PASADENA — People came here to be cured. At its best, Pasadena, with its vistas and exotic flowers, was a restorative place, where one might follow a regime to stave off the chaos of the unruly city to the west and the cruel desert stretching east. It was the civilized, white-gloved version of the American West, not the saloon and shootout version.
A city to walk in, hands folded behind the back. A city to have ideas in.
Somewhere, something went wrong. Like much of Southern California, development in downtown Pasadena betrayed the ideals of its founders, proceeding like a disoriented prairie dog until the success of the revitalization of Old Town in the early 1990s shamed TrizecHahn, the owners of Plaza Pasadena--the ratty three-block shopping mall along Colorado Boulevard--and the city into stepping back and looking for a new vision.
Sometimes architecture involves archeology. Paseo Colorado, the $201-million shopping district going up where Plaza Pasadena came down last April, utilizes many of the ideas and hopes for the city first proposed by Edward Bennett in his 1923 plan for the civic center and Colorado Boulevard. Bennett recommended a classical Beaux Arts axial plan, with two grand boulevards to be anchored by public buildings. It would be grand, surrounded by the San Gabriel Mountains. It would be a civic center in the true sense of the phrase, a place where, wandering, you might mix with people who weren't exactly the same color and income bracket as yourself. A place for parties and parades.
The project is expected to serve 912,000 residents within the trade area, with a median income of $68,100 per household; 560,000 square feet will be stores and restaurants and movie theaters, the rest public space. There also will be 400 units of rental housing along Green Street. The plan is to preserve Pasadena's eclectic feel, while restoring human scale to the area. It will provide a link between trendy Old Town and the tony South Lake neighborhood, fitting since the very word Paseo conveys a feeling of passageways.
But Paseo Colorado is also a pioneer project, a postmillennium mall, a model for an urban development that is hoped will revitalize sagging urban areas across the country.
In early 1998, TrizecHahn hired Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn, an architectural firm established in 1959, to design the new, multiuse retail area. It takes a certain kind of architect, a certain kind of firm, to work on a project of this scale--a neighborhood, not just a building. EEK is known for its ability to cut through red tape and work with various bureaucracies; its home office is in New York, while an L.A. office of around 20 people specializes in urban design and mixed-use developments.
The firm also has a national reputation for historic preservation, particularly on the East Coast, where it restored the Woolworth building and the Dakota apartment building in New York, among other major projects. Since the early 1990s, EEK has been working on a variety of redevelopment projects on the waterfront for the city of Long Beach. The firm recently submitted proposals to L.A. County to renovate and adapt three buildings in the Olvera Street area, and in 1998 EEK teamed with Charles Pankow Builders to design and build the $560-million office and entertainment complex under construction at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, also owned by TrizecHahn.
Gordon Olschlager is project manager for Paseo Colorado. At his previous job at John Ash Group, which specializes in restoration, he restored some of Southern California's best-loved landmarks, including the El Capitan Theatre and Charlie Chaplin Studios in Hollywood, Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County and Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis Brown House in Los Feliz.
From the beginning, in 1997, EEK involved the city and the builders--again Pankow--at every stage. The idea was to restore the 1923 Bennett Plan, reopening Garfield Avenue as an open-air public street. The other goal, Olschlager says, was to restore Colorado Boulevard as a "true mercantile street with a rhythm of individual storefronts and buildings," without competing with the retail shops in Old Pasadena.
"What makes this project unique is the mix. It is an environment that has evolved over time, and we are trying to respond to that history, to reopen the dialogue between historic buildings like the post office and the [Civic] Auditorium," Olschlager says.
Here's what Paseo Colorado will look like: Three large open public spaces between Marengo and Los Robles avenues and Colorado Boulevard and Green Street will be connected by a 16- to 20-foot-wide internal street, the paseo, on the interior side of the retail stores along Colorado. Colorado Boulevard will once again look like Main Street America, with storefronts opening at street level; restaurants will be on the second story.