“The Pasadena in which we live and from which we enjoy is the gift of past generations, a particularly fortunate creation born of a judicious choice and a thoughtful construction in a striking environmental setting …”
– Katie Harp McLane, co-founder of Pasadena Heritage
On Thanksgiving, the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association (MHNA) would like to thank all of those in Pasadena who have worked tirelessly over the years to preserve the beauty and charm that makes Pasadena the city we love. We especially want to thank the local activists who in the 1970s-80s saved the historic buildings of Old Pasadena from the wrecking ball. People like Katie Harp McLane, Claire Boggard, Bill Ellinger and John Merritt, who together founded Pasadena Heritage, and Sue Mossman, its current longtime executive director.
Each generation of Pasadenans plays their part in preserving the aesthetics that make Pasadena one of the most unique and charming cities in the state. SB9 (State Senate Bill 9) now adds urgency to our generation’s call to preserve historic architecture from demolition.
The MHNA has long worked to protect Pasadena’s treasured architecture and character by helping to designate the Madison Heights Landmark District, which would prevent the destruction of its historically significant homes. Landmark Districts apply to the exterior structure of properties visible to the street and ensure that historic features are maintained while changes are consistent with the house and the area. Pasadena has over 25 iconic neighborhoods that dot every corner of the city, ranging from the grand Bungalow Heaven to the tiny Marengo-Pico of just six properties.
SB9 comes into effect on January 1. It will allow for the destruction of historic architecture in order to build up to four new units where a house once stood, while also dividing the lots in half (if each subsequent lot can be 1,200 square feet or more – which s’ would apply to almost all properties in Madison Heights). It will also reduce the setbacks, allowing these new units to be just four feet from the side and rear property lines of neighbors. SB9 has no provision for affordable housing, and given the sale prices we’ve seen for lots smaller than most potential lots would be, it seems clear that affordability is not part of the story. the equation. Additionally, we are already enabling ADUs and junior ADUs to increase the number of housing units in single-family neighborhoods (with incentives for affordable units), and Pasadena continues to be a leader in expanding needed housing, even if we are to do better with affordable housing.
Instead, SB9 is a godsend for the developers, who have already targeted Madison Heights owners, asking them to buy their homes and even offering them one of four new units they want to build. SB9 requires anyone who shares a lot to sign an affidavit stating that they intend to reside in one of their new units for at least three years, but this provision does not include any penalty for breaking up and is essentially meaningless.
The good news: Those who drafted SB9 recognized the value of preserving architecture and important historic neighborhoods, so they included an exemption for designated iconic neighborhoods (and other historic landmarks).
Establishing a Landmark District is the only way to protect what makes this district so special. There is a reason people come from all over the world to visit our streets. History, aesthetics and artistic architecture are of great value to people and cities. Since a massive concrete structure replaced a historic bungalow on Los Robles Avenue in Madison Heights, residents fear we are not protected.
In the minds of those who worked so hard before us, we must all help now. A majority of homeowners in a proposed Landmark neighborhood must sign a petition approving the designation. If you live in Madison Heights, you can check if you’re included on the map here: mhnapasadena.org/landmarkmap, and use this site to request the petition. Individual petition pages will be given to those who have not yet signed up.
Madison Heights is full of architectural gems from Greene & Greene, Arthur & Alfred Heineman, Wallace Neff, Frederick L. Roehrig, David M. Renton, Sylvanus Marston (including design work by Frank Lloyd Wright), John William Chard, Reginald Davis Johnson, et al., And many important works by lesser-known architects.
Once gone, that history and character will be erased forever.
“There is nothing like it elsewhere in California,” William Bogaard, former mayor of Pasadena and current chair of the Pasadena Housing Task Force, once said, generally speaking of the “unique charm of Pasadena” and its historic architecture.
We express our thanks to those who have helped preserve this incredible limited resource and to those who are helping to protect it now.