Eminent concern

Pasadena officials may seize Julia Morgan’s long-neglected YWCA building

By Justin Chapman and Kevin Uhrich, Pasadena Weekly, 4/1/2010

After literally watchng a onetime gem deteriorate over the years into a local eyesore, Pasadena officials hope to soon take control of the former YWCA built by Julia Morgan, California’s first registered female architect.
Located at the corner of North Marengo Avenue and Holly Street — its backdoor facing North Garfield Avenue and City Hall’s front entrance — the building was constructed in 1921, six years before City Hall was built and just a year before Morgan designed San Simeon, the sprawling, opulent hilltop mansion overlooking Morro Bay, owned by newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. 
Morgan, who designed numerous structures in the Los Angeles area, also built for Hearst the iconic and long-vacant Herald-Examiner newspaper building at the corner of 11th Street and Broadway in downtown LA. Like the old Her-Ex building, the local YWCA has been empty for years, its windows and doors boarded up and the structure falling into an ongoing state of disrepair.
Urged on by members of the nonprofit group Pasadena Heritage, the Pasadena City Council will consider seizing the property through eminent domain following a public hearing set for 8 p.m. April 12 at City Hall, 100 N. Garfield Ave.
The current owner, Angela Chen-Sabella of Trove Investments, who acquired the property in 1996 for $1.8 million, has been negotiating with the city for more than a year but so far has rejected all offers. Trove is asking for $12 million. The council is considering directing city staff to open eminent domain proceedings so that the city has the ability to take action if negotiations with Trove are not successful.
Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, believes the historic building will be better off in the city’s hands, even if it is seized under eminent domain.
“There have been several different ideas for the building but they haven’t panned out,” she said. “Meanwhile, time goes by and the building is suffering.”