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Pasadena rejects hotel proposal for Julia Morgan’s historic YWCA building

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Now it’s figuring out a Plan B    

Pasadena will spend at least $500,000 to secure and stabilize its vacant YWCA building while it comes up with a new plan to restore and reuse it in the wake of a decision to scrap a proposal to turn the historic building into a luxury boutique hotel.

The City Council voted unanimously this week to reject a 181-room Kimpton Hotel Project in the YWCA after the developer asked for more than $30 million in concessions, the Pasadena Star-News reported.

Opponents of the project—led by the Pasadena Civic Center Coalition—had argued that the hotel would be too big for its Civic Center location and would take away green space, among other things.

The matter goes back to the City Council's economic development and technology committee, which is tasked with framing the scope of any future proposals for the building. Its recommendations will inform the work of a citizens' task force that will be convened to explore ideas for what to do next.

The initial stages of the process should take six to eight months, city spokesman William Boyer tells Curbed.

"The recommendation was to basically go back to the drawing board," Boyer says. In the meantime, the city will "button up the building, secure it, protect it," he adds.

The Pasadena Civic Center Coalition—which had sued to stop the Kimpton Hotel Project—applauded the decision. "This outcome is very similar to our recommendation, so on the whole, this is very good news. Hooray!" the coalition said on its Facebook page.

The City Council's vote means the Julia Morgan-designed YWCA building will continue to sit vacant for months or years, as it has for decades.

The building—on a site bounded by Garfield Avenue, Union Street, Marengo Avenue and Holly—was designed by the architect who also created the L.A. Herald-Examiner building and Hearst Castle. The YWCA building needs $10 million to $14 million in repairs and renovation.

The preservationist group Pasadena Heritage had supported the hotel project. "Pasadena Heritage continues to seek an appropriate new use for the former YWCA building and the commitment to sensitively rehabilitate it," Executive Director Susan N. Mossman tells Curbed.

"Now vacant for more than 20 years, and likely now to remain so for some years to come, the building needs to be better secured and protected," Mossman adds. "The city has so far allocated $500,000 for this work, but will need to continue to maintain and preserve the building for the duration of this new process."

Boyer says the city will make sure the YWCA doesn't have any major roof leaks, any places that are exposed to the elements or any way that unauthorized people can enter it. "People think, 'Oh, the walls are falling down or something,'" he said. "[But] there's not, like, holes in the walls or anything like that. It's structurally sound right now. They just need to make sure that it is secured against the elements."

As for how long it will take to come up with a Plan B, Boyer says City Council members are mindful of a need to do something before too long. "They don't want it to languish, that's for certain," he says. "They want a project that everyone feels good about, can be proud of, and that is befitting of the unique character of our Civic Center District area."

Herald-Examiner Building

1111 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA

Pasadena YWCA

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