Agencies’ demise may hurt Pasadena’s former YWCA

One of the grand buildings erected during Pasadena’s ambitious City Beautiful Movement in the 1920s may become a victim of the state’s decision to dismantle redevelopment agencies statewide.

The three-story building with the red-tile roof and arched doorways served as a YWCA for decades, during an architectural era when grand public structures were embraced as essential ingredients to a community’s success.

But after a wealthy Hong Kong businesswoman bought the property 14 years ago, the refuge that once offered patrons a swimming pool, gymnasium and library is now boarded up and empty, its paint peeling.

City officials used eminent domain last year to take control of the long-neglected 1921 structure, but they don’t have the redevelopment funds to restore the building, leaving its future uncertain.


A Feb. 22 court hearing will determine what the city must pay previous owners Trove Investment Corp. to take final possession of the building. Officials have placed $6.5 million in a court-managed escrow account, an amount based on a previous appraisal of the building, City Manager Michael Beck said.

But the dismantling of city redevelopment agencies in California’s belt-tightening efforts leaves restoration work in doubt.

“We were contemplating that we would do the restoration work and then potentially lease the property, but we aren’t going to have the resources for that,” Beck said.

A call for proposals could go out as early as this summer, he added. Plans would require City Council approval.


As one of 11 properties in the Civic Center area listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the YWCA falls under the protection of federal preservation guidelines.

The building was designed by Julia Morgan, believed to be the first female architect to practice independently in the United States and a designer of the Hearst Castle.

“Ideally, it should be restored and used for some sort of civic or public purpose,” said Ann Scheid, an architectural historian. “It should remain as a contributor to the whole idea of what a civic center represents.”

The city’s fiscal difficulties suggest a different path, however.

“People have suggested senior housing. People have suggested a City Hall annex. I think the marketplace will help dictate what it becomes, because we need private money to make this work,” said Councilman Terry Tornek.


Get our Essential California newsletter