The palatial 20,000 square mansion that has housed the local chapter of the American Red Cross since 1962 in the neighborhood famously known as ‘Millionaire’s Row’ is up for sale with a fittingly hefty price tag of $10.5 million.
Situated just off of South Orange Grove on Madeline Street, the home was built in 1930 against the tumultous backdrop of the nation’s free-falling economy. The stock market had crashed only the year before, the Great Depression was gripping Pasadena and financially-ruined men were jumping to their deaths off the Colorado Street bridge.
Yet here, the cigarette-fortune-fueled heiress to the Liggette and Myers Tobacco fortune built one of the most expensive (and palatial) homes ever to grace a Pasadena boulevard. (In 1930, $310,000 went a long way.)
And when Mildred and John Cravens moved into the 14-acre estate, the two of them were attended to by a staff of 32 … a force larger even than the servant crew on television’s Downton Abbey.
The property was in fact so large and costly that when Mildred died in 1946 the home went into what one historian called “an ownership tailspin from which it’s a miracle it survived.”
Finally, in 1957, the house was sold for a song to a colorful character, Simon Zervos, a Greek immigrant who used it as an office for his import company. He tried to sell it for years in the early 1960’s, and unsuccessful, was struck by the idea of donating the grounds to the American Red Cross out of gratitude for the help he and his family received when they first arrived on American shores in 1946.
The Pasadena Board of Directors (as the Council was called then) wasn’t so sure the idea was a good one. The Red Cross promised they wouldn’t store blood on the premises, and the City was mollified.
“It’s been a fabulous site for us. It’s beautiful and we’ve enjoyed being there and being a strong part of that community, but as the Red Cross grows, our needs grow and it just doesn’t function operationally the way that we would like it to,” said Red Cross Los Angeles Region Communications Director Jon Myers.
“I think it’s really an iconic site. It’s one of the last big mansions built when South Orange Grove was known as ‘Millionaire’s Row’. It’s very symbolic to what Pasadena was at that time even though it was built just after the [Great] Depression started,” explained historian Tim Gregory about the house that he said was built during a time period known as the “Golden Age” for southern California Architecture.
“It definitely has a sort of old world European feeling about it,” said local Realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty Gretchen Seager about the 19,970 square foot mansion.
The home’s exterior is made of steel reinforced concrete paired with brick veneer to create the home’s expansive feel. The mansard roof that is typical of many French structures, is made of Vermont slate and complimented by large French doors that span across the front and back of the mansion, according to a report.
Much of its interior decoration, including the door and window hardware, was imported from Europe as well. European craftsmen were hired to install golden mahogany and French walnut paneling, gold plated fixtures, and carved mouldings.
“They had so many of the materials brought in from Europe, so there are murals that were done by famous muralists and there are still a lot of the fireplace mantles brought in from Europe as well,” Seager explained about the elegant and continental features.
Thanks to Zervos, the mansion has been the unusual office space and headquarters for the San Gabriel Pomona Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross since.
The Chapter is finally ready to move on and downsize and relocate to a pre-existing 6,945-square-foot office at 376 W. Huntington Dr. in Arcadia.
“We’ve recognized that the office space there doesn’t really meet all the needs that we have. It’s very compartmentalized because you’re taking advantage of bedrooms upstairs where we’re using offices so it doesn’t add that office feel that we need where people can collaborate a little bit more,” said Myers.
Myers mentioned that factors like having to invest money towards maintenance for the Cravens Estate eats up funds that can otherwise be used more efficiently in the smaller and more practical Arcadia location that will house majority of the approximate twenty or so staff members that currently work out of the mansion.
“We could see a better use of our donor dollars going more towards our mission that having to maintain a beautiful place like [The Cravens Estate],” Myers explained.
“There’s just a need for us to be able to take advantage of the other space that we have,” Myers added.
The Red Cross responds to disaster calls on a daily basis, according to Myers, in which a handful of emergency vehicles are parked and ready to respond at the Cravens Estate.
“It’s hard to house those vehicles there on site. We want to be mindful of the neighbors. We don’t always keep all of the vehicles there so it makes it a little more difficult,” Myers explained.
Another reason for the relocation is due to the inability to construct new communications infrastructure at the estate because of City regulations.
In 1965, the mansion was honored with the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation Award and was designated a Pasadena Cultural Landmark by the Pasadena Heritage Society. In addition, the city of Pasadena has designated it a Landmark of Historical Significance, its highest category.
“It’s a historic site so we can’t do the construction that we might need if we wanted to install specific communications equipment and things like that,” said Myers.
The staff will stay put until the property, which is listed at $10.5 million, is sold.
“In Pasadena we have a large number of people who already live in historic homes and appreciate historic homes and might want to own a piece of Pasadena history. I do sense that we will also get a lot of interest from westside agents and possibly even some foreign buyers,” said Gretchen Seager about prospective buyers.
The Cravens Estate is known to attract high profile people throughout the years thanks to its photogenic backdrop that has been used in many television shows including “Mad Men”, “Ghost Whisperer”, “Desperate Housewives”, as well as feature films, including” Being There”, “Public Enemy” and “Traffic”.
According to Seager, a lot of the rooms were updated in 2010 after designers gave various rooms professional appointments during the estate’s involvement with the Pasadena Showcase House, a nonprofit organization that conducts home and garden tours.
However, some of the bathrooms are in need of noticeable updating.
“I would say it’s going to require a buyer who is willing to work with the City because it is a cultural landmark and there will be some things that will be protected because of its designation as a cultural landmark. The buyer will need to understand that it is going to need some renovating,” explained Seager who could not provide an estimated renovation cost.
Realtor Josie Tong from Sotheby’s Beverly Hills office said the Red Cross took great care of the interior during its half a century occupancy in the estate.
“The good thing about having the Red Cross in there is that they really kept the rooms the same. They kept the architectural integrity of the house,” explained Tong who mentioned that many of the features such as imported tile is still in pristine condition.
Seager and Tong will donate their commissions to the Red Cross when the property sells, according to Tong who is a member of American Red Cross Tiffany Circle and Co-Chair of the Red Cross Red Tie Affairs.
The total is expected to be upwards of $200,000 combined.
The money made from the sale of the entirety of Cravens Estate will be given to the national headquarters in Washington D.C. and will be redistributed within various Red Cross programs.
The local Red Cross chapter serves 1.8 million people in 44 communities from La Canada Flintridge to Pomona and Duarte to Rowland Heights in a region that covers 320 square miles. The chapter is part of the bigger American Red Cross Los Angeles Region, which last year responded to 457 home fires and assisted 2,541 victims of disaster with financial or other needs.