History in the making ... over

History in the making ... over

Westridge officials anxiously await restoration of Greene & Greene’s historic Pitcairn House

By Kristy Lucero 07/31/2008

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Over the past 102 years, the famed Greene & Greene Pitcairn House on the campus of Pasadena’s Westridge School has undergone some changes.

Built in 1906 — two years before the Greene brothers’ most famous Pasadena work, Gamble House — Pitcairn House was acquired by Westridge in 1963 when the Madeline Drive campus in West Pasadena expanded. The school used it over the next few years as a residence, then for classes in art. In 2000, they renovated the interior and it became the school’s business and campus development offices.

Although the house interior has been restored several times since Westridge’s acquisition of the property, it wasn’t until earlier this month that school officials decided to restore the building’s aging yet still beautiful exterior, selecting Long Beach-based Kelly Sutherlin McLeod Architecture, Inc. — the same company that restored Gamble House in 2005 — for the job.

“We sought out Kelly Sutherlin McLeod’s company after learning about her work at the Gamble House, and after a close analysis of the house she told us what needed to be done to maintain it,” says Brian Williams, Westridge School’s director of facilities.

The exterior restoration project is only now in the planning stages and a cost was not immediately available.

The oldest building on Westridge’s campus, Pitcairn House was originally commissioned by Robert Pitcairn Jr., the son of a wealthy Pennsylvania railroad executive who had previously lived in a home designed by the brothers Greene, Charles and Henry.

Work was expected to start in the fall, just in time to coincide with October’s special exhibit at the Huntington Library on the Greene brothers and the centennial of Gamble House, located a few miles north of Westridge on Orange Grove Boulevard.

Westridge officials decided that this was a good time to approach the restoration project because of the house’s historic value.

“It has to do with the school’s commitment to maintaining this historic landmark. Since this is one of our legacies, it’s important to us to keep the building in good shape,” says Interim Head of School and Westridge Alumna Rosemary Evans. “The founder of the school was Mary Lowther Ranney, a draftsman for Greene & Greene, which is another reason why I think that the building has special significance.”

Pasadena Heritage, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving local historic landmarks, has led architectural workshops and tours at the house which has helped it gain national fame and enamor.

Pitcairn House will also be featured in the 17th annual Craftsman Weekend, an event held by Pasadena Heritage in October. This event, “the largest and most comprehensive salute to the Arts & Crafts Movement in the Western United States,” will allow visitors to view the house along with several other architecturally significant structures, including Gamble House.

“This house has a place in Pasadena history, and not just Westridge history. That’s why we think it’s so important to get this renovated,” Evans adds.

While the exterior restoration is only in the beginning stages, both Westridge officials and McLeod believe that the right first steps are being made to ensure the project’s success. 

“We’re going to try and determine what’s most urgent and from there decide what work will be done,” says McLeod. “There are guidelines for restoring historic properties, and those guidelines give us a roadmap. Then we need to look at the best way to handle the client’s needs. The way we handle [a project like this] is to try and not do more damage.

“Making careful documentation and analysis is key,” she continued, “and that’s why we’re taking this first step to determine what’s been done and what needs to be done in order to make sure that this [restoration] will be beneficial.”

A final plan outlining the restoration will be handed to Westridge for approval in the fall.

“I’d like to applaud Westridge because there’s a school to run here and yet they are taking the time to preserve this landmark,” says McLeod, “That is what preservation is all about, and the students will enjoy it for years to come.”

Westridge officials also feel that the restoration will help increase the prestige enjoyed by the school and its students.

“This building is beautiful, it’s a treasure that the school can maintain,” says Williams. “I take a lot of responsibility in ensuring that the building is around for generations.  I think it’d be a tragedy for [students in] years to come to say, ‘if only they’d done this or done that, then they could have done more to save the building.’”

The project still has a long way to go, but hopes for success are high. Evans says her ultimate goal “is to take care of this facility so that it can continue to be an influence and a presence to young women, and hopefully … inspire them to build their own spaces in their lives and careers.”

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