From the corner of Raymond Avenue and Green Street, the Castle Green looms above rooftops of Old Pasadena like a musty, decayed vision of the city’s grand past.
Once considered the most sumptuous and exotic building in the city, the Castle Green has slowly weathered over the years into a soot-covered amalgam of peeling paint, cracked stucco and rusting ironwork.
“It looks like it suffered from deferred maintenance,” said Claire Bogaard, executive director of the historical preservation group, Pasadena Heritage. “It’s a bit shabby.”
But with the help of a $693,000 state grant awarded this month, Pasadena Heritage and the 39 owners of what is now a cooperative apartment building are set to embark on an ambitious plan to restore the exterior of the building to its old luster.
Everything from its intricate Moorish plaster embellishments to window screens and copper gutters are to be restored to their original condition.
Bogaard said if all goes as planned, craftsmen skilled in the antique trades of molding tin, repairing ancient plumbing and reforming cast plaster reliefs will finish their work by this time next year.
“In the end, the city of Pasadena, Pasadena Heritage and the residents of Castle Green are going to be very proud of this building,” said Willa Foster, who has lived in the building since 1979.
The Castle Green, originally part of the Hotel Green, is one of 33 projects in the state awarded grants from a one-time $11-million state fund earmarked for historical preservation and archeological projects.
Champion of the Cause
Other projects that received grants include the old Chinatown site in Riverside, the sandstone camel barns in Benicia in Northern California and the Thomas Fallon House in San Jose.
Pasadena Heritage decided to champion the cause of the Castle Green because it is close to the historic district of Old Pasadena, is one of the most widely recognized landmarks in the city and can be rented by the public for special events.
In return, residents of the building gave Pasadena Heritage legal control over the facade of the building, meaning that the group will always be able to control any changes in the Castle Green’s appearance.
The building’s eclectic mix of architectural styles has endeared it to generations of Pasadenans who have described it at various times as elegant, gloomy, charming, glorious, awesome and creepy.
Film makers have used the 91-year-old structure as a stand-in for the French embassy in Turkey, a building in Hanoi, a funeral parlor in Chicago and, yes, even a hotel.
“I love this building, it has such an ambiance,” resident Steve Hoskinson said. “It’s sort of a dream to live here.”
The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the last vestiges of the great turn-of-the-century hotels that forged Pasadena’s early reputation as a winter resort for the rich and famous.
The Raymond and the Maryland were demolished in the 1930s. The Huntington has just been demolished to make way for a new hotel.
The only hotels that remain are the Vista del Arroyo, which houses the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and two buildings of the Hotel Green.
The hotel began life as a modest two-story building called the Webster Hotel.
Construction began in 1887, but financial problems forced its owner, E.C. Webster, to sell the property two years later to an affluent Easterner who had fallen in love with Southern California and settled in Altadena.
The new owner was Col. G.G. Green, who had made his fortune selling such popular elixirs of the time as “Green’s August Flower” and “Green’s Ague Conqueror.”
He set out to build the humble Webster Hotel into a veritable gem in the sunbaked flatlands below the San Gabriel Mountains.
First, he enlarged the hotel to a five-story building, which was designed with a mixture of Spanish, Mexican and Moorish influences by architect Frederick L. Roehrig.
In 1898, he built a western annex on the other side of Raymond Avenue that was even more exotically designed with Victorian, Mediterranean and pronounced Moorish features. A bridge that looked as if it was part of an ancient fortress was built over Raymond Avenue to connect the two buildings.
Another wing was added to the western annex in 1903.