YWCA Photo by Tommy Ewasko

Eminent concern

Pasadena officials may seize Julia Morgan’s long-neglected YWCA building

By Justin Chapman , Kevin Uhrich 04/01/2010

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After literally watchng a onetime gem deteriorate over the years into a local eyesore, Pasadena officials hope to soon take control of the former YWCA built by Julia Morgan, California’s first registered female architect.
Located at the corner of North Marengo Avenue and Holly Street — its backdoor facing North Garfield Avenue and City Hall’s front entrance — the building was constructed in 1921, six years before City Hall was built and just a year before Morgan designed San Simeon, the sprawling, opulent hilltop mansion overlooking Morro Bay, owned by newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. 
Morgan, who designed numerous structures in the Los Angeles area, also built for Hearst the iconic and long-vacant Herald-Examiner newspaper building at the corner of 11th Street and Broadway in downtown LA. Like the old Her-Ex building, the local YWCA has been empty for years, its windows and doors boarded up and the structure falling into an ongoing state of disrepair.
Urged on by members of the nonprofit group Pasadena Heritage, the Pasadena City Council will consider seizing the property through eminent domain following a public hearing set for 8 p.m. April 12 at City Hall, 100 N. Garfield Ave.
The current owner, Angela Chen-Sabella of Trove Investments, who acquired the property in 1996 for $1.8 million, has been negotiating with the city for more than a year but so far has rejected all offers. Trove is asking for $12 million. The council is considering directing city staff to open eminent domain proceedings so that the city has the ability to take action if negotiations with Trove are not successful.
Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, believes the historic building will be better off in the city’s hands, even if it is seized under eminent domain.
“There have been several different ideas for the building but they haven’t panned out,” she said. “Meanwhile, time goes by and the building is suffering.”

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Okay, the property was bought for 1.8 million dollars. But I wanna' know, at the time, could the city have simply outbid Chen-Sabella and gained possession of this property for itself?

It seems that Chen-Sabella has chosen to "warehouse" her property and simply not use it until it sells at the owner's preferred price ... sounds damned capitalist of her. Now I've seen it, and for a certainty, it is boarded up. It also seems to be in compliance with all minimal regulations regarding property that is not being actively used by its owner. As an eye sore, it really isn't too noticably different from the building just north of it.

So the city plans to buy it, but is also considering the tactic of forcing a more city-friendly price upon the owner by abusing its imminent domain powers ... tell me, where were all these cold steel balls when the Raymond needed saving?


posted by DanD on 4/01/10 @ 05:03 p.m.

12 million dollars is an absurd price! While I'm not normally a fan of eminent domain (different from imminent) I agree with the Heritage Foundation that this abandoned property would be better off with the city. And I'd rather it be by eminent domain than $12 million!

DanD commented that it isn't much more of an eyesore than the building just north of it. I agree, and would go even further. The building across Holly from the YWCA building is the YMCA building that at once was a boarding house for YMCA members but now operates as a apartment building Centennial Place.

This place came to my attention after the recent rape & murder allegations against John Gardner highlighted the need for tighter restrictions on sex offenders. I decided to search California's Megan's Law website to see how many sex offenders were in my zip code-91101.

I discovered that there are 3 (count it: THREE!) sex offenders living in the YMCA building at 235 E Holly St! And that is just the ones who have registered there! Sex offenders can tend to cluster in buildings once they find a landlord or neighborhood that allows them or doesn't run them out or picket their house. All three of these men have been convicted of crimes involving children, including Assault w intent to rape/sodomize/commit oral copulation, indecent exposure, and annoying/molesting a child.

It's too bad the city can't take this building by eminent domain, even though it isn't abandoned, and clean it out and do something good with the structure, like convert it into a shelter for homeless people or perhaps victims of domestic violence and their children. Hey, the vacant lot adjacent to it is owned by the city, maybe it's not such a far-fetched idea!

--You can see our three upstanding members of society here:

--And CA's Megan's Law website, which lets you search for sex offenders by zip code, city, address, park, county, etc., is here:

Just click continue at the bottom, agree to the disclaimer, and it will bring you to the search page.

-Pasadenan Guy

posted by PasadenanGuy on 4/01/10 @ 07:31 p.m.

Hey, Pasadena Guy;

Didn't you mean that: "... the YMCA building that at once was a boarding house for YMCA members but now operates as an apartment building Centennial Place"?

In a comments section you can always find type-o's. Don't be a prick.

And regarding your "sex offender" screed, it really has absolutely nothing at all to do with the article at hand. Anyway, why don't you just go get a gun, confront these sick sucks, and then blow their f**kin' heads off? Then you'd solve that problem for all of us. But don't ask me to contribute to your defense fund.

Anyway, the property is already owned. The grounds are being kept up, the buildings basic integrity is being sustained, and the owner is asking 12 million dollars possibly because she just doesn't want to sell it quite yet (but is still open to making a very comfortable profit).

Maybe she has plans for it in the future. Basically, it's her private property, and as long as it remains in compliance with the law, she really doesn't need to inform the city at all what she ultimately fantasizes about what she wants to do with HER property. Ultimately, unless the city wants to meet her price, they should just leave her alone.

Meantime, why would you feel that it's legal for the city to seize her property from her simply because they think they got better plans for it? Wasn't this how the Soviet Union used to do things? To "Nanny-state" take it away maybe because it would "serve the public" better? Oh my, how socialist of them.

Or perhaps maybe there are also other prejudices involved ~


posted by DanD on 4/01/10 @ 11:10 p.m.
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