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Sue Mossman Reflects on Three Decades Leading Pasadena Heritage

Longtime Executive Director of leading local historic preservation advocacy nonprofit remembers challenges, reveals lessons, looks ahead

Published on Thursday, November 16, 2023 | 6:30 am

After three decades at the helm of Pasadena Heritage, Executive Director Sue Mossman has announced her plans to retire in spring 2024. In an extensive interview with Pasadena Now, Mossman reflected on her tenure and the evolution of historic preservation in Pasadena.

Mossman began by underscoring the increased recognition of historic preservation in the community. 

“I am delighted to say that I believe the value of historic preservation and its importance in our community that has so many historic places and cultural resources has grown substantially over the last 30 years,” she said.

When asked about specific challenges over her years of advocating for historic preservation, Mossman recalled the saga of the Stewart Pharmaceutical Company building on Foothill Boulevard in East Pasadena.

“It was a modern building dating from 1958… So we had to learn about the building, its importance, the founder of the company, his wishes to make it a wonderful place for his employees,” Mossman explained. 

And then we have to try to convince other people how important it was, even though it was a younger building, a newer building, and it was quite a challenge. And since Johnson and Johnson purchased a building, they were not very historically minded and they did not want to preserve the building. And so they were a difficult opponent for a very small local organization, but ultimately we found a solution.”

The eventual victory, although not perfect in her eyes, was a significant achievement for the organization.

Mossman also spoke about her personal and professional growth during her time with Pasadena Heritage. 

“It’s very different to be the one in charge, the one who hires other staff, the one who has to carry out the policy decisions of the board, the one who has to speak as the leader of the organization. So I had to learn those skills, but it was exciting to meet so many people and talk with so many people from all walks of life and try to enlist them to our side,” she said.

Along the way, balancing her career with raising a family, she noted, contributed to her becoming a multitasker.

Looking ahead, Mossman identified the increasing development pressure as a major challenge for her successor. 

“I think we as an organization will have to stay active, proactive, vigilant, and really make sure that now that everybody wants to come here — how do we still preserve the best of Pasadena and integrate with old in good, productive, appropriate ways?” she said.

Mossman stressed the importance of partnerships and understanding various perspectives in the field of preservation.

 “Everyone has a point of view, a responsibility, a hope, a dream, a wish, or an economic need. And you need to be able to listen and understand the other points of view,” she advised.

As for retirement, Mossman looks forward to spending more time with family and pursuing personal interests. “The first thing I’m going to do is take a breath and figure out what those are,” she shared.

Mossman’s hope for Pasadena Heritage’s future is expansive. 

“My hope is that we can discover and uncover the preservationist in every Pasadenan and whatever our shared history means to each of us, that we can bring that together to build an even stronger organization and a stronger love of community and sense of pride,” she said.

To her eventual successor, Mossman offered advice: “Be passionate about preservation, but be open and embracing of all that preservation and historic places and stories means, and try to weave all that together into a beautiful tapestry.”

“This is the beginning of a process and we’d love the community’s help to find our next leader,” she said, marking the start of a new chapter for both herself and the organization she has long served.

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