PASADENA — While its fans around the world mourned the closing of the Huntington Sheraton hotel's palatial old main building last October, just a block away a developer began planning its revival.
Lary Mielke said he was as stunned as anyone to learn that Pasadena's last old resort hotel failed to meet seismic safety standards and would cease to be the heart of the neighborhood where he has lived for several years. It immediately occurred to him to buy it, he said, and within 30 days he sent a letter to the owners.
Nine months and countless studies later, Mielke and three partners face the first crucial tests in their bid to demolish the old building and replace it with a modern replica. They would, however, retain the Picture Bridge, with its overhead paintings by Frank M. Moore, and the Viennese and Georgian ballrooms.
The Pasadena Planning Commission is reviewing a request for a zoning change that is required if the building is to be reconstructed. The commission has studied the environmental impact of the proposal and is scheduled to decide at its Aug. 27 meeting what to recommend to the Pasadena Board of City Directors.
Meanwhile, at the urging of preservationists, specialists in the restoration of historic structures are making a final study to determine if all or part of the 80-year-old building can be saved. The report by the Ehrenkrantz Group of New York and San Francisco will be completed later this week, according to Christ Kamages, an architect and director of the group's San Francisco office.
Mielke said that several studies by engineers, architects and seismic specialists have convinced him that it is not structurally or economically feasible to restore the building. He said that, in addition to major structural faults, the building lacks air conditioning, electrical wires are in conduits on the exterior of walls and many of the rooms are too small for modern standards.
Mielke formed Huntington Hotel Associates with partners Tom Tellefsen and William Zimmerman of Pasadena and James M. Galbraith of San Marino to buy the property from Keikyu USA Inc. Sheraton manages the portion of the hotel still open. The purchase by Huntington Hotel Associates is currently in escrow. Mielke would not disclose how soon the sale could become final or how much the property or restoration would cost.
He did say that he would not consider constructing any other kind of building on the site, calling the original "an excellent design," that requires only minor changes.
"The only issue is between preservation versus restoration," Mielke said.
Mielke is chairman of Gemtel Corp., a real estate firm that he said has built hotels in the Fiji Islands and the Caribbean, as well as several shopping centers.
The partners plan to rebuild the hotel and bring in a management company to operate it. "We have not considered developing it and selling it," Mielke said.
According to the partners' plan, the six-story main building with its cupola would remain faithful to the original, and the grounds and buildings around it would be modified to improve traffic, parking and service.
The hotel's Spanish mission revival style was developed by architects Charles Whittlesey and Myron Hunt over a period of several years beginning in 1906. One of early Pasadena's six great resort hotels, its C-shaped main building that tops a knoll in the city's southern section is a landmark. It has housed presidents, royalty and celebrities. One of the early owners was railroad magnate Henry Huntington, who named it for himself.
During the hotel's resort years, visitors from the East built their own vacation homes on the grounds, which they eventually deeded to the hotel. These "cottages," as they are called--some of them large homes by today's standards--are among more than 20 outbuildings that are included in the hotel property that covers 23 acres.
Also separate from the main building are the Viennese and Georgian ballrooms with their elaborate decor and huge crystal chandeliers. Mielke said that they would not be razed. However, his plans call for putting the main entry on the building's north side, instead of at the eastern end that is familiar to thousands of people who met airport buses there for more than two decades. Two parking structures are planned, and one more may be built under tennis courts.
The restaurant, lounge and lobby areas would be rebuilt, but the mezzanine and Ship Room would not, Mielke said. The Lanai, a modern hotel building behind the main building, the Picture Bridge and Japanese garden would remain, and only one cottage, Rose Villa, would be razed.
Sketches by the MCG architectural firm show the exterior of the proposed new main building to be almost an exact replica of the existing one. The building would be five feet wider, expanded from 45 feet to 50 feet so that rooms and hallways could be bigger.