On the "other" side of arts hub downtown, Pasadena has been a front of fabulous art and architecture for well over a century.
Change comes slowly to Pasadena; most would agree very slowly. For better or worse, an adherence to traditional residential styles and strict historic preservation and zoning rules sets the leafy suburb apart from LA metro’s fluid streetscapes. “Most of Pasadena was built a long time ago,” explains Catherine “Tink” Cheney, the previews estates director at Coldwell Banker Pasadena. While prices often fluctuate in Malibu and Beverly Hills, “It’s steady as you go in Pasadena,” says the veteran real estate agent of the city known for its family-friendly ethos, excellent private schools, and multigenerational habitants.
Founded in 1886, Pasadena began as a winter resort destination for Midwesterners, hence the early and ongoing preference for Midwestern-style homes, from bungalows (The Gamble House by Greene & Greene being a prominent example) to neo-Colonial and other conventional architecture. Railroad magnate and businessman Henry Huntington, foremost in the area’s development, had Myron Hunt design his Italianate showplace, now a beloved gallery within the grounds of The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Pasadena’s upscale neighbor. (High-end homes here tend to sell more quickly due to the city’s popularity with Chinese buyers and its lauded school system.)
Because of its rigorous zoning enforcement and adherence to historic preservation guidelines, Pasadena doesn’t suffer the ills of runaway mansionization, as building square footage-to-property-size ratios are strictly regulated. The city’s 27 historic and landmark districts require a design review of plans before exterior renovations, demolitions, and new construction can proceed.
Pasadena’s community-minded citizens and city government willingly lend support to many non-profit arts and cultural institutions. Home to the Norton Simon Museum, Pacific Asia Museum, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA), and the Armory Center for the Arts, the city’s contribution to the art scene can’t be overlooked. “Pasadena is a world unto itself and very neighborhood-centric,” says Brent Chang of Coldwell Banker, who grew up in the area along with brother Blair Chang of The Agency. The neighborhood surrounding the Huntington, bordering Pasadena and San Marino, blooms with architecturally significant estates and mature landscaping.
"The city's art scene can't be overlooked. Pasadena is a world unto itself."—Brent Chang.
Prices range from $875 per square foot in San Marino (though the monthly trend is upwards) to $600 per square foot in Pasadena, per Brent Chang. He contends Pasadena buyers pay one-fifth the cost of a comparable home in Brentwood and the Palisades. Those rare modernist or contemporary homes that list tend to attract Westside buyers. When a $2.5 million, 1,800-square-foot, Richard Neutra–designed property came up for sale recently, it was bought preemptively and never appeared on the MLS, says Chang. “We have very few modern contemporaries,” says the agent. However, he’s representing a 2008-built, $5.28 million contemporary steel and glass home; the living room’s concrete floors, exposed steel beams, and clean lines are very atypical for Pasadena.
In contrast, City Ventures is selling the 1908-built, nine-bedroom, historic Merritt Mansion, replete with vintage wood panel- ing, basement pool, beamed ceilings, and formal gardens designed by Garrett Eckbo. “There’s nothing else on this scale in Pasadena,” says an agent of the Millionaire’s Row landmark on 1.81 acres, listed for $9.95 million. Once the center point of Ambassador College’s campus, it currently is the sales office for the nearby City Ventures’ Ambassador Gardens, a project 15 years in development, where newly built Spanish Revival-style townhomes (topping at $2.4 million) are selling quickly.
However, across the board, residential inventory is low. “There’s nothing to buy, no place to go, so [homeowners] don’t sell,” says Catherine Cheney. “They are even more conservative now than they were before the 2008 market downturn,” adds Cheney of the town’s residents. She’s representing the 1979-built Bridge House by architect Thornton Ladd (Norton Simon Musuem’s original architect), a prime example of modernism with its striking combination of glass, wood, and concrete, sited specifically for its views.
Home to numerous LA Dodgers and their coaches, celebrities who live in the area keep a very low profile (Jennifer Lopez formerly owned a restaurant here, as did Kevin Costner; famed boxer Oscar De La Hoya owns a sprawling estate). “Pasadena has been doing quite well,” says Henry Suarez, an agent with Dilbeck Real Estate. “We’re on an uptrend, but it’s not over the top.” “Our residents are ardent about keeping the city the same,”adds Brent Chang.“You know what you’re getting when you buy here.” A grande dame who keeps her assets intact? Enviable—and unexpected—in Southern California.