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Wrecking Crew Checks In at Old Huntington Hotel

March 28, 1989|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

A bulldozer wrestled chunks of concrete into a pile and a 170-foot-tall crane moved demolition equipment Monday into the big, empty Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, whose glassless windows gaped open to the elements.

The event marked the final chapter in a long struggle between developers and the city's preservationist forces, who lost a 1987 referendum seeking to restore the historic structure.

"We've done a lot of planning and thinking on this project," said co-owner Thomas R. Tellefsen, part of a consortium that intends to build a modern, "similar-looking" hostelry, then lease it to Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. "Now we're here. It's finally actually happening."

The new hotel will be called the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel.

The $100-million hotel project, which was bitterly contested by Pasadena preservationists, should be completed by the end of 1990, said developer Lary Mielke. Demolition, which began Monday, should be done by midsummer, he said. Construction of the new 385-room hotel, financed by Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank Ltd. of Tokyo, will then begin immediately, he said.

"This is just one step in the process," Mielke said.

Argument for Restoration

Preservationist groups, such as the influential Pasadena Heritage, had argued that the original hotel should be restored.

"Indications are that they're going to build a high-quality new hotel," conceded Sue Mossman, program director for the group. "But it will never be the original Huntington," the last of Pasadena's once-elegant resort hotels.

The hotel had hosted Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Richard M. Nixon, as well as a range of the famous from Bing Crosby to Arturo Toscanini and from Albert Einstein to Billy Graham. The hotel was also a setting for movies, including "Love Story" and "Bad News Bears Go to Japan."

The 280-room main building of the 82-year-old hotel had been closed since October, 1985, when Keikyu U.S.A. Inc., a branch of the Japanese electric railway company that bought the hotel in 1974, found that it did not have sufficient structural strength to withstand a major earthquake.

During both demolition and construction, 110 rooms outside the main building, in cottages and other structures, will continue to operate as a "country inn," Tellefsen said.

Mossman said many of the fine architectural details of the hotel, which for decades had been a focus for Pasadena's social and cultural life, will be sacrificed to modern construction techniques.

"Craftsmanship today is not what it was when that building was built," Mossman said.

But the developers said they will preserve some features of the old building, such as its wrought-iron balconies.

The faded elegance of the old building could not compete with modern hotels, said Lathrop K. Leishman, president of this year's Tournament of Roses.

"The rooms were narrow, the doors were narrow and the elevators were lousy," he said. "Imagine having to put three of those football players in a room like that. People today want class and comfort."

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