Despite a setback last week when the Planning Commission postponed a decision on a zoning change required to rebuild the Huntington Sheraton hotel, developer Lary Mielke says he remains committed to razing the historic main building and erecting a replica.
His plan has raised the ire of preservationists and some residents, who say the hotel, built in 1906, is a treasure that should be preserved.
Despite such opposition, Mielke said that he and his partners still believe that their plan is the best alternative for the site and “we don’t see anything that changes our thinking.”
At a meeting last week, the seven-member Planning Commission requested that Meilke conduct marketing and structural analyses of rehabilitating the building and of reconstructing it. The matter was scheduled for a public hearing on Sept. 11.
Before a standing-room-only audience of about 120, commission Chairman William Ross told Mielke that an exhaustive review of the pros and cons of rehabilitating the building, which is now closed, was needed before any decision could be made on the zoning change.
Commissioners had just received a new report by a national architectural firm that said razing the building may be unnecessary.
The report, which has sparked heated debate between preservationists and Mielke, was done by the Ehrenkrantz Group of New York and San Francisco.
It was paid for by Mielke, who commissioned it at the behest of Pasadena Heritage, a private preservationist group adamantly opposed to razing the structure.
Request for Delay
The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission and Pasadena Heritage formally requested that the Planning Commission delay any decision on the zoning change until its members had reviewed the report’s findings.
The brief report, which was completed in seven days, concluded that “based on our review of the available data . . . we cannot concur with the decision by the Huntington Hotel Associates to raze the historic Huntington Sheraton hotel.”
It also said that the developer had not provided a “documented, structured, feasibility analysis” detailing the decision to raze the building.
Instead, the report said, that decision apparently was made because “there seems to have been a general ‘frustration’ with the general complexity or ‘messiness’ of the situation, so that the easiest and simplest path was to start with a clean slate, as in demolishing the building.”
In rebuttal, Mielke said that several structural analyses already have been done on the main building and that they determined that his development plan could not work within the building’s current configurations.
The Huntington, which has housed presidents, foreign dignitaries and movie stars, sits on 23 acres near the exclusive enclave of Oak Knoll.
Push to Preserve
Local preservationist groups like Pasadena Heritage and the Cultural Heritage Commission do not want the 80-year-old main building to fall, and they are pushing Mielke and his three partners to rehabilitate the structure, which was closed last October after a seismic study determined that the hotel could not withstand a major earthquake.
Mielke and his partners, operating under the name of Huntington Hotel Associates, want to erect a replica of the six-story building that would offer more and bigger rooms.
Their plan also calls for moving the main entrance from the eastern end to the north side of the building. The Viennese and Georgian ballrooms, separate from the main building, would be left intact, as would the Lanai, a modern annex behind the main building.
Mielke wants to enlarge several rooms by knocking out walls. He also wants to increase the size of the building from 280 rooms to 300.
The Ehrenkrantz report, he said, “is filled with a lot of generalities and lot of nice, self-serving statements. We are trying to preserve everything we can there. And we’re going to a great deal of expense to build a replica so that the area looks the same.”
Gemtel Corp., of which Mielke is chairman, would be the contractors for the new building.
Mielke, Tom Tellefsen, William Zimmerman and James M. Galbraith formed Huntington Hotel Associates shortly after Sheraton officials announced that the main building would be closed.