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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mystery History -- Solved!

Petrea wins with her 9:33 p.m. Wednesday guess "...these are students at Ambassador College, on the little bridge that crosses the waterfall..."  

In the 1985 photo above, a couple stands on a bridge overlooking the waterfall flowing into the stream that runs through the Ambassador College campus.

Founded in 1947 by Herbert W. Armstrong, Ambassador College was a four-year liberal arts college that became the headquarters of Worldwide Church of God.

Various lots were consolidated within a four-block area at the time to incorporate several mansions dating from 1905 to the 1920s along the east side of "Millionaires Row" on South Orange Grove Boulevard. These became the campus buildings.

("Millionaires Row" also includes such iconic homes as the Wrigley Mansion, Fenyes Mansion, the Gamble House and the Cravens Estate, though these are not on the Ambassador property.)

As the college population grew, more structures became necessary, including additional classrooms, administrative offices, dorms and television studios.

The architecture and planning firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall (DMJM) was commissioned in 1963 to develop the campus master plan that includes the mid-century modern structures we all know well today. . .

 . . .and the magnificent Ambassador Auditorium, built in 1972 and known as the Carnegie Hall of the West.

I had the privilege of seeing performances at Ambassador Auditorium by Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Cecilia Bartoli, Mel Torme, Yo-Yo Ma and so many others. (And it was the site of "Hollywood Week" during this season's American Idol.)

Landscape architect Garrett Eckbo designed Ambassador College's lush gardens, walkways, fountains and the stream, all of which are an iconic part of the Pasadena landscape to this day .

 A change in the tithing policy for Worldwide Church of God abruptly sent the funding for Ambassador College and Ambassador Auditorium into a nosedive.

As a result, Ambassador College and Ambassador Auditorium closed in 1997* and the educational functions were consolidated with operations in Big Sandy, Texas.

Worldwide Church of God put the 49-acre campus on the market in 1999,

Maranatha High School purchased part of the south portion near Del Mar and St. John Avenue in 2004 and moved there from the William Carey University campus (which is in my 'hood).

That same year Ambassador Auditorium, on St. John Avenue near Green Street, was saved when it was purchased by Harvest Rock Church, which conducts services there. It is also the venue for concerts and other events, including Pasadena Symphony concerts.

The City of Pasadena's West Gateway Specific Plan encourages thoughtful development with a focus on arts, culture and education in areas immediately west of downtown Pasadena.

Here are the boundaries of the specific plan; the former Ambassador campus is between Orange Grove Boulevard and St. John Avenue, from Green Street to the north to Del Mar Boulevard to the south.

After a series of fits and starts, including the foreclosure of one developer's interests and the scrapping of plans for a senior complex when that company pulled out, City Ventures purchased much of what is now known as Ambassador West in 2010 for market-rate residential projects.

Construction is underway on the Del Mar side near Orange Grove (I shot this photo yesterday afternoon):

Another proposed project is in the permitting phase for a portion along Orange Grove south of Green Street.

A third project, proposed near the Italian Gardens on the Green Street side near Orange Grove, is well on its way through design review.

And there is another in the initial planning stages for the Green Street side near St. John Avenue.

The Ambassador West plan, approved by the City Council in 2007, calls for the preservation of two acres of existing park-like open space as well as the stream, historic gardens and mansions plus 80 percent of the trees.

*Radio and television broadcasts of Armstrong's "The World Tomorrow" program were taped in state-of-the-art studios on the Ambassador College campus. I was wowed when I saw the studio facilities for the first time. When the campus operations closed in 1997 I literally begged Ambassador College brass to donate the TV cameras, anchor desks and other equipment to KPAS, but no such luck.

Many thanks to Pasadena Museum of History, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, City of Pasadena, West Pasadena Residents' Association and Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fabulous post, Ann. So much of this area can't be seen from the street, and it's a surprise when you walk the grounds and see what wonders are there. I have high hopes that what City Ventures is building will complement its surroundings.

    Can't wait for that lunch!