Pasadena Voters OK Demolishing the Huntington for Modern Hotel

Times Staff Writer

The battle to save the historic Huntington Sheraton Hotel from destruction came to an end Tuesday as Pasadena voters gave their overwhelming support to a plan to demolish the main building and replace it with a modern hotel.

After more than a year of debate, voters cleared the way for developer Lary Mielke to go forward with his $38-million project by approving a controversial zoning change. With all 26 precincts reporting, the vote was 7,032 to 5,088.

Nearly 19% of the city's registered voters showed up at the polls, a turnout the city clerk described as good, considering there was only one item on the ballot.

"I'm very pleased," Mielke said late Tuesday. "We've accomplished a lot, but we still have a big job ahead of us."

The vote was a bitter defeat for historical preservationists, who had waged an aggressive campaign to save one of the city's last and most beautiful hotels from its golden days as a winter resort for royalty, presidents and the barons of industry.

Members of Defenders of the Huntington Hotel, the preservationist group that successfully brought the issue to a citywide vote, conceded that there was nothing they could do now to stop the demolition of the hotel. But Tim Matthews, co-chairman of the Defenders, said the group intends to become "super watchdogs" to ensure that Mielke builds the four-star luxury hotel he has promised.

Possible 1990 Opening

Mielke said construction of the project, which must still be reviewed by several city commissions, could begin in six to nine months and the hotel could open as early as 1990.

Controversy over the fate of the hotel, located in the exclusive Oak Knoll neighborhood, has been one of the most intensive preservation fights in Pasadena's history.

Mielke's group, Yes on the Huntington Hotel, spent at least $60,000 on the campaign and the Defenders spent about $6,000.

Mielke's project involves demolishing the hotel's main building and replacing it with a similar-looking outer structure with larger and modernized rooms.

The plan won the support of the city's Board of Directors, which approved the necessary zoning change in December.

Successful Petition Drive

But the Defenders came back with a successful petition drive that forced the board to give voters the final say.

Mielke argued throughout the campaign that the age of the building and the extensive work needed to bring it up to modern seismic standards would make it an "economic quagmire" for any developer trying to restore it.

He added that many of the most beautiful parts of the hotel, such as the Picture Bridge and the Viennese Ballroom, would be restored.

But the Defenders argued that Mielke's plan would destroy the most important part of the hotel, its main building, and leave the city with a "phony" and "tacky" version of the real thing.

An Expensive Undertaking

The group acknowledged that restoring the main building, also called The Tower, would be expensive, but its members maintained that it could be done.

The 80-year-old hotel is the last of the great resorts that gave Pasadena its reputation as a charming and almost Mediterranean-like community in the heart of Southern California's urban sprawl.

The main building of the Huntington was closed in October, 1985, by its owners, Keikyu U.S.A., because of concerns that it could not withstand a major earthquake. Sale of the hotel, which is operated by Sheraton Corp., to Mielke's Huntington Hotel Associates is in escrow.

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