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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mystery History

Where are we? And what's happening?

The first person to guess correctly will win the title of smartest kid on the block.

I'll have the full scoop on Thursday.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

If These Walls Could Talk -- Well, They Already Do

Last Saturday I went on a tour of the historic and empty YWCA building followed by a community meeting down the street at City Hall. The events were hosted by the City of Pasadena and Pasadena Heritage. The purpose was to bring attention to the state of the building and update everyone on the status.

Two weeks ago the City of Pasadena distributed an RFP (request for proposals) to developers, seeking responses on how best to repair and restore the historic building and prepare it for adaptive reuse. The deadline for developer proposals in Sept. 24, after which the city will convene a review panel to evaluate bids and advise the city council on the final decision.

Since 1922 the YWCA building, on Marengo Avenue between Holly and Union streets, offered community and recreation services as well as single-room dwelling units for young single women. Designed by Julia Morgan, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing building within the Pasadena Civic Center Historic District.

The property is on about two acres that encompass nearly a full city block. It was designed in three sections.

In 1996 the Pasadena-Foothill Valley YWCA sold the building for $1.8 million to Angela Chen Sabella, AKA Trove Investments Corporation, and moved to new headquarters on North Fair Oaks Avenue.

Trove allowed the building to remain vacant and in a continually increasing state of decay. It was never properly secured against weather, trespassing and vandalism, and all three took their toll on the building's historic fabric:

inside. . .

. . .and out.

After attempting to work with Ms. Chen Sabella over the course of 15 years to first encourage and then mandate her to make improvements -- pleas she continually ignored -- the Pasadena City Council invoked eminent domain last year, citing "demolition by neglect."

Local, state and federal governments in the U.S. rarely use eminent domain to force the purchase of private property for public use. By law, property owners must be provided with fair compensation as determined by the courts.

After having the property appraised, the city offered Trove $6.43 million. There was an unsuccessful lawsuit by Trove to stop the eminent domain, then a counter-offer for nearly twice the amount, and to date a purchase price has not been settled on although the city expects a decision from the court soon. In the meantime, the city has deposited about $8 million into a court-managed escrow account until a final deal is approved. Everyone anticipates that the city will be given ownership of the building. 

The number-one priority for the city is the restoration of the historic treasure, followed by potential lease or sale of the property. But now, with the dismantling of redevelopment by Gov. Jerry Brown and the California legislature, the city is in the position of having to send out that RFP that will, everyone hopes, bring in a developer(s) with vision who can move the project forward to the benefit of the community, including funding, design and construction management.

Where do you come in? Take a look at the RFP (click on the link in the second paragraph of this post). I'll try to keep you apprised of upcoming related meetings at the community, commission and council level.

After reading the RFP, if you have questions or concerns, send an e-mail to David Klug at Dave is the city's redevelopment manager, a position that unfortunately may have to be removed from the city payroll in the near future (thanks, Jerry).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mystery History -- Solved!

Liz came closest with her 10:40 a.m. Tuesday guess "Putting up the atrium armature for Dr Albert Fenyes mansion on Orange Grove."

In the photo above, a crane delivers the new metal structure for the solarium skylight at the Fenyes Mansion on the grounds of the Pasadena Museum of History in the 1980s.

The original skylight had suffered damage over the years and was replaced with a stronger framework of structural steel.

Here's the solarium in more recent times. Note a portion of the skylight at the top:

Now the mansion, built in 1906, is closed for renovations again, It will reopen this fall.

There are stockpiles of historical information inside the mansion as well as in the PMH archives. I'll let you explore online info at your leisure.

One fact that some people aren't aware of is that Eva Schott Fenyes was a talented painter who studied art in New York, Europe and Egypt. Learn more about that in this article in the spring 2012 edition of the Society of California Archivists newsletter. 

Her good friend Charles Lummis encouraged her to visit and paint all of the California missions, fearing they might disappear over time. She did just that. Here's her watercolor painting of the San Diego Mission de Alcala, painted in 1907.

And many people don't know that Dr. Adalbert Fenyes, in addition to being a Hungarian nobleman and practicing physician, was a renowned entomologist who traveled the world collecting beetle specimens. His important beetle collection is housed at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Here's a rare photo of Dr. Fenyes in his "insectorium" in the gardens at the mansion:

And here are Adalbert and Eva on their wedding day in Budapest in 1896.

I posted a related Mystery History on my Pasadena PIO blog in January 2010.

And now we're back on track with Mystery History on the Ann Erdman blog! Keep checking back...

Many thanks to the Pasadena Museum of History.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mystery History

Alright, already! I heard you loud and clear via e-mail, the blog and face-to-face: Mystery History cannot die, even though I'm no longer the Pasadena PIO.

So let's get this party started!

In the photo above, where are we and what's happening?

The first person to guess correctly will earn my undying devotion (since I can't give prizes anymore).

I'll post the full scoop on Thursday.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Day at the Beach

I knew I was getting close to my friend's house in Huntington Beach when I saw the three people above.

For several years Gael (pronounced Gail) Pullen was the field representative to Pasadena City Councilman Chris Holden. Sixteen years ago Gael and her husband Mark went through Hamburger U, then moved with their two children to suburban Cleveland and opened a string of McDonald's restaurants.

A couple of years ago they sold the businesses and retired to Arizona, and are now living the good life in Huntington Beach. I was so happy to hear from Gael last week and happily made the trip to Huntington Beach yesterday. The view from their terrace overlooking Huntington Harbor is gorgeous.

We went a few blocks for a long lunch at Duke's adjacent to the Huntington Beach pier.

The great view of the beach and pier was only slightly obscured by construction of the venue for the U.S. Open of Surfing.

Three hours, one spectacular shrimp and crab Louis salad and one veggie stir fry later, we headed back to Gael's house and I said my good-byes. I know we'll see each other again soon.

And then there was the long drive at 4 p.m. back to Pasadena via Highway 1, the 405, 605 and 210. My heart goes out to people who commute.

Oh, and what's Gael doing to keep busy? She is the CEO of a philanthropic and leadership organization called Sylvia Global (her middle name is Sylvia), which celebrates women's empowerment throughout the world. And she has a related Internet radio show. I'm so proud of her!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Garden Party

On Sunday I went with Judy Kent to an outdoor gathering at the home of Ray and Rita Elshout in honor of four foreign exchange students from two of Pasadena's sister cities.

Left to right above are Anna Mäkelä and Anni Linnonmää from Järvenpää, Finland; and Nina Lermer and Laura Jorg from Ludwigshafen, Germany. All four are college students in their hometowns.

Anna and Anni are working at Villa-Parke Community Center this summer and Nina and Laura are studying at Pasadena City College.

Mayor Bill Bogaard and Marcia Montez, president of the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee, greeted the guests at the party and introduced the four young women.

Judy Kent and I accompanied Mayor Bogaard when he visited Järvenpää, Ludwigshafen and Xicheng, so we're always interested in Sister Cities activities.

Members of the PCC Global Club, which focuses on cultural exchange, visited with Professor Cathy Wei (seated at right), who teaches Chinese language at PCC and serves on the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee's China Subcommittee.

Rita Elshout, who hosted the event, and Karin Warner, who serves on the Germany Subcommittee.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Honoring Doo Dah

This past Sunday in the gardens of the Fenyes Mansion on the grounds of the Pasadena Museum of History there was a special cocktail party and fund-raiser for an important retrospective.

Next month the museum will open the exhibition "What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been: 35 Years of the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade."

At the event Sunday, many of the Doo Dah queens and grand marshals from throughout the years were joined by the parade organizers and other guests.

Their majesties:

Six of the queens dancing to the music of official Doo Dah band Snotty Scotty and Hankies, which has been in every parade since year one:

2011 queen Red Rosie and 2011 grand marshal Ron Stivers:

Official Doo Dah photographer Brian Biery flanked by Doo Dah aficionados Judy Kent and Jan Sanders:

(That's 2009 Doo Dah grand marshal Charles Phoenix seated at left above.)

Doo Dah czar Tom Coston welcomed everyone and read a vintage letter to the editor in the Pasadena Star-News in which the writer slammed the very first Doo Dah Parade as being an evil afront to all things conservative in Pasadena at the time.

And then today at City Hall, photographer Julie Klima, who happens to be the 2009 Doo Dah queen, took photos of a few of us at City Hall to be included in the exhibition.

Here's Tom Coston and Paddy Hurley of the Light Bringer Project reviewing some photos on Julie's camera:

And yours truly, the 2012 grand marshal:

I'll have more information about the exhibition in early August. It's going to be a blast!