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Pasadena approves plan to turn Julia Morgan’s historic YWCA into hotel

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In spite of public objections, the city council OKs Kimpton’s redevelopment of the historic property

The Pasadena City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to a project that will turn the civic center’s historic YWCA building into a boutique hotel developed by Kimpton. In spite of public objections, council members argued the plan was the best option for preserving the 95-year-old structure.

Plans for redevelopment would "adaptively reuse" the former YWCA and add a new six-story building alongside of it. Combined, the two structures would include 179 guest rooms, along with a ballroom, meeting space, and 140-seat restaurant.

Designed by Hearst Castle architect and ingenious pool designer Julia Morgan, the building was constructed between 1921 and 1923. Vacant for more than 20 years, it’s now fallen into a state of pretty severe disrepair. The city of Pasadena purchased the property for $8.3 million in 2012 after invoking eminent domain.

But then the city found itself without the funds to fix up the place and began soliciting proposals for the site’s restoration from private developers. In 2013, an independent panel chose to negotiate exclusively with Kimpton after reviewing six proposals for the adaptive reuse of the building. Financial details from those negotiations have not been made public, but the city does say that Kimpton plans to spend between $14 million and $16 million renovating the historic structure.

A large crowd gathered at City Hall to speak out against the plan, though many ultimately left before public comment began. "I feel like a piece of dog meat," one commenter said, after waiting more than three hours to speak. "We, the public, who are here to share our views with you, are the last to be heard."

The primary objections were the elimination of green space between the property and the neighboring Pasadena City Hall. In the plan approved by the council, part of the public space that exists in that location now will be leased to Kimpton to allow for construction of the new building.

"People in our city need the open space desperately," one commenter said, urging the council to consider an alternative plan that steers clear of public land. Others said the hotel was too large, or that the project would affect the symmetry and proportions of Edward H. Bennett’s celebrated master plan for the city’s civic center.

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek disagreed with that assessment. "I don’t view this plan as being inconsistent with the civic center plan," he said, pointing out that city planners had already reached a compromise with Kimpton in order to preserve part of the public space in question. "I feel strongly that this project is worthy of support and should move ahead."

Commenters were sharply critical of the city’s willingness to hand over public space to developers, pointing out that Kimpton had already invested more than $1 million in the project and was unlikely to walk away over such a small piece of green space. One area resident chided the council, telling them to, "stop allowing the tail to wag the dog."

Pasadena YWCA

78 N. Marengo Ave., Pasadena, CA, Pasadena, CA