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Campaign to Restore Fixtures to Landmark House Apparently Fails

September 12, 1985|ALAN MALTUN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — A summer-long campaign by preservationists to have more than four dozen original light fixtures put back in the landmark Blacker House apparently has failed.

Claire Bogaard, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, said last week that the group had been unable to secure an option on the property from its current owner or find a new buyer for the house, which was built in 1907 by noted architects Charles and Henry Greene.

Barton English, a Stonewall, Tex., rancher, bought the residence for $1.2 million in May and immediately stripped it of the light fixtures, enraging cultural heritage groups and arousing nationwide concern among collectors of decorative art. Pasadena Heritage had been negotiating with English to retrieve the fixtures and retain the residence in local hands, but English rejected its proposal and both sides now say prospects for a settlement appear slim.

In Private Collection

English, who collects turn-of-the-century decorative art pieces, said he intends to keep most of the fixtures in his private collection and sell the rest. He said he will sell the house as-is when he finds "a suitable buyer."

"Realistically," English said, "I don't see any way" to return the fixtures to the house. "There is no proposal on the table that Pasadena Heritage is discussing with me."

Sitting on an acre in the exclusive Oak Knoll neighborhood, the Blacker House is the largest and one of the best works of the Greenes, pioneers of the Craftsman style, also known as the California bungalow. The Greenes designed every aspect of the house and its furnishings. The light fixtures, which feature wooden frames, Tiffany glass and bronze detailing, are considered an integral part of the Greenes' architectural statement. Experts have estimated the value of the fixtures at as much as $1 million.

Despite the setback, Bogaard said her group will continue efforts to retrieve the fixtures. "We will remain in contact with him and we will continue to pursue alternatives which might provide a happier solution," she said.

Bogaard would not elaborate on what those alternatives are, but the possibility of approaching the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu and private buyers has been widely discussed among local preservation groups.

Urged to Cooperate

Pasadena Heritage has received support from preservation organizations throughout the country, including English's home state. The Texas Historical Commission and the Galveston Historical Foundation both have urged English to cooperate with Pasadena Heritage.

With the help of a $20,000 loan commitment from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Pasadena Heritage had sought an option to resell the house with fixtures intact and recoup English's investment. Terms of the option have not been publicly disclosed and English has refused to say how much money he wants for the house--with or without the fixtures. The house was purchased from Margery Hill, a widow who lived there for more than 30 years before financial reverses forced her to sell it.

"Unfortunately, Mr. English now has concluded that he can maximize the value (of the house) by disposing of the fixtures separate from the house," Bogaard said. "Mr. English has declined to be more specific about his financial objectives. We are obviously disappointed and frustrated with his refusal to provide specifics for the basis of negotiations."

English said he is sympathetic to the preservationists' point of view, but that the option proposal "basically would have realized me a loss on the property." He said he rejected Pasadena Heritage's option proposal in July, but Bogaard said she was under a different impression.

"If that was the case," Bogaard said, "I don't know why we carried on back-and-forth phone calling (negotiations). Our understanding was that he rejected certain terms. "We both agreed it was a way to open negotiation and discussion. I assume we were both acting in good faith."

Meanwhile, in an effort to prevent future incidents of the Blacker House type, the Board of City Directors on Tuesday tentatively approved a permanent ordinance that would require review of any proposed alterations to buildings more than 50 years old. A change that could damage a significant building could be denied by the city.

The new ordinance is to replace a 90-day emergency measure adopted in June in the wake of the Blacker House controversy. The permanent ordinance also sets up a category of city landmark called the Pasadena Historic Treasure, which is to be applied to the very finest city landmarks, said Paul Gleye, a principal planner.

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