Huntington Sheraton May Get a New Lease on Life

Times Staff Writer

Six months after a poignant champagne wake, investors have announced plans to buy and perhaps revive the 350-room Huntington Sheraton Hotel, a 1907 structure regarded as a social and architectural landmark in Pasadena.

The hotel, whose main building was closed because of seismic-safety problems in October, leaving fewer than 100 rooms still in use, may be refurbished and reopened as part of an acquisition announced by the Gemtel Corp., a real estate development firm based in Los Angeles.

Gemtel Chairman Lary Mielke said Sunday that the firm has signed a letter of intent to purchase the hotel from its current owner, Keikyu U.S.A. Inc., and to begin a cautious new look at the building’s future.

Terms of the tentative agreement could not be released, Mielke said.


“We want to make it a productive hotel,” he said, warning that structural problems still may determine whether the hotel is refurbished. “It’s a fine piece of property, and it has a fine history.”

Keikyu U.S.A., a Japanese firm with few hotel interests in the United States, had begun planning to restore the six-story, concrete-and-brick structure--regarded as the last of Pasadena’s historic resort hotels--when a seismic study revealed it might pose an earthquake hazard.

Pasadena Mayor William Bogaard said the seismic problems added from $500,000 to $10 million onto the expected $10-million cost of the restoration, causing Keikyu officials to balk at going forward with the plan. The firm’s reluctance to proceed and the closure of the main building raised concern that the structure might eventually be torn down, either for a new hotel or for luxury homes, Bogaard said.

Although Keikyu officials could not be reached Sunday for comment, Mielke described the proposed sales agreement as “pretty well set” and said final details would probably be settled in two or three weeks. He said Gemtel’s primary interest is to restore the hotel, but stopped short of committing the firm to the project.


“It’s our intent to leave the hotel there,” Mielke said. "(But) we need to review the engineering studies. We’ll make our decisions once we have had a chance to analyze the information.”

James M. Galbraith, a San Marino investor who is helping to finance the purchase, said current owners had discussed building a replica of the hotel if it had to be torn down. That would remain an option, he said, but he indicated new owners would be unenthusiastic about possible plans to build housing.

“Part of the charm and interest and excitement of this is to put the Huntington Sheraton back on the map,” Galbraith said.

Designed and built by Charles Whittlesey and Myron Hunt, the hotel is noted for its Spanish Mission Revival-style architecture, its spacious lobby and extensive gardens. Hundreds of guests jammed the hotel and its 22-acre grounds at its “final” Sunday brunch last October after Keikyu and its hotel managers, the Sheraton Corp., announced the closure of the main building.


Pasadena, a city with a shortage of major hotel facilities, has relied heavily on the Huntington Sheraton for its $500,000 in yearly tax revenues and for its ballroom and meeting facilities, Bogaard said.

“Almost everyone you know (in town) has attended a wedding or a dinner or an anniversary banquet there,” the mayor said.