PASADENA — It is mainly a matter of prestige when a historic landmark is listed in the National Register of Historic Places--but the owners of the 79-year-old Huntington-Sheraton hotel and some of its neighbors would have none of it.
So when the state Historical Resources Commission met earlier this month to discuss the matter, their objections forced the commission to merely declare that the closed portion of the hotel is eligible for the register, but not to nominate it for inclusion on the list.
The decision was the latest in the battle between Pasadena Heritage, a private historic preservation group, and the owner, Keikyu USA Inc. Pasadena Heritage wants to save the famous main building of the 23-acre resort on Oak Knoll Avenue, an exclusive residential area near San Marino, and Keikyu wants the option of demolishing it.
In October, the community was stunned when Keikyu announced that the landmark's main building would close because a structural survey, conducted as part of a $10-million renovation project, determined that the walls are too weak to withstand a major earthquake.
Since then preservationists have launched an effort to save the building.
The listing would not prevent demolition but, said Keikyu attorney Bob Takeuchi, "We felt being on the list would have a psychological impact in the community if we decided to tear it down. Pasadena Heritage wants us to keep the existing structure and reopen the hotel."
Sue Mossman of Pasadena Heritage, which wants the building and five homes that were once hotel cottages included on the register, said, "The only disadvantage to being on the list (for the hotel owner) is that it makes people in the community care enough to be more supportive of keeping that building."
Owners of four of the cottages objected, saying they might prefer demolition of the main building to allowing it to deteriorate and mar the neighborhood.
Concerning the Pasadena Heritage efforts to have the hotel listed, Mossman said, "The Huntington has been on our list of buildings to nominate for several years.
"We generally do it when we have a summer intern to research and prepare the report for the state. But we are motivated by emergencies and because the Huntington was never considered threatened, it was set aside.
"Last spring we did start work and we were encouraged by Sheraton Corp. No mention was made about any thoughts of closing the hotel. The nomination had just been completed before the closure was announced."
Built in 1907
The Huntington was built in 1907 as a resort to serve wealthy Easterners who came to Southern California for the winter. In 1954 it was sold to the Sheraton Corp. Twenty years later it was sold to Keikyu, a Japanese conglomerate, but Sheraton continued to manage it.
Although buildings are nominated primarily for the honor, Mossman said that if they are on the list and owners rehabilitate them, the owners are eligible for a federal tax credit of 20% to 25%.
"They can alter the building or they can tear it down," she said. "There are just no disincentives."
In a proposed listing, if more than one property owner is involved, the project is termed a historic properties district, said Sandy Elder of the state Office of Preservation, the staff arm of the Historical Resources Commission.
If 51% of property owners in a historic properties district object, Elder said, the buildings cannot be nominated.
In this case, because of the objections, the state commission could not nominate the project for the register. But it was declared eligible and will be placed on a list of projects to go on the register if property owners withdraw their objections.
Pasadena Heritage officials, who said the cottages were included because they are a historic part of the hotel, expressed surprise that four of the five owners objected.
"We included the cottages in preparing the nomination because whenever there are outbuildings, the nomination is more complete and more authentic if they are included in the boundary," Mossman said.
"So in keeping with the historic theme, the bungalows most intact were included. It didn't seem to be a risk for those homeowners and we did not anticipate objection from them. We were dismayed and we are still mystified that they objected."
Objected Because of Timing
John Siciliano, a cottage owner who lives on Wentworth Street, said he objected because the timing is inappropriate.
"It's fine if the hotel is worth saving," he said, "but it may not be worth it from a structural standpoint. So this is premature.
"If the empty hotel sits there and decays, it is not worth saving. Our whole street has deteriorated. It is a mess. The neighborhood needs to be properly maintained and developed.
"The hotel owners could demolish the structure and build a hotel suitable to the neighborhood. The bed tax is important for the city so I would not like to see the land subdivided for housing.
'A Prestige Item'
"Being listed is a prestige item but it doesn't affect the homes. Our home is only 38 years old so it is not historic; it is just a contributing feature to the hotel."
Another cottage owner, Ed McNamara, who lives on the corner of Wentworth and Oak Knoll, said he objected because he did not know of any benefit and felt the listing could be restrictive for the hotel owner.
"Maybe a hotel is not the best use of the property," he said. "I would like to see something quiet and dignified, such as a resort-type hotel or even a subdivision. Since the property is zoned residential, any project would have to be approved by the city.
"It's nice here right now with no hotel noise, traffic and the airport buses."