In its quest to create a sense of identity and escape the shadow of neighboring Pasadena, Altadena has created a Heritage Committee to involve residents in historic preservation.
"We want to get the community involved in establishing an identity for ourselves," said Tim Gregory, chairman of the committee, which will hold a garden party June 27 to raise funds for a survey to identify the historically and architecturally significant buildings in this unincorporated community of 45,000.
The event, which will be held at the old Gillette hunting lodge, 1391 E. Palm St., will include wine tasting, exhibits of old newspaper clippings and the works of 10 local artists, and music by a ragtime ensemble and a classical recorder quartet.
The lodge, overlooking Rubio Canyon, was built in the 1880s by a founder of the Gillette Razor Co. It has not been formally designated as a historic structure, Gregory said, but committee members plan to gather documentation and eventually have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Such a listing is mainly honorific, but some buildings could qualify for government funding for preservation, Gregory said.
The Altadena group defines a historic building as one that is at least 50 years old, designed by a well-known architect or the home of a a famous person, he said.
Gregory said the committee hopes to enlist volunteers to identify all structures built before 1940 and document those that might qualify for the register.
"We chose 1940 because to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building has to be at least 50 years old," Gregory said. "And by the time we complete the survey, it will be at least 1990."
Gregory said that no one knows how many historic buildings are in Altadena, but that there could be as many as 6,000.
It was the threatened destruction of a historic building, Scripps Hall, that prompted the Altadena Town Council to create the Heritage Committee last year.
The 80-year-old mansion was owned by Scripps Home, a facility for the aged that was founded in 1913 by W. A. Scripps, who built and lived in the hall.
"Scripps Home planned to sell the hall to a developer, and this led to formation of the committee," Gregory said.
The committee, which wanted the hall preserved as a community and cultural center, won a partial victory when Scripps Home sold it to the Pasadena Waldorf School, a private day school. Under the new owners, the building, 209 E. Mariposa St., will be preserved, and the school has applied for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Gregory said.
Although unincorporated, Altadena has definite boundaries: the mountains to the north, Pasadena to the south, Arroyo Seco to the west and Eaton Canyon to the east.
Defining those boundaries will probably be the easiest part of the survey. Identifying the historic buildings will be the hard part.
After a volunteer finds a candidate, the committee will attempt to determine who designed and built the structure, when it was completed and for whom it was built.
Research will be difficult because few early records are available, Gregory said. No building permits were issued before 1934, so the committee must rely on old newspapers and contractors' journals, which listed buildings under construction.
To complicate matters, Gregory said, many streets were renamed and renumbered in the 1920s and 1930s, so names and numbers might not match.
"And the boundary line between Pasadena and Altadena was fuzzy for many years," he said. "Altadena was not named until the 1920s. Before then, it was called Northern Pasadena."
As for famous residents, Gregory said many hoped to avoid the limelight and did not publicize their presence.
"We know that the Western artist, Charles Russell, wintered here in the 1920s," he said, "but it is only rumored that Henry Ford and Fatty Arbuckle lived here."
Gregory hopes researchers will be aided by the records of water companies, which show when water service was begun, and of assessors, which show improvements made on properties.
Volunteers will also walk the streets, noting the style and size of the buildings.
Gregory would like to raise enough money to hire a consultant to train volunteers and, later, get professional help when the inventory for landmark listing begins.
He said he hopes the project can be completed before much more redevelopment takes place. The county has approved plans for a shopping center in the western part of town that could grow in phases over several years, eliminating several buildings.
If any important landmarks are threatened, the committee plans to protest and educate residents through walking tours and open houses.
Gregory said he has received calls from 100 people who plan to attend the party, scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $6.
"Altadena has a rich and unique history, both in the prominent citizens who have resided here and in the structures and natural beauty they left behind them," Gregory said.
"The committee wants to preserve what is best in Altadena for future generations to enjoy."