PASADENA — It was a rare setback for Pasadena Heritage last week when voters decided to permit demolition of the historic main building of the Huntington Sheraton hotel.
Trying to save the building was the latest cause of the private, nonprofit preservationist group. In the 10 years since its founding, Pasadena Heritage has gained a nationwide reputation for effectiveness and political clout in a city known for a strong interest in its heritage.
Even though the group lost, Claire Bogaard, its executive director and driving force, refuses to call Tuesday's vote a defeat.
"Along the way, some demolition occurs," she acknowledged.
Stopping Wrecking Ball
More often than not, however, Pasadena Heritage has helped stop the wrecking ball.
Saving the picturesque but aging Colorado Street Bridge and convincing city officials and businessmen that the dilapidated buildings in Old Town were worth restoring and renovating are two of the group's major successes.
But there have been failures, too.
The group has been unable to retrieve interior fixtures worth about $1 million which were stripped from the historic Blacker House two years ago by a Texas rancher.
From its beginnings as a small, all-volunteer group, Pasadena Heritage has grown to a 2,000-member organization with an operating budget of $120,000. It is funded through membership fees, grants and donations and has four paid staff members and a 13-member board of directors, including lawyers, an architect, a banker, a real estate broker, a historian and an urban planner.
"We held our first architectural tour in 1976 and got our first 250 members that day," Bogaard said.
The group incorporated in January, 1977. Since then, much of the preservation and restoration of many of Pasadena's historic buildings can be credited to its efforts.
"Pasadena Heritage is one of the better local preservation organizations in the country and has fought a lot of worthwhile battles," said Greg Coble, director of the National Trust, which has a membership of 3,500 local and state preservation groups. "Pasadena is a city that people in preservation look to because there is a lot of public support and citizen participation for it."
Buildings Moved, Sold
Besides speaking at public hearings and working with the city on restoration plans for public buildings such as City Hall and the Public Library, the group conducts architectural tours, presents slide shows to community groups and provides a listing of local craftsmen to residents who need help with restoration.
But its main function is pushing for the preservation of historic buildings, something that began when Bogaard and a few other residents obtained grants with which they bought structures earmarked for demolition. The homes and office buildings were moved, renovated and sold to new owners.
"All the buildings we have saved are being used as residences or businesses," said Bogaard, 48, whose husband, Bill, is a former Pasadena mayor.
"They are not looked upon as museums but are recycled and used in a productive manner. This is not restoration for the sake of restoration," said Bogaard, who works full time at "a modest salary" for Pasadena Heritage.
Without Pasadena Heritage, said Mayor John Crowley, "our heritage would not have been as well protected because they have raised the consciousness of the community."
While some businessmen have complained privately that the group has tried to block projects necessary to the economic health of the city, no one is willing to speak openly against Pasadena Heritage.
Developer Lary Mielke, who obtained voter approval to proceed with his plans to demolish the Huntington's main building and replace it with a similar-looking modern hotel, does differ with the group on just what should be preserved.
"Sometimes they view preservation as paramount to anything else," Mielke said. "Life is a matter of compromise, and if they are too adamant and unrealistic they damage the process (of providing a balance between development and preservation)."
Although this was one of several instances in which Pasadena Heritage locked horns with developers, not all of its projects have been controversial, said Linda Dishman of the urban conservation section of the city's Planning Department.
"The preservation controversy is on a project-by-project basis," she said. "There are no groups of people consistently against preservation."
Phyllis Goddard, a real estate agent and treasurer of Pasadena Heritage, said that "there have been necessary trends toward development and revitalization of the business community to increase the tax base. This has sometimes come in direct conflict (with preservation).
"Preservation is emotional and subjective, so everyone likes the things Pasadena Heritage does except when we step on toes," she added. "We try to work constructively with everyone, but we also have to face the reality of urban living. Those of us on the board discuss the economic realities, not preservation for the sake of preservation."