Pasadena was a city on the verge of major transitions when Sue Mossman relocated here with her husband in 1976. Like other California cities, there were many forces calling to demolish or reconfigure long-standing landmarks in favor of building generic high-rises. 

Mossman, however, saw things differently. She had fallen in love with her home and the historic Madison Heights neighborhood that surrounded it, and soon played a key role in creating the preservation group Pasadena Heritage in order to help stem the tides of change.

More than 40 years later, Michigan native and Penn State graduate Mossman was honored on July 13 at a special Castle Green fundraiser for Pasadena Heritage. Having served as the head of the nonprofit for the past 25 years, she was delighted to see the gathering of 350 people raise more than $100,000 for its local preservation efforts.

“I first got involved in my own neighborhood’s issues and from there learned a lot about the city and development, and joined Pasadena Heritage soon after it was founded,” recalls Mossman. “There were development plans for high-rise buildings at Los Robles and Colorado, and for tearing down Old Pasadena, so I joined up with others who were very concerned about the dire consequences for the historic city that I had come to love.”

Among the battles she is most proud of Pasadena Heritage winning, Mossman lists the preservation of the former Bullock’s Pasadena department store, which is now the Macy’s on south Lake Avenue. She also singles out the fight to keep the Rose Bowl from becoming an NFL stadium, the termination of the 710 Freeway extension, and the growing strength of single-family neighborhoods all over the city.

Perhaps her biggest success, however, came in creating the biennial Colorado Street Bridge Party. The giant landmark is closed to traffic for one night every other June in order to host concerts, food trucks and thousands of people enjoying the chance to walk freely on the structure amid a stunning sunset view of the Arroyo Seco. Yet aside from all the fun aspects of the evenings, they’re also essential fundraisers for the bridge’s preservation.

“Early in our history, around 1978, the bridge was in considerable disrepair, with weeds growing through the cracks and chunks of concrete periodically falling off,” says Mossman. “Structurally it was fine, but suffering from deferred maintenance. Our first two bridge parties were to call attention to the sad state of the bridge and persuade the city to restore it. That took years, but the party really caught on and has stayed a favorite, but the fundraiser on July 13 was in place of that amid one of its off years.”  

One key local figure whom Mossman and Pasadena Heritage have had a major impact upon is Pasadena’s current mayor, Terry Tornek. He had been a nationally regarded expert in historic preservation living in Massachusetts when he was hired as the city of Pasadena’s planning director. The city was realizing the value of maintaining its historic flavor over unfettered new development and Tornek often teamed with Mossman and her associates on preservation issues.

“Sue and Pasadena Heritage have been really instrumental in changing the whole ethos of Pasadena,” says Tornek. “We take preservation efforts for granted now, but that wasn’t true when Pasadena Heritage was getting started. Sue was there from the very beginning.

“It was really Pasadena Heritage and their battle to save Old Pasadena and the subsequent positions they’ve taken in landmark properties and districts and changed the ethic and self-image and is a big part of the reason we’re the great city we are,” adds Tornek. “Sue has been tremendously insightful in terms of being strong and well prepared on issues but also willing to listen and compromise when necessary to make something happen. She’s really been a terrific steward of that preservation ethic, and it’s part of the thing that makes Pasadena unique.”

One other longtime admirer of Mossman is Claire Bogaard, the wife of former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and a longtime active member of Pasadena Heritage in her own right.

“Sue has learned just about every job there was to do at Pasadena Heritage,” says Bogaard. “The most important thing is she’s taken the organization from its early, early days when everyone was learning as they went, to a very organized, thoughtful, planned organization and she’s done a fabulous job taking it into a more mature state.”

Ultimately, Mossman is happy to have been a large part of keeping Pasadena special, particularly the past 25 years during which she has served as executive director of Pasadena Heritage. She points out the fact that she wasn’t specially trained for her life’s work should be an example that anyone who loves their city can step up and help preserve it as well.

“I’d like to think every Pasadenan is a preservationist on one level or another, but we have some work to do to awaken that in people’s psyches, and there are always, always buildings to fight for,” says Mossman. “I did not have any background or training. Probably my biggest credentials were just a passion to get involved in the community and trying to make a difference.”

Call Pasadena Heritage at (626) 441-6333 or visit pasadenaheritage.org.