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An Upscale Urban Village Emerges in Genteel Pasadena

The housing boom is bringing new residents and a new vitality to the city's commercial center.

November 30, 2002|Jesus Sanchez | Times Staff Writer

Forget the Little Old Lady from Pasadena.

The San Gabriel Valley city, thanks to a surge in urban-style residential projects, now is attracting the likes of David and Nicola Berlinsky.

The young couple moved last summer from San Francisco into a $469,000 condominium at the Hudson, a new 15-unit building at Locust Street and Hudson Avenue near downtown Pasadena. The two of them, who walk to the nearby movie theaters, bookstore and other shops, said they were attracted to the area because it offered the same city feel they left behind.

"We didn't think we could get that here, but we found it," said David Berlinsky, 30, a digital film and video editor, of the urban lifestyle.

Over the last year, the same intersection near Lake Avenue and the 210 Freeway has become the hub of an emerging upscale neighborhood of $600,000 condominiums and $3,000-a-month penthouse apartments. "It's become a neat little village," said Alex Wong, a partner in Trammell Crow Residential, which built the 214-unit Alexan CityPlace apartments at the southeast corner of Locust and Hudson.

The neighborhood is part of a residential building boom orchestrated by city officials and private investors that is rapidly infusing new life into central Pasadena. Nearly 2,000 housing units have been built recently or are under construction, and hundreds more are in the planning stages, according to city estimates. The new development translates into nearly 4,000 additional residents for the city of about 133,000 and puts Pasadena at the vanguard of communities -- ranging from giant Los Angeles to tiny Brea -- that are encouraging housing in their commercial cores.

Toward a 24-Hour City

Not everyone is crazy about Pasadena's construction boom, and the flood of new units has many rival landlords offering move-in deals to attract tenants. But the surge in new residences is helping to accommodate a growing population and sustain a vibrant downtown.

"It really helps support the urban environment that we are trying to create," said Eric Duyshart, the city's business development manager. The new residents "help support our retail downtown and make it a 24-hour city."

The projects range in size and style, from small and sleek lofts to huge and conventional apartment complexes. Apartments and condominiums have been squeezed into bustling Old Pasadena and plopped above the new Paseo Colorado shopping mall. South of Old Pasadena near Arroyo Parkway, Los Angeles-based Urban Partners is building a 347-unit apartment complex that will wrap around a light rail station on the upcoming Metro Gold Line. The trains will run from downtown Los Angeles to the eastern edge of Pasadena starting in the summer.

Several hundred apartments under construction or in development along Colorado Boulevard means that more people will be watching the Rose Parade from the comfort of their living rooms instead of camping out in the cold.

"There appears to be solid demand for this type" of urban housing, said Fergal McHugh, vice president of Capital & Counties USA Inc., an investment firm that is teaming up with apartment owner and operator Shea Properties to build a $70-million residential and retail project on Colorado Boulevard near the historic Pasadena Playhouse.

McHugh and other developers are courting affluent singles and young couples who have been attracted to downtown Pasadena, which offers some of the vibrancy and amenities of urban life in a relatively safe and clean environment.

Last June, the lure of city life and a shorter commute to their jobs prompted Susanna and Robert Mellor to move out of an old house in Claremont and into a new one-bedroom apartment above Paseo Colorado, where average monthly rents start at about $1,700.

"It's urban but still manageable," said Susanna Mellor, 30, a grade school teacher, as she and her husband left their building for an evening stroll along Colorado Boulevard. "We are comfortable here."

Many area merchants welcome the newcomers. Restaurant owner Peter Bissias says the opening of the Alexan apartments and other nearby residential complexes has not only boosted his business by about 15% but also has improved the character of his commercial strip, which primarily had been the domain of daytime office workers.

"It's changed the neighborhood in a positive way," said Bissias, who has owned Conrads restaurant on Walnut Street since 1982. "You see more younger couples coming in. You see more people walking their dogs. It has more of a community type of feel."

Steering Growth

Much of the residential growth has taken place recently, but the groundwork that made much of it possible was undertaken in the early 1990s, when the city updated its general plan, Duyshart said. To preserve the character of the city's single-family neighborhoods, planners and city leaders decided to steer future population growth and development toward Pasadena's commercial center, which stretches roughly between Lake Avenue on the east to Old Pasadena on the west.

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