YWCA restoration plans continue

Restoration of Pasadena’s historic former YWCA building remains viable despite significant damage and decay, according to the most recent architectural assessment of the structure.

Designed in 1921 by celebrated Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the South Marengo Avenue landmark has remained vacant and become increasingly derelict since its 1996 sale to an investment firm.

Sue Mossman, executive director of the preservation group Pasadena Heritage, credits the Morgan building as setting an architectural tone for the Civic Center that influenced development of City Hall, the Central Library and the Civic Auditorium.

In November, city officials invoked eminent domain to take temporary possession of the former YWCA, citing public interest in preservation of a historic asset, said Dave Klug, a senior project manager for the city’s redevelopment department.

Workers have since secured entrances and windows that had allowed squatters to enter the building, removed trash and pigeon droppings, and installed tarps over the roof to block major leaks.

An Oct. 19 hearing in downtown Los Angeles will determine whether the city will take permanent control of the building from owner Trove Investment Corp.

While contesting the city’s legal efforts, Trove is also continuing negotiations toward a possible sale agreement, attorney Gregson Perry said.

Early this year, the city hired Pasadena-based Architectural Resources Group to document the building’s condition and conduct a rehabilitation study. Investigators found significant decay, according to the Feb. 18 report.

Water damage has occurred throughout the building, causing patches of mold and possibly compromising the integrity of steel supports.

“Most of the loss and damage can be traced to the infiltration of water. It is present throughout the building and on all [three] floors. Large areas of plaster ceiling and wall are damaged, cracked or lost,” reads the report, which recommends numerous protection or restoration measures. The study did not include possible costs of repairs.

Perry said Trove has tried to keep the building in good repair. “We did what we could to keep homeless people out, but it’s impossible to do that 100%,” he said.

Despite so many problems, historic restoration of the building would be possible, according to Jennifer Trotoux, an architectural historian who was part of the ARG study team.

“On the whole, the building has pretty good historical integrity as far as its architectural qualities. Important character-defining features remain intact. The critical thing is just to get them properly protected,” Trotoux said.

City officials have not decided what to do with the building if they acquire it. Mayor Bill Bogaard said the struggling economy and the fact that municipal redevelopment agencies saw their funds reduced by the state budget agreement reached in June make a private partner all but essential.

“I think there’s a predisposition to find a private-sector partner who would be involved in rehabilitation of the building, meeting standards that the city will impose,” he said.

Trove had considered several reuse proposals, including as a boutique hotel.

Mossman said it is important to maintain work associated with Morgan, a legend in California architecture whose work will be celebrated by a consortium of preservation groups next year.

“Her training as both an engineer and an architect is why our former YWCA is such a well-constructed building and has held up even under such duress,” Mossman said. “We’re anxious to retain its integrity and original design and make sure any final project is worthy of Julia Morgan.”

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