More than 100 angry La Canada Flintridge residents crowded into the historic Lanterman home last week to protest a proposal to convert the home and its surrounding estate into a combination city hall and community center.
"This is a residential neighborhood and City Hall is a business. We don't want it here," said Norris Guy, who lives directly across from the Lanterman home in the 4400 block of Encinas Drive. Guy has erected a large wooden sign on his front lawn that says "No City Hall."
Mayor O. Warren Hillgren told the assembled residents the city has not made a final decision about how it intends to use the 1.3-acre property, which was willed to La Canada Flintridge by the late Lloyd Lanterman on the condition that it be put to public use.
The Lanterman family founded La Canada in 1876, and Lloyd Lanterman, the last surviving family member, died last month at the age of 89.
A number of residents expressed concern that moving the city offices into the Lanterman home would create traffic, parking and noise problems.
Darrell Forgey, who recently bought a house near the Lanterman estate, said he fears that property values in the area may decrease if the city moves its offices there.
Although Hillgren told the crowd that "the only thing we have done so far is to hire an architectural firm to evaluate the property," he conceded under intense questioning that "we will use it for some city purpose of some sort."
A number of residents asked the mayor to look into whether the $2-million property can be sold and the proceeds used to build a city hall at another site.
"If the city owns the property, it should put it up for sale and get it back on the tax roles. Someone would love an old home like this," said Lewis Zeitz, who lives near the estate.
Hillgren said he will ask the city attorney's office to research Lanterman's will and determine whether the city has the option to sell the property.
Hillgren attempted to allay residents' fears that locating a city hall at the estate would increase traffic.
"Probably, most of you don't realize that we have 10 people working for the city. This is not a big monolith," Hillgren said. If the city decides to relocate its offices in the Lanterman home, he said, City Council and Planning Commission meetings probably will continue to be held at Descanso Gardens.
City officials said they called last week's meeting to gather public comments and to explain the study they have commissioned from Pasadena-based architects Spencer & Arroyan Associates. The firm is evaluating the house for structural soundness and will determine whether there are adequate grounds and parking to accommodate large gatherings.
This week, La Canada Flintridge City Manager Don Otterman said the city has begun a separate traffic study to determine the amount of foot and vehicle traffic generated by the city offices.
City officials, who rent two offices on Foothill Boulevard, have long wanted to move to a more suitable site. Unlike Burbank or Glendale, La Canada Flintridge has never had a formal city hall. The Lanterman home, with its 12,000-square-foot ballroom, wood-paneled rooms and giant organ, seems to provide the space and elegance the city wants.
Otterman said any final decision regarding use of the Lanterman home would require a series of public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.