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Board OKs Zoning Change to Permit Huntington Razing

November 13, 1986|LILY ENG | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — Demolition of the historic main building of the Huntington Sheraton hotel could begin by late spring, developers announced Wednesday, after a decision by the Board of City Directors that will allow construction of a replica.

After months of haggling between developers and preservationists over the fate of building, the board voted 4 to 2 Tuesday to approve a zoning change required before the building could be replaced.

The developers will have to follow 34 conditions guaranteeing that the replica will resemble the main building, called the Tower, as closely as possible.

City Approval Needed

Because the area surrounding the hotel is zoned for single-family homes, approval of construction of a new building had to be obtained from the city.

Lary Mielke, who formed Huntington Hotel Associates with three other partners and in April bought the property, which is in escrow, said the vote was "the first of many steps" in getting the project started.

"This will be the beginning of a lot of work with the community and our opposition," Mielke said after the meeting. "But we are going to do what we said we were going to do."

The cost of razing and rebuilding the main structure has been estimated at $38 million, Mielke said.

Mielke, chairman of Gemtel Corp., a Los Angeles-based real estate firm that has built hotels in Fiji and the Caribbean, said he does not know exactly when demolition will begin, but hoped work could be under way by spring or early summer.

The project could be completed as early as the end of 1988, Gemtel President Thomas R. Tellefsen said Wednesday. "Realistically, we're looking for a two-year plan," he said.

Before the vote, Edward Garlock, a member of Pasadena Heritage, a preservationist group that had long fought the demolition, said his group would accept the board's decision, no matter what it was.

"We made the decision to follow the planning process as far as we could go," Garlock said. "At this point, we have pursued it as thoroughly as possible."

Linda Dishman, a Planning Department staff member, said the proposal now must go before three city committees to determine whether it conforms to conditions imposed in the zoning change.

The directors' vote came after two hours of debate that was generally unemotional and covered points that have been made again and again.

Reluctant Assent

Mayor John C. Crowley said he reluctantly voted for the zoning change because he believes the building is unsafe.

"I will regret the lost of this beautiful old building, but it has to be balanced with reality," he said. "I voted for reality."

Directors Loretta Thompson-Glickman, Jo Heckman and William E. Thomson Jr. also voted for the zoning change. Directors Jess Hughston and Rick Cole voted against it. Director William J. Bogaard was absent.

"The people have shown that they want a hotel there," Thomson said.

But Hughston complained that he has not seen any official reports outlining the reasons why the present building could not be renovated.

'Like to See Other Side'

"All I have heard are reports about demolition and replication," Hughston said. "I would like to see reports on the other side. I hope to be proved wrong that the destruction (of the building) is not right."

Cole also said the board should have looked more thoroughly at options other than demolition.

The debate over the fate of the hotel began last year when Keikyu U.S.A. Inc., which bought the hotel in 1974, announced that surveyors had discovered that the main building had only 25% of the structural strength required by modern standards to withstand a major earthquake.

The main structure, built in 1907, was closed in last October. Since then, only the 60-room Lanai, the hotel's newest annex, and the 17-room Royce Hall have been operated by the Sheraton Corp., which manages the hotel.

Alternatives Not Studied

Pasadena Heritage had contended that the developers did not study enough alternatives to demolition and argued that it was economically feasible to renovate it.

In late August, the Ehrenkrantz Group of New York and San Francisco, specialists in the restoration of historic structures, said in a study that demolition might be unnecessary and that restoration or rehabilitation should be considered as well.

In the report, the Ehrenkrantz group said, "As far as we've been able to ascertain, there seems to have been a general 'frustration' with the general complexity or 'messiness' of the situation, so that the easiest and simplest path was to start with a clean slate, as in demolishing the building, but re-using the site."

Pasadena Heritage had estimated that it would cost from $30 million to $35 million to rehabilitate the structure.

But Mielke maintained that studies by other engineers and architects convinced him that it was neither structurally nor economically feasible to restore the building.

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