PASADENA — Preservationists who fought to stop the demolition of the Huntington Sheraton Hotel's main building blamed their defeat in Tuesday's referendum on voter confusion.
Claire Bogaard, president of Pasadena Heritage, a preservation group, said some voters were mislead by developer Lary Mielke's statement that he planned to "preserve" the vast majority of the hotel's buildings.
Bogaard said that although Mielke will restore some well-known structures such as the Viennese Ballroom and the Picture Bridge, the most historically important and beautiful part of the hotel, its main building, will be demolished.
"There were a lot of people who were just confused," she said. "I do not accept this 'yes' vote because a lot of people voted 'yes' thinking they were voting for preservation."
Those voting "yes" sided with Mielke, while those voting "no" wanted to prevent his project.
Will Restore 90%
Mielke has contended that preserve is accurate because his $38-million project will restore 90% of the 20-acre hotel site, located in the exclusive Oak Knoll neighborhood.
He called his victory by a vote of 7,032 to 5,088 a triumph of "common sense" that will give the city a high-quality hotel similar to the original building.
"This launches the ship," Mielke said at a victory celebration at the hotel Tuesday night attended by about 200 supporters. "Now we have to go out there and do what we started a year ago."
Tim Matthews, co-chairman of the Defenders of the Huntington Hotel, which successfully got the issue on the ballot, conceded that there was nothing the group could do to stop the demolition.
But he listed a number of potential problems that could cause the project to fail.
The biggest hurdles for Mielke are finding financing and an operator for the hotel, Matthews said.
James M. Galbraith, one of Mielke's partners in Huntington Hotel Associates, said such concerns are unfounded.
"Getting financing is going to be a cakewalk in comparison to the last 13 months," he said. "This is going to be a great project."
The property, now owned by Keikyu U. S. A., is in escrow.
High Turnout Cited
But Matthews, a former Pasadena mayor who has seen numerous development proposals come and go, cautioned that completing them is never easy.
"There's still a long way to go," he said.
Despite the results, Bogaard said the unexpectedly high turnout, about 20% of the registered voters, may be a political plus for preservationists.
"It sends out the signal that Pasadenans care a whole lot about their community," she said. "Mielke is going to have a large number of people looking over his shoulder."
Bogaard said the high number of votes will increase the power of preservation groups to influence the design of the project.
The zoning change approved Tuesday has 34 conditions, including requirements that Mielke build and operate a "four-star" luxury hotel, replicate the building's exterior appearance down to the type of tiles and wall texture, replace each tree cut down, and replicate important interior architectural features.
"There's plenty of room for input," Bogaard said. "We're going to watchdog this project through."
Mielke replied: "That's fair. That's how the process works."
Mayor John Crowley, who has supported Mielke's project from the beginning, said the defeat for the preservation groups may signal a turning point for the city.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Pasadena went through a period of enormous development in order to revitalize its sluggish economy. After that, the preservation movement rose in power because of the perception that development had gotten out of hand, he said.
The results Tuesday may bring about a balance between the development and preservation forces, with neither one overpowering the other, Crowley said.
But Bogaard disputed Crowley's reasoning, saying that the preservation movement has lost none of its power and may in fact come out of the Huntington ordeal stronger than ever.
She cited Plaza Pasadena, which was built over the bitter opposition of preservationists.
Bogaard said the construction of Plaza Pasadena galvanized the preservation movement and forged it into a potent political force.
"We lost the battle, but we won the war," she said, adding: "There has never been another large-scale demolition in the city."
Bogaard said demolition of the Huntington Sheraton Hotel may eventually have the same effect on the preservation movement.
"Sometimes you have to lose a building like this to really have your message heard," she said.