PASADENA — For the past week, a small group of residents in Oak Knoll, a wealthy neighborhood of palm-lined streets and manicured lawns, has been standing vigil over the front doors of a house on the corner of Wentworth and Hillcrest avenues.
These are no ordinary doors, and this is no ordinary neighborhood watch.
The neighbors have been joined in keeping an eye on the mahogany-and-stained-glass doors by a small squad of historical preservationists who circle the block at irregular intervals.
Valued at $330,000
The doors lead into the historic Blacker House, considered by many to be the finest of the Craftsman-style homes designed by architects Charles and Henry Greene. The doors have been valued by Christie's auction house in New York City at up to $330,000--about a quarter of the $1.2 million that the house sold for in 1985.
"I don't want to be a watchdog," said resident Ann Hyde, "but certainly if I see anything, I will call the authorities."
The vigil began last Thursday when an anonymous caller told members of Pasadena Heritage, a preservationist group, that someone was apparently trying to replace the doors with replicas, according to Claire Bogaard, executive director of the group.
Bogaard called Linda Dishman, a senior planner with the city and a member of the staff of the city Culture Heritage Commission, who said she notified police.
Three police officers, the city prosecutor, a dozen members of Pasadena Heritage, including Bogaard, and Dishman rushed to the house.
That response might not seem unusual in light of an incident at the house two years ago that preservationists refer to as the "Texas chain saw massacre."
Texas cattleman Barton English, who had just bought the house, removed about four dozen light fixtures designed specifically for the home by the Greene brothers.
The incident made headlines, and the city's Board of Directors approved a measure making it illegal to alter any Greene and Greene home without first notifying the city and allowing the Cultural Heritage Commission to review the proposed changes. (The commission can delay the changes but cannot reject them.) Violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine, said City Prosecutor Chris Smith.
Attempts to reach English in Texas were unsuccessful.
When a reporter arrived at the house shortly before 5 p.m. last Thursday, a man leaving the house said he and other workmen had been repairing water damage.
When Pasadena Heritage members arrived at the house soon afterward, no one appeared to be inside.
They circled the house, looking for signs of work on the exterior, and rummaged through some trash. They said it appeared that nothing had been done, although they found wood shavings in the trash.
They were soon joined by Police Sgt. E. M. Miller and Dishman, who found an unlocked rear door, and entered the house. They said they found three unfinished doors, which appeared to match the front doors, and a stack of stained glass.
"It seemed to be the same," Dishman said. But she added: "We weren't in there very long, and it was really dark."
No action has been taken by the police or the city prosecutor.
When reached in New York, Michael Carey, an antique dealer who acted as English's agent and spokesman when he bought the house, would not comment about the house.
But Carey, who said he has an "ongoing involvement with the house," was furious that a police officer and city official had entered the house without permission.
Sgt. Miller said he entered the house because the door was unlocked and decided to check inside because of the report from Pasadena Heritage.
But Carey said that Miller's explanation was unacceptable and that legal action could be taken against the city.
"It's criminal trespass as far as I am concerned," he said. "There will certainly be a follow-up, I can assure you of that."
Carey added that he has been angered by the restrictions on changing the Blacker House.
"To me, it's private property," he said. "The idea of some screaming minority dictating what can be done is outrageous."
At least one resident of the Oak Knoll neighborhood is sympathetic to Carey's view.
"If they bought the house, they own the doors," said the resident, who asked to remain anonymous.
But Robert Peck, who owns a Greene and Greene home across the street from the Blacker House, said the owner of an architecturally important home has a responsibility to protect the house for posterity.
"Of course I would like to have the freedom to do as I pleased, but I would no more alter this home than I would throw acid on a painting," he said. "We are just custodians of this house."
The Blacker House, at the corner of Hillcrest and Wentworth avenues, was built in 1907 for lumber magnate Robert R. Blacker.