhambra home, her son John said. She spoke to Alhambra Source just before her 100th birthday about her journey to Alhambra and her memories of raising a family in a small and quiet community.
The Titanic set sail on its first and final voyage in the same month that very long-time Alhambra resident Edna Basmajian entered the world. The same year, 1912, that she was born in Kansas City, Missouri, two former Territories, New Mexico and Arizona, became the newest members of the United States.
One hundred years later, Edna sat comfortably in her living room chair and recalled her eight decades as an Alhambran. With her son John, a 1959 Alhambra High School graduate, helping her fill in some of the details, she leaned forward and spoke softly but clearly of her life and her thoughts.
Edna took the long way to Alhambra. In 1920, when her brother died from spinal meningitis, her parents sent her to live with her grandmother in Oklahoma City. But difficult times forced the two to move to Hollywood, California, where they had relatives nearby. Edna adapted, graduating from Hollywood High School in 1929. At around the same time, she met her future husband Johnny Basmajian, who would later become a graphic artist and Disney assistant animator, at a local dance studio and they were married in Las Vegas in 1930.
A year later, the newly married couple joined Edna’s parents in Alhambra, where her father managed the soda fountain at the old Owl Drug Store, located at Garfield and Main. Their marriage would last 58 years, until Johnny passed away in 1989.
Edna and Johnny lived at several different addresses in the city, including Marguerita Ave, Sheffield Ave. (on the Alhambra/Los Angeles border) and Primrose Ave. Edna specifically remembered that their address was 126 North Primrose, where they lived for eight years.
She enjoyed living in Alhambra “because it was quiet, peaceful, and small.” By 1939, they decided they wanted a home of their own and the couple began to build it themselves on North Ethel Ave, where there were no homes on either side of their property and no homes at all across the street for the entire length of the block. One year and $5,000 later, they moved into their new house, where they raised their two children, John and Lucia, and where Edna still lives today.
One of her memories of those times were the Victory Gardens she planted in the many open fields and vacant lots around her home as part of the government’s efforts to supplement the nation’s war-time food supply. During World War II, Americans planted more than 20 million of the Gardens. “Everybody had a Victory Garden, we planted a little corn, beans, and cucumbers,” said Edna.
She recalls spending time in nearby Alhambra Park and frequently using the swimming pool, which charged each swimmer 10 cents. (Her daughter eventually married the pool manager.) The pool also played a part in Alhambra’s annual summer time Hi Neighbor parade, which ran for three decades, beginning in the 1940’s. The daytime parade would be followed by the Aquacade in the evening. As a finale to the parade, the Aquacade included events such as synchronized swimming, swimming races, and clown divers, all of which took place at the Alhambra Park pool.
Another memory was spending time at the various Alhambra retail establishments department stores, including Woolworth’s, Butler Brothers, and Leo’s Ice Cream.
Edna never expected to reach 100 years old, but was always aware of her health and currently takes 18 vitamins a day. She first heard about vitamins in her high school home economics class and was immediately convinced of their benefits.
She is also part of a larger trend of Americans, especially women, living longer. Nationwide, the number of centenarians has grown to 53,364, a 5.8 percent increase over 10 years ago. In 2010, 815 local residents were 90 or older, according to the Census (which does not include 100 and older in released data specific to Alhambra). And Alhambra’s 65 and older population at 14.3 percent is slightly higher than the nation as a whole.
Age hasn’t stopped Edna from enjoying life. She savors a glass of red wine most nights with her dinner, which is usually soup, split pea is a favorite, and crackers or sometimes Fritos. And every Saturday for the last five years, her son John takes her for lunch to Saladang, a popular Pasadena Thai restaurant. Her favorite is the calamari, and she likes the restaurant’s menu. “I like the food. They’re very good, you ought to try it,” Edna recommended.
As a special treat in the evenings after her Saturday Saladang lunch, she has one Oreo cookie and milk with her dinner.
She also keeps up with current events. Her eyes are not as good as they used to be and she is not able to watch television. However, she listens to the CNN television broadcast every day and then news radio at night. “You can ask her about current events and she could probably talk to you about it,” said Eva Dominguez, her caregiver for the last six years.
Now, as she nears her birthday on April 3, it’s an exciting time. Her oldest grand-daughter will host a family dinner party in honor of Edna, the matriarch of a family that includes five living generations, including two great, great grandchildren. The Alhambra City Council will recognize her at their April 9 meeting. She even received a congratulatory card from the White House, signed by the President and First Lady.
When asked what she would tell someone who was looking for advice on life, she responded that there is no formula. “I think you just have to go with life itself. I don’t think you can tell them (anything). Even if you want to, you can’t make yourself live any longer. It’s already figured out for you,” Edna said. “Life’s pattern is made and you follow it. I really think so.”