Dozens of Madison Heights residents met on the steps of the McKinley School auditorium Thursday for an initial meeting to begin creating a landmark district for their neighborhood. The gathering was supposed to take place inside the auditorium, but no school employee ever arrived to open the building.
So the 40 or so residents sat on the steps in the warm late afternoon sun.
According to organizer Glenn Camhi, the proposed district would be the second largest in the City, encompassing 768 homes. Only the Bungalow Heaven District would be larger. There are currently 27 local landmark districts in Pasadena, along with 20 additional national historic districts, recognized by the United States Department of Interior under the auspices of the National Park Service.
“Our petition is ready,” said Camhi, “and we will begin knocking on doors soon.”
Cahmi told the group that the landmark district designation has been attempted many times in the last twenty years, to no avail, but that recent development, particularly “a concrete mass on Los Robles, amidst charming historic bungalows,” has given the movement a new impetus.
Mayor Terry Tornek, standing on the top of the steps, told the group, “Local landmark districts have been one of the most important things to happen in Pasadena in terms of keeping this the special place that it is.”
Offering some perspective, the mayor, who is a former city planner, said, “If your objective is to buy a house and scrap it, and build a brand new big house, or do a dramatic reconfiguration of an existing historic house, you shouldn’t vote for this.”
“What this does,” Tornek continued, “is allow for some level of confidence that your investment will be protected, and that there will be continuity in the neighborhood.”
Tornek also noted that “One of the things that happened with Bungalow Heaven, which was the first, was that the maintenance of the district is one of the things that has made that neighborhood [among] the most cohesive neighborhoods in the City. The very process of people collecting signatures in the neighborhood, in the effort to form the district, really had an amazing impact in terms of its cohesiveness.”
City Senior Planner Kevin Johnson described the area, which was drawn up by himself and Camhi, as bounded roughly by California Boulevard on the north, Magnolia on the west, South Lake Avenue to the east, with a long leg stretching down along South Oakland Avenue, between El Molino and South Los Robles Avenue.
“I’m really hoping that this time, this will work,” said resident Sue Mossman, who is Executive Director of Pasadena Heritage.
“I’ve lived here for forty years” Mossman added, “and now I am at that time of my life when I am thinking about how this will affect my kids, who will benefit from the increase in value in my little bungalow. I am so passionate about the value of our neighborhood and our historic resources, that to me, protecting that protects their future, and the culture of Pasadena for them.”
Councilmember Andy Wilson said that the designation can protect the neighborhood from newly imposed state regulations which will increase new housing developments city-wide.
According to a flyer handed out by the fledgling group, “a landmark district is an area that is recognized for the special quality found in its history and buildings.”
The flyer described the district as a “valuable tool to curb mansionization and to protect the overall character of our neighborhood. Any new construction is encouraged to be of a similar character and scale to the surrounding houses. Architectural style is not regulated.”
According to an information handout provided by the City, numerous studies have shown that historic designations can actually increase property values.
“Landmark district designation gives potential homebuyers two rare and economically valuable assurances,” the handout noted. “That the very qualities that attracted them to the neighborhood will actually endure over time, and that they can safely re-invest in sensitive improvements to their home without fear that their neighbor will undermine the investment with inappropriate new development.”
Once the final petitions are gathered and review, the proposal will be reviewed by the Planning Commission, and then the Planning Department, with eventual approval by the City Council. No timeline was given for the completion of the Madison Heights Landmark District proposal.