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Larry Wilson

Episode 048

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Journey of a Newspaper Heart

Larry Wilson's SGV3

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About Larry Wilson

Larry Wilson is the public editor of the Pasadena Star News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and the Whittier Daily News. He is on the editorial board of the parent Southern California News Group, 11 papers throughout the Southland, including the Orange County Register, the Riverside Press Enterprise, the Long Beach Press Telegram, and the L.A. Daily News.

For 12 years, he was editor of the Star-News, where he has now worked for 33 years. Prior to overseeing the news side, he was the paper’s editorial page editor. He was on the founding business team at the Pasadena Weekly in 1984 and then was a reporter and assistant editor.

A fourth-generation Pasadenan, he attended John Muir and graduated from Blair High in 1973, UC Berkeley in 1977, and took his master’s degree from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona in 1982. He has served on numerous boards in the city, including for the Armory Center for the Arts and the Pasadena Museum of History, which named him a Pasadena Contemporary History Maker in 2008. He is currently the board chair of The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at UC Berkeley.

Larry is married to architect Phoebe Wall Wilson. Their adult daughter Julia recently returned to Pasadena — keeping her a fifth-generation resident of the city — from Vermont.

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Larry Wilson Quotes

  • “Before you could Google things, people would call the newspaper.”
  • “During my sophomore year, I went to the editor and said, “I dislike the rock music editor; I don’t think he is a good writer.” To my surprise, the editor said he didn’t like him either, and the only reason she was using him was that he was all she had. So she gave me an assignment and liked what I wrote, and I became the rock music critic for the Daily Cal from 1974 to 1977.”
  • “The year I was in New York, I was walking with Eliza Wing, the managing editor’s secretary, on Fifth Avenue, and she stopped me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and said, “Larry! You sure do talk about Pasadena a lot.” “I do,” I said. “Yes, you do,” and then we kept walking.
  • Larry Wilson is the public editor of the Pasadena Star News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and the Whittier Daily News.
  • He is a fourth-generation Pasadenan; he attended John Muir and graduated from Blair High in 1973, UC Berkeley in 1977, and took his master’s degree from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona in 1982.
  • Working for Star News for 33 years, Larry has been in a unique position to not only see the growth of Pasadena firsthand but also document it through the newspapers he’s worked at.

YOU’RE A FOURTH-GENERATION PASADENAN?

I am. My grandmother’s mom was born in the back parking lot of Parsons around Walnut and Fair Oaks, and her father worked across the street at the stables.

SO YOU GREW UP HERE AND GRADUATED FROM BLAIR HIGH SCHOOL?

I did. I graduated in 1973, but I have to shout out to John Muir High School too. I went there for the first year and a half of my high school career.

I transferred to Blair, which was still pretty new at the time. Blair had an interesting operation where they had evening high school where we went to school from 430-930 at night Monday through Thursday.

After one semester, I transferred to Blair Day School, but that semester was one of the best of my life because it was a constant party.

WHEN DID YOUR LOVE FOR NEWSPAPER DEVELOP?

I was a reader, and I learned to read with my dad by reading the newspaper when I was three and four. We would read the Star-News, the afternoon daily, which I would go on to become the editor of, and he read the L.A. Times in the morning.

I was the editor of our Junior High paper, The Husky Highlights, but in high school, I didn’t work on the paper at all.

When I went to Berkley, I joined the student newspaper, The Daily Californian. In my first year, when I told them I wanted to join the paper, they asked if I had 20-25 hours a week to dedicate to it, and I didn’t because I needed to study.

During my sophomore year, I went to the editor and said, “I dislike the rock music editor; I don’t think he is a good writer.” To my surprise, the editor said he didn’t like him either, and the only reason she was using him was that he was all she had.

So she gave me an assignment and liked what I wrote, and I became the rock music critic for the Daily Cal from 1974 to 1977.

I got into the hard news side in the early 80s when I was a reporter at Pasadena Weekly.

YOU WERE A FOUNDER OF THE PASADENA WEEKLY?

I was, and I was on the business side. I had gotten away from newspapers for a while, and I decided as an English major at Berkley that I didn’t know much about business, so I got a Masters at Thunderbird in International Management.

About halfway through that, I realized I really wanted to be in newspapers.

Because I had this degree, some founders, Rick Kohl and Pierce O’Donnell, asked me to be the business manager, which lasted about a year.

After that, I became the assistant editor.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOUR TITLE IS TODAY?

They hired me as an editor because I knew something about Pasadena. We worked in a five-story building with 210 employees; it was a big-time operation.

I was the editorial page editor for five to seven years and then became the editor for twelve years. For the last eight years, my title has been public editor, overseeing the editorial pages of the Whittier Daily News, The San Gabriel Tribune, and The Stars-News.

Then, the merger happened. Every daily newspaper other than The Times has been bought.

NEWSPAPERS WERE THE HEART OF THE COMMUNITY.

People used to call the newspapers for answers to the questions, and when I was a copy messenger at the L.A. Times, people would call in all the time saying they would talk to space aliens through the fillings in their mouths. The operator didn’t want to hang up on these people and give the paper a bad name, so it would be routed to the copy messenger room.

Before you could Google things, people would call the newspaper.

DID YOUR FATHER GET TO SEE YOUR SUCCESS IN THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY?

Oh yeah. He’s 93 and lives out in Claremont. He’s proud of the fact that I went into the field.

DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST BYLINE?

It was in the Husky Highlights. I worked at a short-lived newspaper, The Pasadena Guardian, during the summer in college, and that was my first professional byline.

It was very exciting.

FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS TRAVELED, IT SEEMS LIKE THERE IS A DRAW TO COME BACK TO THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY.

That’s the weird thing about my career in journalism. I’m envious of someone who got to work at the New York Times, but I’m very pleased to have stayed at the same local paper for 36 years.

The year I was in New York, I was walking with Eliza Wing, the managing editor’s secretary, on Fifth Avenue, and she stopped me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and said, “Larry! You sure do talk about Pasadena a lot.”

“I do,” I said.

“Yes, you do,” and then we kept walking.

I was home for Christmas, and the founders of The Pasadena Weekly asked me to come on the staff, and that’s how I came back to Pasadena.

AS A FOURTH-GENERATION RESIDENT, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHANGES TO THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY AND WHAT YOU SEE ON THE HORIZON?

When I was growing up here, it was always an integrated community. There was always a large Japanese, Latino, and African population. A few communities were predominately white, like San Bernardino and South Pasadena.

The Asian Diaspora in the San Gabriel Valley has been the biggest change.

The most significant change culturally is that very few people didn’t go to public schools when I was growing up. There was a common place where we all went.

That is not the case not now.

DO MORE PEOPLE COME HERE FOR THE PRIVATE SCHOOL SYSTEM NOW?

For most people, that’s certainly the case. The public schools are very good, but most people send their kids to private schools.

WHY HAS NORTHWEST PASADENA CHANGED SO MUCH?

The Northwest has a strong African-American and Latino presence, and many white people wouldn’t go up there.

Now, real estate is affordable, and more people are moving in. Several years ago, people would have said, “Oh no, you’re moving into gang territory,” but it has always had a gang presence.

It has been a historically neglected area by city hall and the city council, which didn’t help the area.

But it’s starting to improve.

DO YOU LIKE THE WAY PASADENA HAS DEVELOPED?

Absolutely. I’ve seen the development of the area that used to have porno theaters to an area with restaurants and shops. It has improved dramatically.

What a success story for this area.

 

SGV III

  1. The Arroyo Seco. I live there, and it’s a tremendous cultural, historical, and recreational resource.
  2. This is going to be a twofer. Osawa restaurant, and the Everson Royce Wine Shop.
  3. The Armory Center for the Arts. They have contemporary art shows that are great.