If You’ve Got the Lot, They Have the House

Times Staff Writer

Caltech would like to give away a house to anyone who will come by and claim it.

There’s a catch, of course. It has to be taken someplace.

Whoever claims the 80-year-old bungalow at 399 S. Wilson Avenue must own a vacant lot to put it on and must pay for moving costs estimated at anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000.

The three-bedroom, one-bathroom house is one of two that Caltech owns on a block where parking space is needed and old houses are not. The houses were used as student dwellings for years as the parking lot grew around them.

Now they are destined to be replaced by more pavement. One of the houses, described by a Caltech spokesman as “not particularly wonderful,” is in poor condition and will be demolished.


But next door is a classic California bungalow that meets the Pasadena Cultural Heritage Commission’s criteria for landmark preservation--it is over 50 years old and a good example of the architecture of its time. With the landmark designation, the commission can refuse to grant a demolition permit for six months while owners look for a taker.

“The commission likes this one a whole lot,” said Linda Dishman, senior planner for Pasadena and spokesman for the commission. “It’s in its original condition with nice detailing inside.”

Rex Marrison, Caltech project manager for construction, said the stone chimney, front porch pillars and foundation would have to be dismantled and rebuilt at the new site to preserve the integrity of the house.

Marrison said “six to seven dozen people have shown interest, but once they get into the economics it looks much less tempting.” Three possible takers remain, he said.

Greg Vanderwerff, Caltech director of property management, said that ideally, the bungalow’s new owner would have a good knowledge of house moving and general contracting. The house will have to be cut in two, and its peaked roof could run into telephone wires in the moving process, he said. It probably will need replacement of plumbing and electrical wiring.

Because of the difficulties and expense, Caltech has been able to relocate only one of eight houses it has removed in the last two years, Vanderwerff said. In one case, the owner did not have clear title to a relocation site, and in other cases the estimates of moving costs skyrocketed.


“When it works, it works. And when it doesn’t, it’s a real mess,” Vanderwerff said.