One year after the legendary guitarist’s death, the city of Pasadena unveiled a plaque Monday in honor of Eddie Van Halen at the Civic Auditorium, where the then-fledgling musician and his band performed more than a dozen shows before becoming global icons.
A small group of people, most of which were city employees and media, attended the private event at 10 a.m. outside the hall where the band played at least 14 times before achieving worldwide stardom. City spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said Eddie Van Halen’s relatives weren’t able to attend, but they endorsed its installation. Randa Schmalfeld — who helped organize Pasadena4VanHalen, a campaign to raise funds for the plaque, alongside Julie Kimber — was also on hand for the event.
Some unexpected pre-publicity left authorities to quell the throngs of Van Halen fans who wanted to see the unveiling at what was to be a quiet, private event. Apparently, a local newspaper didn’t honor a request Derderian’s request to not promote the event ahead of the scheduled unveiling.
Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo helped unveil the plaque along with Councilmembers Tyrone Hampton, Andy Wilson, Gene Masuda and Felicia Williams. Wilson sported a Van Halen logo shirt in honor of the occasion and Gordo spoke of the musician’s connection with Pasadena.
“This event brings together history and community to celebrate a world-renowned artist,” said Williams. “It’s not just the history of Eddie as a guitar legend, but also the challenges he faced growing up mixed race in Pasadena, which always spoke to me. And the community support and initiative to make this happen is inspiring. Thank you to everyone!”
Eddie Van Halen, who died from throat cancer Oct. 6, 2020, at age 65, attended school in Pasadena with his drums-playing older brother, Alex. It was at Pasadena City College that the beginnings of the band that would be known as Van Halen can be traced. The group played backyard parties in the area for hard rock-loving teens in the early 1970s before climbing to international fame.
The Van Halen family emigrated from the Netherlands to Pasadena in 1962 and settled in a house on Las Lunas Street. The two Van Halen children, Eddie and Alex, attended Hamilton Elementary School where they performed for the first time in a student band called the Broken Combs — and held down a paper route for the Pasadena Star-News.
By the early 1970s, the Van Halen boys attended Pasadena City College where, in a scoring and arranging class, they met future Van Halen front man David Lee Roth, who had once attended John Muir High School. Together, with Arcadia resident Michael Anthony, they formed the group Van Halen and began playing local venues from outdoor parties to the Civic Auditorium.
One local rock historian and music aficionado, Ted Jorgensen, remembers the band well and the wild atmosphere at “kegger parties” where they played.
“Being from the Netherlands, our families knew one another, and I witnessed some of their very early and unique talent. The Van Halen brothers played out some incredible jams, much to the neighbors’ chagrin … [They] were always calling the cops. The brothers were always creating new and exciting sounds with various electronic components no one ever thought of before – truly innovative,” Jorgensen told Hey SoCal.
By the 1980s, Van Halen was regarded as one of the best-selling rock artists of all time.
Eddie Van Halen led the band through five decades and three lead singers, and was considered a virtuoso for his two-handed tapping technique. Along with appearing on over a dozen albums with the band, Eddie played the blazing guitar break on Michael Jackson’s megahit “Beat It.”
Given the band’s connection to Pasadena and the hometown pride expressed by its residents, several residents asked that the city name a street, alley or other monument in Eddie’s honor following his death last year. A strip of curb on North Allen Avenue, near the former Van Halen home on Las Lunas Street, served as a makeshift memorial site after his death, prompting a broader discussion of a local memorial in a non-residential area, according to the city.
Derderian said earlier that many local residents have fond memories of the Van Halen brothers playing at house parties and performing in small clubs throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Van Halen signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1977 after the company’s president attended one of their gigs.