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Plans for New Pasadena 'Y' Hit Snags : Board OK Sought as Foes Point to Preservation, Parking Issues

February 07, 1988|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — When the YMCA and YWCA unveiled their plan three years ago to build a joint facility across from City Hall, it seemed to be an ideal proposal to give them room to grow.

Community leaders, city officials and Y members flocked to support the plan, which seemed headed for easy city approval.

But now, the $15.1-million project has bogged down in a quagmire of objections over the proposed demolition of a historic section of the YWCA building and the potential impact on an already congested civic center area.

Preservationists have rallied behind efforts to save the threatened section of the YWCA building, which was designed by architect Julia Morgan, the first licensed woman architect in the state, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Parking Needed

Some city officials are also concerned that the project would demolish 63 off-street parking spaces while providing no new parking. Y officials estimate that about 189 parking spots would be needed, in part because of an expected jump in membership.

Two city commissions have rejected the proposal, and its survival depends on a vote Monday by the Board of Directors.

Last-minute compromise plans, which would include providing the YMCA and YWCA with a parcel of city-owned land next to the YWCA building, have been discussed in an effort to save all or part of the threatened addition.

But Gene Gibba , general manager of the Pasadena Metropolitan YMCA, said Lloyds Bank has threatened to withdraw financing if the project is not approved Monday.

"It's absolutely critical we get approval," Gibba said. "We are at the end of the line."

Gibba said the 77-year-old YMCA building and 67-year-old YWCA building, both on Holly Street, have deteriorated to the point where they must be replaced.

"They're both obsolete and inefficient buildings," he said. "We're just hanging on now."

The organizations decided three years ago to build one structure rather than renovate the separate facilities. The YMCA and YWCA would remain independent.

Under the plan, the YMCA would move to the YWCA building across the street. The YWCA building would be renovated and expanded by 77,000 square feet so that it could house two swimming pools, handball and racquetball courts, a gymnasium, an aerobic workout room, a running track and classrooms.

The 1923 addition, also designed by Morgan, is a stucco-and-wood structure that houses a gymnasium and swimming pool. It would be demolished to make room for the expansion.

Morgan, who died in 1957, is best known for her design of William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon mansion in San Luis Obispo County.

Many preservationists concede that the YWCA addition is not an architectural gem.

Robert Winter, a professor of architectural history at Occidental College and a member of Pasadena's Cultural Heritage Commission, described it in his book "Architecture in Los Angeles" as "a disappointing, very bland Mediterranean-style work by a major architect."

But Winter said in an interview this week: "Even if it's not that great, it's still a Morgan building and should be preserved."

Scott Jenkins, the attorney representing the YMCA and YWCA, views the structure differently. "The bottom line is that the 1923 addition is just not that attractive," he said. "In my view, it very closely resembles a warehouse."

The commission rejected the organizations' demolition application in January, largely because of a report it commissioned from New York architect Frances Halsband).

Called 'Worthless'

Halsband concluded that the addition did not have to be demolished to accommodate the expansion plans.

But Delmer Beckhart, the architect for the project, has disputed Halsband's report, calling it "worthless."

Beckhart said there is no way to expand the facility without demolishing the addition. For example, the YMCA and YWCA must have separate entrances, offices and dressing rooms, Beckhart said.

Most members of the Board of Directors are still uncertain whom they should believe.

"It's a nice building, but I'm not a very sophisticated critic," said Director Jess Hughston, echoing the uncertainty of other board members.

Director William Paparian is the only board member who has publicly sided with the Y and rejected preservation arguments.

"I walk by it every day, and I scratch my head wondering what is so valuable about that building," he said.

Pasadena Heritage, an organization dedicated to historical preservation, has hired attorney Dale L. Gronemeier to fight the proposed demolition and has threatened to take the city to court if it is approved.

The group has focused its possible legal challenge on a parking study in the project's environmental impact report that Gronemeier called "pervasively flawed" and "unreliable."

Gronemeier said the study fails to provide the city with the detailed information on parking that is legally required in an environmental impact report.

The study contains no permanent parking plan and does not support the claim that 189 parking spaces would be needed, he said.

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