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Pasadena Rejects Stringent Law on Historic Buildings

Times Staff Writer

After nearly a year of controversy, the Board of City Directors voted Monday to scrap a much-debated cultural heritage ordinance that opponents claimed would violate the Constitutional rights of property owners.

In a unanimous vote, the board tentatively approved a less restrictive plan by Mayor Bill Bogaard and dropped the proposed ordinance that would have restricted alterations to all buildings more than 50 years old, a classification that encompasses 25% to 30% of the structures in Pasadena.

Instead, Bogaard proposed that such restrictions be applied only to property owners who voluntarily allow their buildings to be designated as historical treasures. City approval would still be necessary for significant changes to the interior features of homes built by pioneering Pasadena architects Charles and Henry Greene.

Spawned by Texan

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The proposed ordinance and the attendant controversy was spawned by Barton English, the Texas rancher who bought the landmark turn-of-the-century Blacker House for $1.2 million last June and promptly stripped it of its roughly 50 original lighting fixtures valued at about $1 million. Preservationists across the country called English’s removal of the the fixtures “rape.” The Blacker House was the largest and most elaborate bungalow designed by the Greene brothers.

“I think what you’ve offered meets a number of concerns expressed,” City Director Rick Cole told Bogaard during Monday evening’s public hearing on the matter. “We are seeking not to violate the property rights of individual citizens to enjoy their homes, but to stop . . . speculators from making a killing on the antique market.”

The board approved Bogaard’s proposal in concept, but will not formally review it until it has been drafted as an ordinance by the city attorney’s office.

Pasadena Heritage, a private preservation group, said Wednesday that it supports the new proposal. “We think it is a fair solution,” said Claire Bogaard, executive director and wife of the mayor. “We think it’s a fair compromise.” Pasadena Heritage and the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission had expressed serious concerns over protecting historically significant buildings, especially those built by the Greenes.

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2 Provisions Eliminated

Bogaard’s proposal eliminated two controversial provisions vehemently opposed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Pasadena Board of Realtors and several homeowner groups. The first provision would have allowed a building that is more than 50 years old to be designated as a “historical treasure” without the owner’s permission if it met certain historical preservation criteria. Under such a designation, the owner would have been prohibited from changing the interior, exterior or landscaping without city approval.

The second provision concerned a clause that would have allowed the city to use eminent domain proceedings to block demolition of a historically significant building.

Instead, Bogaard proposed that historical treasure designations be voluntary and that city approval of significant changes to the interior features of a structure be confined to homes built by the Greenes, who gained international fame with their Craftsman, or California bungalow, style of architecture.

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The Greenes’ style encompasses much more than architecture. Many of their projects were designed as total concepts, from landscaping to furniture and intricately designed lighting fixtures. For that reason, Bogaard said, he proposed protecting the interior of Greene homes. “The interior features are an integral part of their architectural process,” he said.

At earlier hearings, representatives of the Board of Realtors and the Chamber of Commerce had said their organizations would support the ordinance if the two controversial provisions were deleted.

William Fackler, president of Pasadena: On the Move, a citizens group that opposed the ordinance and distributed hundreds of protest flyers, said Tuesday that “we’re all gratified that the voices of the people in the community are being heard. I just feel good that they had the wisdom to say ‘No, we don’t want to do it this way.’ ”

He added, however, that the group is concerned over the clause in Bogaard’s proposal that pertains to the interiors of Greene and Greene homes. “I don’t see how any ordinance can allow the city to come inside a private citizen’s home,” Fackler said. “But we’ll address that as we deal with it.’

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The board has been grappling with the issue for almost a year. In response to English’s actions last June, it enacted an emergency ordinance barring the removal of fixtures from buildings more than 50 years old. The emergency ordinance has been extended several times since then while the board struggled to come up with a permanent one.

“I think it was too confusing,” Bogaard said of the controversial ordinance. “I think we just got beyond what we wanted to do.”

City officials and local preservation group members spent months negotiating with English to try to persuade him to return the fixtures and to sell the three-story, 20-room home in the exclusive enclave of Oak Knoll to buyers who would preserver the house intact. Despite several meetings, English rejected all offers and has refused to return the fixtures.


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