Group Seeks Option to Resell Blacker House

Times Staff Writer

Pasadena Heritage offered an undisclosed amount of money this week to Texas rancher Barton English for the right to resell the landmark Blacker House designed by pioneering California architects Charles and Henry Greene.

English, who angered preservationists across the country when he removed all of the original light fixtures shortly after buying the 78-year-old house on May 1, has been negotiating with Pasadena Heritage, a nonprofit preservation group, for the last two weeks over returning the fixtures and selling the home to another buyer.

Terms of the offer sent to English on Monday for an option on the property were not disclosed.

"Our understanding with Barton English is that negotiations will not take place in the press," said William Cathey, an attorney and chairman of the preservation fund of Pasadena Heritage.

Cathey did say, however, that the sum offered to English represented a "substantial portion" of the group's preservation fund, which now totals about $100,000.

"What we want to do," Cathey said, "is pay him to have an option to sell the house for an agreed-upon purchase price and to have the fixtures put back in place."

In a telephone interview from his Stonewall, Tex., home on Tuesday, English said he had not received the offer, which was sent via express mail on Monday. "I'm just waiting for the option," he said. "I don't know what's in it."

English said he would not comment on whether he would return the fixtures, which were specially designed for the house by the Greenes and valued at $1 million, until he sees the written offer.

But, he said, "if we can reach an agreement, I'll do whatever they decide."

English paid $1.2 million for the turn-of-the-century house, which sits on one acre at Hillcrest and Wentworth avenues in the exclusive Oak Knoll neighborhood. It is the largest and one of the best works of the Greene brothers, Pasadena architects who pioneered the California bungalow architecture, also known as the Craftsman style.

The house was built for lumber magnate Robert R. Blacker in l907 for about $100,000, with every detail from light fixtures to landscaping designed by the Greenes.

Pasadena Heritage's offer was worked out between Cathey, Chairman Alan Thompson, and Executive Director Claire Bogaard, and then taken to the Los Angeles law firm of O'Melveny & Myers to "be put in the proper legal form," Cathey said. The process "took longer than we had hoped," he added. "It was a matter of agreeing on what our organization can do, given our limited resources."

Cathey said Pasadena Heritage has not determined how, or if, it will regain the money being offered to English should he agree to grant the option.

"It's such an important house to the city that we're willing to take that risk," Cathey said. The group is hopeful, however, that the money would be recouped by selling the house to a new buyer.

A few days after buying the 12,000-square-foot home, English stripped it of all of its original light fixtures.

Local cultural heritage groups charged that the house had been "raped,' and early last month city directors adopted an emergency ordinance that placed a 90-day moratorium on the removal of interior and exterior fixtures from structures more than 50 years old.

Marjorie Hill, who owned the house for 31 years before selling it to English, said at the time, "I feel so sad about the house. It's like a child that's been abused."

Randall Makinson, director of the Gamble House, a Greene and Greene bungalow that was donated to the city and the USC School of Architecture in 1966, said English's actions were "no different from cutting the head off the Mona Lisa and selling it off."

City Director Rick Cole stepped into the fray last month and met with English during a business trip to Austin, Tex. Cole, who said he was acting as an intermediary, said he would not discuss his conversation with English because he had promised the Texas rancher that their talk would remain confidential.

Cole has continued to speak with English by phone. "The doors are still open," Cole said this week. "But time is slipping away. He's not inclined to sit forever and wait for Pasadena to come up with a reasonable solution."

Claire Bogaard said members of her group had talked to English on Monday and informed him that a written offer was being sent that day. "We left it that we would call him later in the week," Bogaard said.

"I hope we just sit down with Barton English and negotiate an agreement. I still remain optimistic that some kind of an agreement can be worked out."

'It's such an important house to the city that we're willing to take that (financial) risk.'

--William Cathey

Pasadena Heritage attorney

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