Pages

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Empty Emissary

I was a little shocked the first time I stumbled upon this mansion. A mansion is not something one normally stumbles upon.

But there it was hidden in plain sight, invisible from Orange Grove Blvd. and the surrounding streets, yet accessible when I got out of the car and began strolling through the Ambassador Campus and stumbling upon things.

This is, or was, the Hulett C. Merritt Mansion, built on Millionaire's Row in 1905. It subsequently became part of Ambassador College in the 1950s. Still later, the whole area became the Ambassador Campus, which included three mansions, several fountains and some lovely gardens.

Now the mansions are empty. Some of the fountains are dry. The gardens, though well-tended, lie untrampled, awaiting their fate.

According to real estate blogger Brigham Yen, City Ventures has purchased the property for development. There will be some condos. But don't freak out. According to the current plans, the mansions will stay.

More tomorrow.

32 comments:

Cafe Pasadena said...

Watch where & how you walk, PDP!

Vacant mansions you say? Where's the homeless when you need them!

Kim said...

When I was growing up I heard folks say "Pasadena is 'old money'." Grand mansions like this may indicate my elders' impressions were correct, eh?
Lovey grounds and a beautiful sunny day you captured!
-Kim

Shell Sherree said...

Now I'm wondering how many times I've driven past well-tended mansions assuming they are lived in where that may not be the case.

lewi14 said...

It's an impressive view to that mansion. There are many big houses in Germany too, but I've never seen such dimensions like that. I would like to walk through the amazing park. The weather fits snugly!

Sarah said...

Nice shot...A polar place!

mark said...

Another splendid photo. I love it. I did a little research on Hulett Clinton Merritt (a great name for a millionaire) and found that he was born in Duluth, Minnesota and made his money in the railroad and iron ore business. This guy was a high roller back in the days when a dollar was worth a dollar. I estimate he was worth $100,000,000 at the time of his death in 1956. If that mansion could only talk.

Katie said...

I like the steps and trees leading up to the mansion; impressive but not ostentatious. I sure hope you'll be leading up these steps to get a better look at the mansion! I bet Hu sure liked the Pasadena weather better than what he left in Duluth (thanks Mark!).

Latino Heritage said...

Below Orange Grove, to the rear of the property, was where many working class families lived. During the summers Grandma Merritt, who lived at the mansion, would go to the back gate and invite the kids from the neighborhood in to the mansion for bible study. The senior who shared this fact with me still gets that "imagine that" look on her face when she thinks of that interaction.

Petrea said...

I'll be careful, Cafe. And this is only the back door!

Pasadena *was* old money, Kim. I don't think it is so much any more (or I wouldn't be here!). But there are still some wealthy folk here and traces of the super-wealthy remain.

Shell, we may also assume they're privately owned when they're not. Many along Pasadena's Millionaire's Row are now schools, clubhouses or otherwise organizational offices. I'm glad for that, because they might otherwise be torn down and replaced by condos, as happened some years ago.

My shot gives you the rear view of the property, Steffen. At either side of the railing were once fountains with pools. They were full last summer but they're dry now. I hope they'll be full again.

Thank you, Sarah!

Thanks for the information, Mark. You're enhancing the blog!

We'll look closer up tomorrow, Katie.

Roberta, I love hearing stories like that from people who remember. The back gate was probably near where I stood when I took the photo.

J+P said...

Cafe's comment shocks me to realize that empty mansions = homeless millionaires.

Of course, we see them, sometimes: pathetic figures, gaunt & hollow-eyed in their creased Amosu suitpants, bent over Tiffany carts by freeway ramps. They hold silver platters marked with dark Belgian pâté: "Harvard MBA. Please help." But the cars, blind behind their sunstruck windshields, chuff & trundle past … 'til at last a dented Hyundai, crammed with Latino housemaids, brakes. A window rolls down; a brown hand extends a white slip of paper; the car grinds away. The millionaire looks down: the paper is an IOU from Bernie Madoff, or Ken Lay, or Lloyd Blankfein. A bird tweets—or is it a Vertu GoldVish? The millionaire, bereft, digs in his pocket …

Another shitty day in paradise.

Bellis said...

Heh heh J+P, that's so funny! I'm looking forward to learning more about the Ambassador campus - it's a beautiful, if threatened, area to walk around (for free!) but I didn't know some of the buildings were original millionaire's mansions.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I took a ton of pictures of this place a couple of years ago. My fear was that development would flatten it as there was some talk in that direction (gads, look what they've done further east).

Are the koi fish still around?

thanks for the FB invite

Anonymous said...

It’s an amazing sharpness here
.... Guess the light was perfect.

Pascal Jim said...

As a yout, my antique friend took me to the Auction of the contents of the mansion. A grand introducion as to how the very rich lived.
Three very grand pianos, one a player, one sorta plain and one that Liberace would have killed for. Two cast bronze double doors about ten feet tall went for Five Grand. Big price for 1957, wonder if they remained in Pasadena?

Cafe Pasadena said...

P+J, now don't fall into the trap of stereotypes.

Didn't you feel the pain of the poor Goldman Sucks humans this week?

Greg Sweet said...

Here's a bit of esoteric information (surprise!)...

Those tall, columnar trees lining the staircase are Italian Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens, sempervirens meaning "ever living").

The gardeners have clipped them to give that smoother than usual look. Yet they are all raggedy at the tops. This has nothing to do with the clipping, but crows like to make nests in the tops of Italian Cypress. They pull down one or two of those vertical branches to make a little cave for themselves.

Because of the tall and perfectly straight form of the Cypress trunks, and their natural resistance to rot, they were ideal for making masts for sailing ships. That's how the lookout near the top of a ship's mast came to be known as a "crow's nest".

Petrea said...

J, I'd like to see you in an Amosu suit. It may not happen (though lookin' ain't buyin'), but I know a thing or two about paradise.

Bellis, after reading Brigham's blog (and the West Pasadena Resident's Assn. newsletter) I feel okay about what's about to happen there. Changes, yes, but hopefully sensitive ones.

No kidding, PA. Wish I could have seen it before all the (I assume) sixties stuff happened. I didn't see any koi; the pools at either side of the railings in the photo are empty. The fountain further south still flows, but no fish. You're welcome.

Anonymous, I'm bereft of my editing software at the moment so I was surprised to see how sharp this photo turned out. I took it with my Olympus SP350 on automatic settings. It's a good little camera and yes, we are lucky with light.

Would you recognize those doors if you saw them, PJ? I'd love to know if they're still in town.

Cafe, the question is, do those thieves feel the pain of the people they've robbed?

Oh Greg, I love that! I thought the raggedy parts were because the tree couldn't hold the unnatural shape. I like your explanation better.

mark said...

Petrea, I love the way your posts take on a life of their own. Who would have guessed that one of your photos would cause a land slide of information, history, and trivia concerning this mansion and the man who built it and those who lived around it. I cant wait to see more of it.

Cafe Observer said...

Good question, PDP: if it's property/money vs. flesh/blood, I think murderer's feel the pain more than thieves. This is just one canine's opinion.

Petrea said...

Mark, I love it when things turn out this way. If a post intrigues people enough (in this case it was you) to do their own research and add information, it just makes it more special. I really enjoy that.

I wonder, Cafe. I imagine it depends on the person.

J+P said...

I were a murderer & someone stabbed me with an apostrophe like that, I'd call the cop's …


(Go on, ask …)

Petrea said...

Nope.

TheChieftess said...

Yesterday I went to the Pasadena Showcase at the Craven mansion, which has housed the headquarters of the Red Cross since the 60's. An incredibly beautiful mansion on the historical registry, with interesting designs in the interior...made up to look like like someone could live there in luxury...all I could think about was the fact that when the showcase is over, the trappings all go away and the exquisite interior returns to the mundane office motif...I wonder if there are any jobs or volunteer positions available???

ronyanbu said...

Hulett Clinton Merritt Sr. started out in business in Minnesota helping his father and uncles as an employee of the Duluth Mesabi & Northern Railroad. He eventualy became the largest shareholder in U.S. Steel. Hulett Sr.'s mansion "Villa Merritt Ollivier" at 99 Terrace Drive was built on four acres for $1,100,000 in 1905 - 1908. After Hulett Sr.'s death in Jan 1956, the property was purchased from his four surviving grandchildren in October 1956 because it was adjacent to Ambassador College. Terrace Drive was then closed and the residence and street address were renamed Ambassador Hall, 100 S. Orange Grove Blvd. At the time of his death, Hulett Sr. had outlived his wife, both children and his only grandson (Edward P Haupt, who died during WW II in the Pacific). Hulett and spouse Rosaline are interred at the Pasadena Mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery.

mark said...

That room is stunning. Im sure Hu hired the best craftsmen in California to build his mansion. A million dollars back in the early 1900's was a king's ransom. Im sure he also employed cooks, maids, handymen, and gardeners to keep the place. Aahhhhh the life of the rich and famous. I wonder if he lived a happy life?

Petrea said...

I'll bet they'd love some volunteers, Chieftess!

Hello, royanbu, welcome. Thanks for adding the info. It always enriches the post.

I hope so, Mark. I'd wish that on (almost) everyone. But see royanbu's comment: he outlived most of the people he loved. That can't be fun.

TheChieftess said...

Did I happen to mention that the Cravens did not have any children and so it was just the two of them...with 32 servants!!! 23 of whom, lived on grounds!!!

Amy said...

Wow, sad to think of empty houses sitting empty - and especially empty mansions. It looks much more well manicured than some of the vacant places I've been to.

Petrea said...

Oh, those wacky Cravens. I guess it's fitting that their mansion now serves the Red Cross.

Well, Amy, like I said, "empty" doesn't necessarily mean "abandoned." "Vacant" is another good word.

Lori Lynn said...

Thank goodness they're sparing the mansions!

Seattle BWI Lawyer said...

Very nice entrance to the mansion. Wonderful shot.

Petrea said...

Thanks for your comment, BWI Lawyer.