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New ways to save Pasadena's past.

New ways to save Pasadena's past

Is the conflict between historic preservation and growth irreconcilable? In cities with a distinct architectural character, such as Pasadena, the answer seems to be that such a marriage takes extra effort.

Pasadena is becoming a regional hub. Since 1970, the population has risen only 10,000 (up to 130,000). But office space in large buildings has increased sixfold. A crop of new mid-rises has added to the tax base but altered vistas and brought more traffic to neighborhood streets.

Growth has also increased the city's penchant for volunteerism. In the early 1970s, there were 16 neighborhood associations; today there are 62. Community leaders have formed a city-wide coalition: PRIDE (Pasadena Residents in Defense of our Environment).

Says Claire Bogaard, director of Pasadena Heritage, "We're not against reasonable growth. But we can't just give away the skyline."

The citizen groups have had an effect. Their response stopped a controversial project that would have put twin 19-story high-rises within a block of City Hall. A new mixed-use project by a different developer is now under construction on the site. (Its lower height and view-sensitive siting helped win permit approval.)

Another example of the compromises citizens and developers have hammered out is the recent hotly contested proposal to expand the Julia Morgan-designed YWCA across from City Hall. The agreement allows for expansion, but with less damage to the original building.

Now the community is looking beyond the piecemeal approach to a broader definition of what it wants to be. A just-completed public survey indicates Pasadenas favor "selective development," such as the rehabilitation and reuse of existing buildings. And, though not sure-fire cures, recent planning mechanisms articulate the city's desire to take charge of its own destiny.

A new urban design plan. Adopted by the city in 1985, the plan replaces the old 130-foot blanket height limit with block-by-block height limits for the downtown area, ranging from 40 and 50 feet near the Civic Center to 150 feet elsewhere. Says planning director Don Nollar, "At least Pasadena agrees on one thing: we will not be a high-rise city."

A new Civic Center master plan. Now under review by the city and the public, the plan covers the blocks containing the baroque-domed City Hall and related civic structures (already on the National Register). It emphasizes preservation and adaptive reuse.

It also seeks to reestablish the influence of the original 1923 Civic Center Plan; to enhance significant views and passages into the Civic Center; and, for new construction, to control building bulk and contour, siting, and the location and character of entrances.

Still, problems remain. Citizen uncertainty about the city's future is reflected in a slow-growth initiative on the June ballot.

Developer Lary Mielke, chairman of Gemtel Corporation, opposes the initiative. He feels the problems that growth creates are regional: "The only effective way to manage traffic is through cooperation among area cities, taking into consideration the interests of developers, businesses, homeowners, and governments."

Another dilemma comes from Pasadena's success. As Nollar observes, "The more you do to preserve the quality and enhance the character of a place, the more people want to come."

Photo: Tiers of arches and a swelling dome mark Pasadena's center with pride in vintage view of baroque City Hall

Photo: Today a ring of mid-rise buildings surrounds Civic Center, competing for attention in a burgeoning community
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sunset's 90th Anniversary Special Report; historic preservation
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1988
Words:562
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