South Pasadena Preservation Foundation | Organization Update and Mills Act Panel

State of the foundation address shared past accomplishments and future efforts on preserving historical architecture in South Pasadena.

PHOTO: South Pasadena Historical Museum | South Pasadena Preservation Foundation

Written and presented by Mark Gallatin, outgoing SPPF President

SPPF members, board members, friends, and distinguished officials, I bid you welcome. Join with me now as we take a look back at the achievements of this past year and a peek into the future of the year to come.

It was almost a year ago, in July 2021, that SPPF picked itself up, dusted itself off, masked up and cautiously reopened the doors to our museum after 16 months of COVID-imposed isolation.

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While that reopening was a momentous occasion, it was also tinged with sadness, as Bill Hilliard, who selflessly devoted countless hours to the museum as a docent extraordinaire, lay critically ill. Bill left us a couple of weeks later, but his memory and friendly spirit live on at the museum in those volunteers who continue to impart wisdom of South Pasadena’s unique history to visitors young and old.

And speaking of museum volunteers, you too can have this marvelous experience. We are always in need of volunteer docents. All we ask is three hours on a Thursday afternoon. By signing up, you will honor Bill Hilliard’s tradition of service and have a great time doing it.

As summer turned to fall last year, we held a book signing event at the museum featuring the newest release from our hosts today, Odom and Kate Stamps, “Style and Sensibility”, with proceeds from the book sale benefiting SPPF. That month, we also welcomed former mayor and City Council member Dr. Richard Schneider to our board of directors.

Then, in November, we staged SPPF’s first-ever virtual/hybrid event, a guided video tour of the Irving Gill-designed Miltimore House led by SPPF member and local realtor Kevin Bourland and produced by board member Steven Lawrence and his crew at nexusplex. Over 50 people from throughout the community and beyond joined us to view the video in person at the beautiful Burke-Triolo Studio on Mission Street, while dozens of others streamed the event live from the comfort of their own homes. Nearly $2,000 was raised for SPPF that day and you can watch the video tour on our website.

This is a great opportunity to remind you to mark your calendars for Sunday, September 18 at 11 am. That is when the twice-delayed but never defeated Gill Garden Gala takes place at the Miltimore House. In addition to getting an opportunity to tour this groundbreaking home in person, you will also be treated to a gourmet luncheon and enjoy silent and live auctions, all while benefiting SPPF at the year’s biggest fundraiser. Tickets are available on our website, but hurry before they’re all gone.

In December of last year, SPPF partnered with our sisters at WISPPA to jointly host a community forum on Senate Bill 9, legislation to allow the subdividing of single-family residential lots and the construction of multiple units on them. While the thrust of this law threatens to disrupt the stability and character of single-family neighborhoods under the guise of improving housing affordability, fortunately it includes an exemption for designated historic districts. With SB 9 now law and 36 potential historic districts identified in South Pasadena, I foresee a major role for SPPF in assisting these neighborhoods with the designation process and advocating for their designation in the year ahead.

2022 got off to a great start as mayor Michael Cacciotti joined us at our January board meeting to share his goals for the coming year and discuss ways SPPF and the City can work together on areas of common interest. The next month our board played host to Public Works Director Ted Gerber. Ted shared with us information about Caltrans relinquishment to the city of Pasadena the 710 stub lands and local streets and the implications of these actions on traffic patterns in South Pasadena’s historic neighborhoods such as Oaklawn and others. To this day, SPPF continues to be an active participant in discussions on this topic and will continue to advocate that our historic neighborhoods be protected from the damaging effects of cut-through traffic.

And speaking of Caltrans and the 710 freeway (you didn’t expect me to get through this speech without mentioning that did you?!), in April of this year SPPF and the City began work on a memorandum of understanding to utilize our historic preservation expertise, our institutional knowledge of the freeway corridor, and our credibility capital in the community to partner on the inspection of some or all of the unoccupied Caltrans properties. The City recognizes the importance of SPPF’s role in documenting character defining features for preservation prior to the sale of the properties. By having an extra set of eyes along on the inspections that are focused on preservation-worthy features, the community can rest assured that nothing historic will “fall through the cracks” and be inadvertently lost to time.

As we finalize this partnership agreement with the City, SPPF continues to urge our City Council to end once and for all the 70-year occupation of our neighborhoods by Caltrans by reaching a stipulated settlement of its current lawsuit. Such a settlement would take the surplus property sales process out of Caltrans hands and create a sensible, equitable and easily implemented program for the disposition of surplus properties, so that we can begin healing our neighborhoods, create a pathway to homeownership and finally give the long-suffering tenants of Caltrans a fair shake. In the pursuit of these goals, we will never rest!

PHOTO: SPPF | Mark Gallatin – past President and Jim Tavares – President

Also in April, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the great Eclectic Music Festival returned to South Pasadena. Our museum was open that day and we saw approximately 600 visitors come through the doors. Later that month, we saw the return of the Showcase House of Design to South Pasadena for the first time in over 40 years. Thanks to the efforts of SPPF members who gave their time as volunteer docents there, the Showcase House made a $200 donation to SPPF. Then, in May, SPPF joined with the residents of the Oaklawn neighborhood and City staff to kick off efforts aimed at restoring the historic Oaklawn Portals. More on that in a moment.

As one fiscal year is about to close and another is about to open, the financial state of SPPF is as strong as it’s been in years.

I started this address by noting the passing of one of SPPF’s great friends, Bill Hilliard. Sadly, I end it by noting the recent loss of a bona fide giant in the world of historic preservation, not just here in South Pasadena but in California and the country as a whole. I speak of the late great Ray Girvigian. It would take a separate address longer than this one to enumerate all of Ray’s contributions to the field of preservation. Among them, he was there at SPPF’s birth 50 years ago and served as the first chair of the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission that same year.

He wrote the city’s first historic preservation ordinance, as well as that of the city of Los Angeles, and authored the landmark nominations for St. James church and many other local architectural treasures. Ray was one of the original 710 freeway fighters and we owe him a debt of gratitude every time we pause to consider what our city might be like today had he and others not poured their hearts and souls into stopping the freeway. It was largely because of Ray’s efforts that the state capitol in Sacramento was preserved and restored in favor of a plan that would have replaced it with nondescript modern office towers.

PHOTO: Odom Stamps | Mills Act Panel: (l-r) John Lesak – historic preservation architect, Geln Duncan – architectural historian & Mills Act homeowner, Mark Gallatin – CHC Chair and SPPF past President, Debbi Howell-Ardila – architectural historian, and Matt Chang – senior planner, City of South Pasadena

In a short while, you will hear an engaging panel discussion on the topic of the Mills Act. Well guess who was the principal author of that law sponsored by the late state senator James Mills? That’s right, South Pasadena’s own Ray Girvigian. Therefore, as we prepare to hear more about what the Mills Act has meant to historic preservation in California, it gives me great pleasure to announce that SPPF is resurrecting its program of bestowing awards on the best examples of preservation practice in our town and will do so with a new name, the Raymond Girvigian Memorial Historic Preservation Awards. Furthermore, before the year is out, we plan to do a fundraising event for the restoration of the Oaklawn Portals in honor of Ray and SPPF’s 50th anniversary.