Amid McMansions, historic home now a to-go order
By Jake Armstrong 03/03/2011
History began piling up before Fred Raimondi’s eyes two weeks ago. That’s when workers began dismantling a nearly 100-year-old, four-bedroom Craftsman home at 553 Woodward Boulevard — which for months had been at the center of what a coalition of neighbors in Michillinda Park describe as a failed tug of war between the past and present, or good taste versus ostentation.
“It’s definitely not the outcome we wanted,” said Raimondi, who had been working with other neighbors to save the Craftsman — one of only a handful remaining in the unincorporated enclave at Pasadena’s southeast end — before its owners strip it down and replace it with a so-called McMansion topping out at 5,600 square feet. Raimondi and others say the outsized homes that are slowly but steadily being erected in Michillinda Park are eating into its charm and character.
Workers taking apart the home brick by brick over the past two weekends would not divulge where it is being moved, if they knew. That left some neighbors to wonder if the home will stand on its own again. “Whether it’s for preservation or if they’re selling the brick, I don’t know,” said Justin Smith, who’s lived on Raymond Drive, around the corner from the Craftsman, for nearly nine years.
But despite the seemingly Pyrrhic victory, a coalition of neighbors who in recent months protested the Craftsman home’s demolition vowed to devise a way to protect new development from drastically altering the neighborhood.
“We lost the battle, but we’re going to try to win the war going forward,” said Fred Raimondi, a film director who lives six houses from the Woodward Boulevard home.
Last week, some neighbors met with preservationists to determine whether there was a stop-gap solution to spare the home from being dismantled, but to no avail, Raimondi said. “It’s going to be a long process and this one we’re just going to have to bite the bullet on,” Raimondi said.
One of those solutions may be a change to the Community Standards District, a set of guidelines for development in unincorporated areas. However, preservationists have said the guidelines address new development, rather than demolition of historic resources. Raimondi said other options are to petition the state and federal governments to declare Michillinda Park some type of historic zone or district.
“My feeling is that’s because of the unique, with the median and our trees — there’s not that many places like that in Los Angeles or California. We feel like Michillinda Park has a vibe that’s worth preserving,” Raimondi said. “Maybe this house will end up being the poster child for a protection ordinance.”
Tony Bell, spokesman for county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the area, said the supervisor’s office would assist. “There is a modality for the residents to change their community standards district to address issue of this nature, and our office would be more than happy to assist in helping them through the process with Regional Planning,” said Tony Bell, spokesman for Antonovich.
Drs. Matthew and Shirley Tan bought the home from Christopher and Nancy Crellin for $882,000 in May 2009, according to Blockshopper.com. The Tans — he a cancer surgeon at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale, she a clinical pathologist at San Gabriel Valley Medical Center, did not return a call for comment as of press time.
Like other neighbors, he’d heard there was a struggle brewing over one of the iconic Craftsman homes that dot the serene neighborhood. But it wasn’t until last year — shortly after he got dogs — that he began frequenting Michillinda Park’s streets and realized which home the tussle was over. “We walk our dogs around there all the time. You get these beautiful tree-lined streets with, I don’t know, 100-year-old deodar cedars. That home is a work of architectural art and it helps define the area,” said Smith, 38.
So-called McMansions — generally defined as homes in excess of 3,000 square feet built on standard-size lots — began steadily cropping up in the neighborhood over the past decade, neighbors said. About a dozen of the outsized homes and a handful under construction now exist among the 220 others in Michillinda Park. But many of the McMansions sit vacant, neighbors say.
Smith said he wonders why the Tans — who told the coalition they were willing to sell the home if the neighbors could find a buyer — didn’t scout opportunities that would have prevented removal of the Craftsman, such as buying one of the apparently vacant large homes. “I just wonder why the doctor and his wife wouldn’t try and purchase something like that,” he said. “Tear down one of those and use they put up in the ‘70s and built a mansion, not one of the bungalows.”
Mary Aschenbrener, a retired teacher who helped direct an effort to spare the home, lamented that the county Board of Supervisors has not enacted any type of historical protections for unincorporated areas like Michillinda Park, where her 99-year-old mother has lived for 60 years. She said the large homes guarded by steel gates disrupt the area’s character. “There’s an imbalance there, and part of me sees the need to have some kind of a dialogue between those who build thee huge homes in modest neighborhoods and the people who have lived here for decades, and I don’t know how that dialogue is going to occur because there is such a sense of anger and mistrust,” she said. “Whether it is on one side or both sides, I don’t know.”
California was home to a total of 1,044 state historical landmarks, 851 California Points of Historical Interest, 2,380 National Register listings and 25,000-plus listings in the California Register in January 2008.
Pasadena has three sites on the state landmark list: the Gamble House, the Pasadena Playhouse and the Pacific Asia Museum.
Architectural preferences change with time and preservationists debate whether McMansions will one day be prized for their aesthetic contributions. Typically, 50 years must pass before such contributions can be judged, according to preservationists.
Smith, who said he’d back employing some form of historic protection for the neighborhood, recognizes that dynamic, but said there should be some exceptions.
“I do suppose at some point this fight is going to be lost,” he said. “It really does something to disenchant you with the area.”