By May S. Ruiz
Old Pasadena is a bustling place that has become a dining, shopping, and entertainment destination for people of all ages. There was a time, however, when this corner of the city was a rundown area and no one had reason to wander into it. And were it not for the Pasadena Heritage, the city’s original downtown and its historic buildings would have disappeared altogether.
Patty Judy, Pasadena Heritage’s Education Director, describes, “In 1977 concerned citizens from various walks of life were seeing some of the historic structures in the city being demolished or being threatened for demolition to make room for generic properties and large corporate buildings. The plan to bulldoze Old Pasadena, including structures there like the Parsons headquarters, was of particular interest to them. Additionally, they noticed that neighborhoods were endangered – craftsman houses were being torn down, new development were sprouting, and the climate of the area was changing.
“It should be noted that this was also the time when the National Historic Preservation Association and California Preservation Foundation were being established. So there was a movement already going on throughout the country which sort of filtered its way here.
“Bill Ellinger, who was an architectural historian working oversees and came back and saw what was happening, and Claire Bogaard, whose husband Bill would later become Pasadena’s mayor, were two of those who actively advocated for an organization to preserve the city’s architectural treasures. As I heard it, someone said ‘Anyone who wants to join us can come to Claire’s house and they will be the first board.’ They adjourned to the dining room and that was their first board meeting. Thus, Pasadena Heritage was born.
“They raised money by having tours of neighborhoods like Prospect Park and Old Pasadena – they did a little bit of advertising, set a table on the street, and people just walked up. They didn’t presell tours as we do now. For the Colorado Street Bridge, it started as a bridge party to raise funds; today it’s a celebration party.”
Many of us aren’t aware of Pasadena Heritage’s existence at all, which is regrettable because its impact on our surroundings is sweeping. As Judy elaborates, “People don’t understand why Pasadena looks the way it does and how much that has to do with our influence. I think it might be a shock for people to know how many meetings we go to with the City or how many times we meet with developers and how much sway we have.
“On the other hand, some people think we can do more than we actually can. We hear people ask why we allow developers to construct new condominiums or apartments in a particular location. They don’t understand that zoning laws allow such construction and we can’t legally bar them from building.”
Indeed, the organization’s breadth of involvement in Pasadena’s environs is too staggering for a single article to encompass. But several of its noteworthy accomplishments are highlighted here.
Pasadena Heritage’s first National Register of Historic Places Nomination in 1978 was for the Civic Center; including City Hall, the Central Library, the Civic Auditorium, the former YMCA and YWCA, and other historic buildings in the 1925 Bennett Plan that envisioned Pasadena as ‘The Athens of the West.’
The following year the organization saved its first endangered house – the Parsons House, designed by Alfred and Arthur Heineman – which was moved to Altadena and restored. In 1982 it spearheaded Pasadena’s adoption of the Landmark District Ordinance. Neighborhoods can apply for special status and design guidelines to protect their history and character. This local landmark designation is the best way structures can be ensured of protection from being destroyed.
It lobbied to save the Main Post Office on Colorado Blvd. in 1983 when the Lincoln Avenue postal facility was proposed. In 1984 one of Pasadena’s oldest bungalow courts, Gartz Court, was set to be demolished and Pasadena Heritage stepped in. It partnered with the City and moved the six-unit construction to a new location. The charming Myron Hunt-designed building was restored and updated and sold as affordable housing.
“In 1985 we adopted a Greene & Greene Initiative when an out-of-state buyer stripped the Robert R. Blacker House of its custom light fixtures,” states Judy. “We had to get an emergency ordinance that resulted in strengthening the city’s zoning with added protections for Greene & Greene structures. A higher level of designation – the Historic Treasure (now Historic Monument) – was also created to protect interior features.”
As much as Pasadena Heritage would like to preserve all historic structures, the interest of the building’s owners could prevail. One such occurrence took place in 1986 when the demolition of Huntington Hotel on South Oak Knoll Avenue, which dates back to 1906, was being discussed. Pasadena Heritage nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places. While the hotel was eligible, it was not officially listed because the owners objected. A local referendum narrowly approved a new hotel and the historic tower was demolished in 1988.
However, Pasadena Heritage enjoyed numerous other victories. Judy recounts, “In 1993 the Castle Green Exterior Restoration and Historic Structure Report, funded by a $693,000 grant to Pasadena Heritage from the State Office of Historic Preservation, was completed and won a California Preservation award. The Report is still used to guide restoration of the former hotel, which has been converted as privately owned condominiums, and our easement protects the building.
“In December of that year, the Colorado Street Bridge officially reopened after a three-year project to seismically upgrade, repair, and restore it. In July 1994, Pasadena Heritage’s famous party on the bridge returned after a four-year hiatus, and record crowds turned out to celebrate.”
The organization was the recipient of a plaudit in 1995 when Old Pasadena received one of the first Great American Main Street Awards from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It also won support from the State Office of Historic Preservation to save the last 12 Vista del Arroyo Bungalows remaining along the east bank of the Arroyo.
In 1996 Pasadena Heritage moved to the 1893 Madison House on South St. John Avenue which was received as a bequest. Two years later it established Heritage Housing Partners (HHP) as a subsidiary affiliate to purchase, rehabilitate, and resell historic homes as affordable housing. This effort was supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which had fostered a similar program in the East and the South.
Heritage Housing Partners began work in 2000 on the 1910 Merrill House designed by Greene & Greene, the fourth single-family home it rehabbed. The house, the former residence of Samuel Merrill, an important early environmentalist, was obtained from the bank at a deep discount and allowed for a larger restoration budget.
In 2001 Pasadena Heritage’s efforts helped save a cluster of 1928 Spanish Colonial Revival commercial buildings on Green Street at Madison Avenue from demolition and subsequently became home to the California School of Culinary Arts.
“We started noticing that some mid-century architecture were also in danger,” Judy adds. “Normally the National Trust doesn’t consider something as historic until it’s 50 years old but in 2001 we asked for a special exception for the 1958 Stuart Pharmaceutical Co. building. We got it listed on the National Register when it was acquired by the MTA and was going to be converted into a parking lot. Happily, it is now a local historic landmark and is occupied by A Noise Within, the renowned classic repertory theater company.”
The expansion of the Pasadena Convention Center was the focus of Pasadena Heritage’s attention in 2003 because its centerpiece is the Civic Auditorium. It participated in the development of a new design concept that complemented the building.
In 2005 the organization strongly opposed plans to attract the NFL to take over the Rose Bowl because the project would destroy the original National Landmark stadium. The City Council rejected the NFL plan in June, but supporters managed to put the issue on the ballot in 2006. Fortunately, a massive community effort led to its ultimate defeat.
Pasadena City Hall was once again in the spotlight in 2007 when it reopened after extensive seismic upgrade and restoration work. Pasadena Heritage was involved in the planning for the massive undertaking and served on the project oversight committee.
One of the structures Pasadena Heritage has been watching closely was the YWCA. Judy relates, “Since our founding, we’ve urged the restoration of the former YWCA. We felt it was important principally because it was designed by Julia Morgan, who had a prolific career. She designed more than 700 buildings in California, most notably the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. She also did the Fairmont in San Francisco, the Berkeley City Club, the Riverside Art Museum, the Hollywood Studio Club, the Herald-Examiner Building in Downtown L.A., among many others.
“Neglect over the years had kept the building on our Preservation Watch List. In 2010 the city finally took the major step of invoking eminent domain and then moved forward to secure and stabilize it while completing the lengthy acquisition process.
“Then in 2014, the YWCA was under review to become a Kimpton Hotel, a great adaptive use for the historic building. However, the proposal met with controversy because the adjacent green space would be built upon. It remains on our Advocacy Watch list to this day.”
Judy clarifies “Our goal is not to stop new development but to make sure that it is consistent with the look of the neighborhood. For example, there’s a new development in El Molino which is next to a turn of the century Victorian home. We wanted to have a green space between houses so we sat down with the developers and they redesigned the project to fit with the historic structures in the area.”
“HGTV is our biggest enemy,” confesses Judy. “They want to update historic buildings, although in doing so they take out what makes the structure important. They just tear down all the walls in the house, but they’re there for a reason. While we can’t dictate what homeowners should do in the house’s interior, we try to educate the owner of a historic home.
“Recently, there was a house that was purchased by a celebrity who wants to change all the windows so our Preservation Director met with them to tell them which ones they can change and which ones they can’t, and why. We try to get there before they get the permit to make any alterations.”
There is never a dearth of new projects and one that Pasadena Heritage will be keeping an eye on is the Fuller Seminary. According to Judy, since the seminary’s sale, they’ve had meetings with the Women’s Club and the University Club because they will be affected when the development starts. Another upcoming project is the First Congregational Church on Walnut and Los Robles. The organization has had conversations with the new owners about how much of the building will have to be preserved.
“It’s not only the old part of the city that we have an interest in as we have proven when we intervened in Stuart Pharmaceutical’s plight,” Judy points out. “We’ve been watching East Pasadena. In fact, we’ve held commercial tours there because there are several mid-century buildings in the area. And we’re thinking of maybe doing a ‘60s Tour’ at some point. The Neptune and Thomas-designed Avon Building on East Foothill Blvd has been sold to Home Depot and we have urged the retention of the 1947 building.
“The Space Bank site, also on East Foothill Blvd., which is eligible as an historic district due to its association with Cold War-era weapons research, has received City approval. The developer, Trammel Crow, has agreed to mitigation measures that include retention of some historic features and interpretive displays.
“The ‘Ability First’ building on Kinneloa was designed by a very prominent mid-century architect and they’re planning on doing new development. My daughter works there and the director knows I’m with Pasadena Heritage. So he asked how involved we were going to be and I said ‘Well, we’re going to have an eye on it and we’d appreciate it if you could include this person and this person in the early stages.’
“We didn’t ignore East Pasadena at all. In fact, sometime in the 1990s we produced a video called ‘East Pasadena.’ We know there are several interesting communities in that locale like Chapman Woods. We’ve also been working in the Hastings Ranch area, developing an Awareness Project but we have yet to figure out what it’s going to be. Some of the homes there look similar to each other and we’re trying to decide if we could do a home tour there. But be assured that we’re there and we’re attempting to get more people interested.”
To make everything happen, Pasadena Heritage has a large support group: six full-time staff members; a board of 17 people; several committees; and hundreds of volunteers. It holds several events in any given year including The Craftsman Weekend, which is the longest and consists of bus and walking tours, workshops, lectures, receptions, and Contemporary and Antique Decorative Arts and Furnishings sale. The Bridge Party is a one-day activity and most of the other events are two- to three-hour tours or presentations. It hosts a Summer Gala during the years when there’s no Bridge Party.
“Since 1977 the Neighborhood Walking Tour have been the bread-and-butter events for us,” Judy discloses. “These tours are limited to the exterior, except during Craftsman Weekend when we try to get at least one homeowner to show us the inside, which is always a treat for our guests. Every once in a while we get a surprise when a homeowner invites us to come in and to see their new fireplace. With the Old Pasadena Walking Tour we have an arrangement with Castle Green to show their lobby and the first floor.”
Judy mentions that The Pasadena Architectural Legacy Walking Tours – Hillcrest Neighborhood and the Civic Center District that includes City Hall, Pasadena Library, and Civic Auditorium – will take place this Saturday, December 30.
She then remembers, “We recently held a Fountains Tour, which is really fascinating. We found out there are 16 or 17 fountains within walking distance of each other – two Batchelder tile drinking fountains by the YMCA/YWCA; one at the Civic Center; one next to the police station; one outside the Library; a fountain landscape at the Pasadena Mutual Savings and Loan Building at Garfield across Union designed by Ruth Shellhorn who also created the central landscaping at Disneyland; one at the courtyard of Western Assets Plaza; one at Westin Hotel. And then there was that Batchelder tile fountain that Pasadena Heritage saved from a home, which just sat in Claire Bogaard’s garage for a long time, and is now at Plaza Las Fuentes.”
Judy has been Pasadena Heritage’s Education Director for 10 years and a volunteer for 20. In that time she says the most difficult thing she’s had to do is to convince homeowners that their house is significant enough that other people would want to see it. She says, “A lot of houses in Pasadena have architectural importance and it’s my job to tell them why. Although I’m not an expert, I’m just a fan, I have enough contacts like historians, researchers, and architects who have the knowledge and expertise to show them what makes their home remarkable.”
Throughout its 40-year history, Pasadena Heritage has achieved several milestones. It marked the 20th anniversary of its Craftsman Weekend in 2011. In 2012, it celebrated ‘35 Years of Preservation’ as the theme of the summer’s Colorado Street Bridge Party. Last year, it commemorated the four decades of its founding and co-hosted a very successful California Historic Preservation Conference scheduled with multiple programs throughout the year. A major ‘40 Years Celebration’ was held in October of 2017 in the original Exhibition Hall at the Civic Auditorium.
Its yearly Educational Programs and Architectural Legacy Tours have gained a massive following, drawing visitors from across the country. The newly created Old Pasadena Pub Crawl, which was sold out soon as it was announced, will be offered every month starting next year.
When Claire Bogaard and other caring citizens decided to put their heads together to save Old Pasadena from demolition all those years ago, they did not foresee how that singular resolve would affect the most extraordinary projects that uphold the integrity of structures.
And the work hasn’t ebbed – there are ever more buildings needing to be rescued from the wrecking ball. Today Pasadena Heritage continues its mandate of protecting the city’s rich architectural history and preserving the landmarks that make Pasadena the unique and charming place that we’re proud to call our home.