Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Carved Up

The transformation of the building at 107 S. Fair Oaks is all but forgotten. I've been in Pasadena for fewer than four years and I might not have known about it if it weren't for people who visit and comment here at PDP.

But this building has a history, as so many of our Old Town structures do. I highly recommend the Wikipedia article about it. Parts of it were written by an artist who had an office there during a crucial time, when the tenants were evicted to make way for a remodel and retrofit as part of the revitalization of Pasadena's Old Town.

The artist and I have never met, but we've corresponded via email. When I told him I'd be visiting the building and posting photos, he said he didn't want to see them. He hadn't been inside the Carver since being evicted in the mid-1980s because it was too painful.

For some of us who came later on, the "revitalization of Old Town," as it's called, seems like a boon. But for at least a few who lived and worked there back then, it was a time of upheaval, a time of "cutesy-fying" their neighborhood, a time of heartbreak. That viewpoint is exemplified by my artist friend, who visits the blog and emails me from time to time with bits of information about his beloved Hotel Carver.

Recently another PDP visitor who comments here, Loren Roberts of Hearken Creative, invited me to his office in the basement of the remodeled Hotel. In part of the building's varied history, it was the first hotel in Pasadena owned by an African-American, and Loren's office would have been in the nightclub where famous black musicians are thought to have played.

Loren loves his office and appreciates the retrofit, but he's also an avid fan of the building's history. He gave me a tour, showing me the "SIGN" sign in the basement and historic photos in the lobby.

I could tell the place has changed a lot over the years. A bar once occupied the main floor; it's long gone. The change most noticeable to my email friend would be the stairway that once dominated the entryway. Gone, gone, gone. And of course there's the exterior. I'll save that for another day.

But my artist pal may be surprised to know that a poster he signed in protest of the remodel hangs, framed in glass, in the lobby.

Update, 10:30 am: Please read the comments, as Loren has added more information than I could give.

21 comments:

Frank said...

I wonder whether the artist would be surprised about his poster or just see it as another example of the "cutesy-fying"?

I find your post quite moving - knowing that he still finds the memories too painful to visit the blog really brings the story to life.

You've represented him and others very thoughtfully here. Thanks.

Dina said...

Wo, a surprise ending!

Nikki Beaumont said...

Wait, wait, wait. Let me get this straight. They hung, in the lobby, a framed poster signed by people protesting the remodel?! What is that supposed to mean? Were they saying, "And we did it all without these guys!" Or "Here's a list of the naysayers. Let's go get them." Or maybe it means, "If you don't like the remodel, then join the club." - I don't know. That just seems weird. Interesting photo and story. I really enjoy stuff like that.

Petrea said...

Frank and Nikki bring up a good point. I got the feeling that the poster was a bit of nostalgic history, meant respectfully. But the owner wasn't there for me to ask. You can step into the building and see it for yourself in context.

Trish said...

Ah yes, the prettification of Old Town! I have spoken of it often here and other blogs as well as recently to some friends offline. 25 years ago, one did not voluntarily walk in Old Town, even during the day because of "the element" there, as my Grammie would say. These days, it's hard *TO* walk around there--so much is going on. A LOT of folks were evicted for the yuppification of the neighborhood. Some for good, some not so much.

I believe 107 was one of the buildings that sustained some serious damage during the 1987 Whittier quake. You know, one with the bricks clobbered down onto a car below on the street. Can't remember if that was the building where a wall killed someone...what 22 years can to for a memory! As I recall, that quake messed with the upscaling of Old Town a skosh.

I suspect the poster was intended as a gesture of history. But, as with some gestures, it can be taken different ways by different people.

I understand only too well about the artist not being able to go back or wanting to look at the photos. Some memories need to be preserved and seeing the upscaling of history can hurt too much.

Thanks for reminding me of some history Petrea!

Escapist said...

A sudden unexpected event...




JOOOOLLLIIIIEEEESSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HearkenCreative said...

Trish: Yes, a good portion of the NE top corner of the building lost its bricks in that quake. From 1999-2004, my office was in that top NE corner. My dad always said that if another big earthquake came, my office would probably have no walls.

I would have loved to see what the building looked like before '85. But, like you said, "Old Town" wasn't a safe place in the '80s. Then again, I'm not sure I like the "improvement" to this part of Pasadena, even though I am a beneficiary of all that neighborhood investment.

As a stakeholder (to a small degree) in the transformation of Old Town Pasadena (and an urban planning aficionado), I am interested to see what happens over the next 20 years. Paseo will age, rents will go so high that many restaurants and chain stores will leave, and the addition of all this housing (Del Mar Station, Friend Paper Co., everything along Delacey) will transform this neighborhood once again.

It's always a bittersweet thing to watch the "march of progress" — to attempt to hold on to the best of the past, while fully understanding that everything changes and moves on. I'm grateful for organizations like Pasadena Heritage, who attempt to advocate for not demolishing the past wholesale.

As an aside, I believe the poster in the lobby was a collage created not by the owner who kicked the artists out in '85, but by the new owner who retrofitted and remodeled the building in 1995. He felt that the remodel was allowing some of the artistic spirit to return: in '95, all of the new tenants were artists, and you could get a 200-square-foot, unimproved, plywood floor studio for $150/month. The whole building was filled with artists — both fine-arts and applied-arts. (Those prices are much higher now, and there are not as many artists here anymore.) The building has seen four owners over the last fifteen years, so it has become sort of an investment property for several property management companies who hand it off for a profit (such was life when property values were skyrocketing...)

Petrea said...

Thanks, Loren. You probably told me about the more recent owner during my visit and I didn't write it down. I think you express your own feelings about Old Town beautifully.

Margaret said...

I love the history I'm learning from your blog. Great.

Colleen said...

Great post. My husband (then boyfriend) and I started coming to Old Town around 1981, with Oxy friends who had discovered the Espresso Bar, where Equator is now. We moved to west Pasadena in '92, when Colorado still had indie businesses, and it seemed so vital and happening and exciting. We were naive and didn't see how it would become just another chain-intensive mall. But at least it has architectural merit and beauty, and indie shops and restaurants fill the fringes.

HearkenCreative said...

Colleen: Fellow Oxy Grad! (I'm '91, my wife is '90) I remember going to see The Rubber Band and Friends at the E-Bar, but I'm pretty sure it was in an alley behind Raymond, not where Equator is now. Did it move? Here's an interesting page about re-starting the E-Bar: http://theespressobar.org/visitorsproposalpage.html

Love indie stuff.

Daisy said...

It's so interesting to learn the history of this building, which I've never really taken any notice of before. By coincidence, I was looking through my copy of "Historic Pasadena" by Ann Scheid Lund two days ago and saw, on page 95, a photo of the side of the building after the 1987 earthquake, with part of that amusing T.E. Lawrence quote still intact. Now, thanks to you, Petrea, I know which building it was on!

Petrea said...

I especially love the history I learn from the comments, Margaret. Don't you think? Loren, Trish and Colleen have enhanced this post with their stories and information.

I had also heard that the Espresso Bar was in an alley behind Raymond. Miss Havisham knows.

Colleen said...

I'm sure you're right about the alley. That was the olden days, in the early '80s, and I can't trust my memory. I just remember frequenting the E-Bar, and it was on an alley, and it was great even if there were homeless guys peeing a little ways down in the alley.

Trish said...

Hearken--I suspect that if the chains think there is value, they'll petition the owners for reduction or the city for a reduction in taxes or fees to make it more feasible to stay. I do miss Ernie Jr's for dogs and other good eats, or the old DeLacey Club but progress has been made.

Mercantile Lane is where the Espresso Bar was, aka Ebar. At least one of the photos on the "bring it back" page has me in it. A grand old place it was. I thought I was so avant-garde being the prep I was (am) and going there to this artistic place with funky music or poetry or...who knew? Rebel that I was...;-)

I hope some of these memories can be preserved (by old or new owners).

Trish said...

oh, and to figure out where Ebar used to be, google mercantile lane, pasadena, ca and then look for the railroad tracks that used to run between Raymond and Arroyo Parkway, back when there used to be a huge rail station in Pasadena and no, I'm not talking about Metro but Southern Pacific, Union Pacific etc.

word ver: eguzliti---eee, goes litely?

Petrea said...

I can't trust my memory from the 80s either, Colleen.

Trish, which photo?

I had an email from my artist friend. He and another "Carverite" put together the poster that now hangs in the lobby, to publicize the last art show they held there, "with works from over 40 artists."

Susan Manning said...

I may have been an architect in another lifetime because I am just crazy for old towns and their buildings and spend far too much time observing the old details, colors, and nicks/scrapes on/in the buildings. There is something constantly changing in most cities and it would be an interesting study to research the ups and downs of all the old towns in the US.

I can understand why your artist friend cannot come back to the area. He is more than likely gracing some other old town and isn't that town lucky.

I have previously only wanted these old buildings to be restored to their original beauty. I have shifted to wanting to buy a building that has been damaged so that I could do a semi gentrified restoration..using some amazing modern materials to fill in the damaged pieces that would complement the old details to produce a smooth transition from old to new to old...

My dream...I'm looking for a town that isn't a scary place to live, but has fabulous buildings in some disrepair.....and some deep pocketed backers....

Trish said...

P--load the page, go down to the Ted Soqul? pic (I think it's named kavtia.jpg) spread across with the dork with his hand up in the middle waving, next to the guy with the chuckie doll in front and another guy to their left flipping the bird...I'm in the back...I know because I remember the dork in the middle and because in one corner is one friend Vashti, in the other Michelle z'l.

Ok, I think my brain officially hurts remembering all this...25 years ago?!?! wow!

and in a nod to the 80's and valley girls...my word verif was "kilike" as in, 'k, like, ya know, she was totally grodie!"

HearkenCreative said...

Ah, see: I learned something too! Good to know where the collage came from. It's fun digging up these really old memories. Thanks, Petrea!

Petrea said...

Trish, is that you behind the short-haired blonde, with your chin in your hand? Or are you with the group in the middle rear?

Susan M, you are after my own heart.