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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).


  1. Regarding the last photo.....

    "And the Raven, Never Flitting, Still is Sitting, Still is Sitting"

    "ever more"
    "nothing more"

    but who is Mo?

    1. PA, to answer your question: Mo aka Chen.

    2. Last time I checked Missouri was still standing, so that can't be it.

      Is a puzzlement...

  2. And on 2nd look at this: your 2nd foto from the top, judging from behind, looks like our leader, Sue M! ;)

  3. I was delighted/relieved to see that the beautiful Julia Morgan YWCA had been saved by the City of Pasadena but now am so sad to see it in such a state of neglect and disrepair ;-( I enjoyed "working out" there one summer in the 70s as a college student ;-) Let's hope the beautiful bones of the building can be restored and transformed!

  4. I'm surprised Sabella is fighting this. She obviously doesn't want the building and it's worth less and less every day she owns it. Her own neglect and ignorance are costing her. She should take the money and run.