PASADENA — Developers of a $6.1-million industrial park are threatening to abandon the project rather than obey a city order to build a monument to honor Pasadena's first black real estate agent, who once lived on the site.
The Cultural Heritage Commission said the monument would be a way of replacing the William Henry Harrison home, 1330 Lincoln Ave. The home would have to be demolished to make way for the industrial park in blighted northwest Pasadena.
"We don't want to preserve the house at the expense of economic development, but this man was an important black leader," said commission Chairman Kennon G. Miedema. Harrison, a civil rights leader in Pasadena, died in 1955.
'Black Kids Need Symbols'
"I really strongly believe that young black kids need symbols today, and to obliterate them and then walk away is wrong."
But Richard P. Stevens, co-developer of the project, said the commission's order was nothing more than "blackmail" to get him to pay for a monument that the city or some community group should pay for.
"Why should I as a developer of an industrial park build a memorial to anyone?" he asked. "I don't see the logic of this at all."
Stevens conceded that the $2,000 to $3,000 needed to build a suitable monument was a small amount.
But the order so infuriated him that he said he would rather scrap the project, which he estimated could bring up to 250 jobs into the area, than comply.
"I've done a lot of foolish things for a principle," Stevens said. "My partners have all said that if I want to blow it off, go ahead and blow it off."
Miedema said he was surprised that the project's developers would balk at such a small contribution to the community, especially since the commission has suggested a cooperative effort with the commission, community groups, the city and the developers sharing the expense of a monument. The commission is willing to help pay for the monument, Miedema said.
"It's astounding, in fact," he said. "I don't know why he feels it's solely on his shoulders."
Miedema added that the commission intends to stand by its order, regardless of Stevens' threat.
"I really think it's too bad they are taking this stand," he said. "Considering the amount of money they're going to pour into this development, their refusal to give recognition to Harrison just astounds me."
The commission's stand was supported by the Board of Directors, which on Monday approved a new design standard that requires anyone who tears down a historic building in the Lincoln Avenue redevelopment area to build an "appropriate and visible recognization of the site's historic usage."
The standard was passed to "specifically deal with the Harrison situation," said Director William Paparian.
The regulation has further infuriated the developers, who say they are being singled out for punishment by the city.
"It's sort of like making the rules as you go down the line," said co-developer Robert N. Grossman. "They just keep milking you as you go."
The Cultural Heritage Commission is responsible for reviewing any development affecting a building more than 50 years old. The commission is powerless to stop the demolition of a historic structure, but it can delay action for up to one year while it tries to find ways to preserve the building.
In the case of Harrison's white wood home with green trim, the commission decided that the house was not architecturally important enough to save.
But Miedema said the commission agreed that some monument should be erected to recognize Harrison's historical importance, especially to northwest Pasadena, which has been largely ignored in the city's push to preserve historical landmarks.
"Certainly the charge has been made that the Cultural Heritage Commission doesn't do a lot in northwest Pasadena," Miedema said. "It's true (that) as a commission most of our activities relate to other parts of the community."
According to historical information from the city's Housing and Community Development Agency, Harrison came to California in 1911 from his native South Carolina with $1.50 in his pocket and no more than a fourth-grade education.
He began working as a gardener, but eventually became interested in real estate and by 1919 gained his broker's license. Harrison also began working as a building contractor in the 1920s.
Harrison, who was an active member of the NAACP, is perhaps best known for his role in breaking down racial barriers in housing. He helped many of his real estate clients fight against illegal covenants that prevented blacks from moving into certain areas.
Harrison was also one of the leaders in the civil rights battle to integrate the Brookside Pool.
Stevens said he was dumbfounded when he discovered that the commission believed Harrison's home was so important that a memorial should be built.
"He was not born there, he did not build it, he did not design it," Stevens said of the home.