PASADENA — The California Museum of Science and Industry has begun discussions with the owner of the historic Blacker House about acquiring the residence to use as a center for a visiting scholar program.
J. Rounds, chief curator of the state-operated museum, said that in October he proposed the idea to Barton English, a Texas rancher and antique collector who owns the house, and that they discussed the matter in several subsequent telephone conversations.
"It is an idea we're currently exploring," Rounds said. "There's no commitment on either side. We're both very interested in it and we're both talking, but there are considerable steps along the way before it becomes a reality."
English, reached at his Stonewall, Tex., ranch, described his talks with Rounds as "very informal preliminary discussions."
The Blacker House--designed by famed Pasadena architects Charles and Henry Greene in 1907--has been the subject of controversy since last May, when English bought the residence for $1.2 million and removed about 50 light fixtures designed by the Greenes. The fixtures have been estimated to be worth at least $1 million.
The 12,000-square-foot house, built by lumber magnate Robert R. Blacker for about $100,000, is one of the finest remaining examples of the Craftsman style of architecture pioneered by the Greenes. The 20-room, wood-sided house sits on a one-acre site in the exclusive Oak Knoll neighborhood.
Local preservation groups have tried unsuccessfully to secure the return of the light fixtures and to find a local buyer for the residence. Rounds and English declined to quote the exact price being discussed, but Rounds said $750,000 to $800,000 would be needed "to complete the package for the acquisition and rehabilitation of the house." He said the money would be raised through the California Museum Foundation.
"It's being conceived of as something of a bargain sale, somewhat short of an outright donation, but considerably less than market (value)," Rounds said.
"Barton English is very supportive of the idea."
Whether any of the light fixtures would be returned to the house remains unclear, although English has said that most of the pieces are in his possession or under his control.
Rounds said he has discussed the fixtures with English and has "an understanding with him, but those discussions are confidential."
English, however, said he has not discussed the light fixtures with Rounds. He said he would consider an offer from the museum "as seriously as I've considered every other offer."
Curator Would Live There
Rounds said his proposal calls for the museum foundation to acquire the Blacker House and for a museum curator to live there full time. The curator would act as a host to groups of about a dozen museum trustees and corporate executives who would meet once or twice weekly to discuss the social implications of science and technology. The museum itself is in Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
Rounds said he plans to meet with members of the Oak Knoll Assn. to determine whether such a use would be acceptable to homeowners in the area, who have in the past expressed concerns about traffic and parking problems that might by caused by a public use of the house. He added that the foundation's board of directors wants to gauge community support for the proposal before making a final commitment.
"I've talked with a large number of people," Rounds said, "and I've gotten a great deal of enthusiasm. I haven't encountered any major obstacles at this point, but I don't want to create the impression that this is locked up. . . . We've got lots of people to bring together."
Claire Bogaard, chairwoman of Pasadena Heritage, one of the organizations that had sought the return of the light fixtures, said she was "really excited" about the discusssions and called them the "best opportunity so far" to return the house to local ownership.
Triggered City Action
The Blacker House controversy has triggered efforts by city officials and preservation groups to prevent the removal of valuable interior fixtures from other historic structures. In June, the Board of City Directors passed an emergency ordinance temporarily prohibiting removal of interior fixtures from buildings more than 50 years old. City officials have estimated that about half the buildings in Pasadena fall into that category.