Friday, March 26, 2010

Superfluous Detail: The Singer Building

When I need a dose of superfluity all I have to do is check out the almost unnoticed Singer Building on the southeast corner of Colorado Blvd. and Oakland Avenue.

Everett Phipps Babcock designed the Spanish Colonial Revival structure for the Singer Sewing Company. It was built in 1926 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The current main tenant is the Pasadena branch of Sofa U Love, which may not seem dignified at first glance but it's better than an empty landmark. Another furniture store that occupied the building went out of business not long ago, so I'm glad to see the sofa place there.

Colorful tiles line the street below the windows. Iron filigree decorates above. Then you have these "somewhat ornate" columns outside the front door. I even like the cracks and rust. It's gems like this that make Pasadena charming.

We do have ugly office buildings. I just don't often photograph them!

UPDATE 3/27: Further information thanks to Laurie Barlow, AIA: The Singer Corporation made/makes more than sewing machines. In the early days of the company, corporation presidents made lots of money and built incredible homes. Laurie says "On Saturday [today] there is a public sale of arts and antiques at the house [see "incredible homes" link]. In case anyone wants to go over and see the house and browse the arts and antiques."

18 comments:

Shell Sherree said...

There's a time and place for superfluosity, and this is a fine example, Petrea! I like the cracks and dust too. They are character-building.

Randy Fuller said...

Superfluity - wasn't that a song from Mary Poppins? Or was it Curtis Mayfield?

Petrea said...

That's right, Shell, and this is a character building.

Randy, you crack me up. Pretty sure it was Curtis Mayfield.

Superfluosity. Superfluity. Superfluousness. Keep going.

altadenahiker said...

This is new to me. Will check it out next time I'm in the neighborhood -- on April 1st, for instance.

Petrea said...

Looking forward to that, Hiker.

Bellis said...

Singer must have raked in the money with their invention to afford such splendid superfluosity. Does anyone make their own clothes nowadays?

Virginia said...

I don't photograph the duds either. I prefer something delightful and superfluous like this gawgeous column. BTW, I love the way superfluous feels on my tongue...like my favorite word...PLETHORA! :)
Bon weekend J+P+B
V

Petrea said...

I used to sew when I was young, Bellis. When I moved to California I could bring only what would fit into the car and I left my sewing machine behind. There's a JoAnn Fabrics store on Lake Ave; I was there to pick up some notions the other day and it was buzzing.

Plethora. I think that'll be the name of my firstborn, V.

Kat said...

Never knew any of that! Thanks Petrea for a little history/architecture lesson! I'm going to stop and take notice of that bldg next time I pass by!

Bellis said...

By the way I went into that building the other day and ordered a sofa, though it turned out to be a bit of a Monty Python ... but I'd better keep that to myself.

Jilly said...

This is most interesting. I'm forever coming across the name Singer here in the south of France. I think Mr Singer had a lot of children - very rich - who came to France and Monaco to spend Daddy's (presumably) hard-earned money. V interesting to see his building.

Petrea said...

Anyone interested in snooping around fabulous soCal mansions should check out the update to this post.

Petrea said...

Hi Jilly--I wouldn't be at all surprised. Upon further research I see that the Singer Corporation made more than sewing machines. The company made many people rich.

Petrea said...

Wait, Bellis, I don't get it. A Monty Python? You mean it stomped on you and squished you? Or was it like the cheese scene?

Diana said...

Maybe it's not that the Singer building has superfluous design elements, but more that newer buildings are painfully lacking in character. Our Singer building is Everett Phipps Babcock’s only known non-residential commission and is the only remaining intact example of Spanish Colonial design in the area.

Isaac Merritt Singer, who founded the Singer Sewing Machine Company, was born in Utica, New York on October 26, 1811, the son of a Saxon immigrant. Pasadena's Singer building isn't the Company's first brush with architectural wonderfulness, though. The Singer Building, constructed in New York in 1908, was the first skyscraper and the tallest building in the world at the time at 47 stories.

And Bellis, you're correct that the Company raked it in. When Singer died, he left an estate of $14 million, quite a lot of money in 1875. Good thing, too, since he'd married his first three wives without quite divorcing each of the previous ones; ultimately, he had five wives and 25 children!

Petrea said...

Wonderful info, Diana, thank you. I like the way you put it, that modern buildings lack character (not all, but too many). I think it's one reason Americans flock to Europe--we need to see more art all around us, in the streets, in the architecture, everywhere. Pasadena does this better than many modern cities.

When I say "superfluous detail" it is with my tongue in my cheek.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Never knew that Singer had a connection to Pasadena....and I did a post with a Singer connection in it. I do know of the Babcocks. I had one (through marriage) interview me. Turns out she's a professional clown.

Petrea said...

Ha!

I didn't know about the connection, either. Usually my research begins with the photo, and not the other way around.