By Larry Wilson, December 10, 2013
Preservationists’ and urban planners’ favorite awful example of what went wrong in Pasadena’s terrifyingly wrongheaded demolition and redevelopment boom from the ’60s to the early ’80s is that black-mirrored office building on the south side of Colorado Boulevard between Marengo and Arroyo Parkway, dubbed “Darth Vader,” along with the Pacific Telephone building across the street.
Second favorite, almost a tie, was the razing of the extraordinary, Marston-designed Pasadena Athletic Club at Los Robles and Green in the early ’70s with the added injury of the godawful Plaza Pasadena going up to replace it. The injury continues: When the better Paseo Colorado replaced the PP, the one tenant that refused the remodel was the now-closed Macy’s store at that corner.
Pasadena native David Wolf touched on both abominations last month in a presentation to the Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association — the urban pioneers who are now living where few had for decades. But unlike the mere lamenters of the havoc wreaked on one of the best urban centers in California, Wolf has a plan that would go a long way toward healing the damage done.
His Passageways proposal is an attempt to relink the Paseo and Playhouse District to Old Pasadena through pedestrian corridors weaving through and behind both the bad and the good stuff on our main drags. I’ve had planners tell me — and you can see it in action — that the Vader building is so uninviting in its terrifying sheen, into which you can’t peer, that no one wants to walk in front of it. So they don’t. Wolf therefore proposes connecting the Paseo to Old Pas by creating a walkable Morgan Alley south of Vader, coming off the existing elevated pedestrian bridge from the mall to its parking structure across Marengo, continuing west in a mid-block crosswalk all the way through Mercantile Alley to Fair Oaks.
He also advocates recapturing as a public plaza the Old Pas areas above where the Gold Line goes underground, including a walkway that would link Memorial Park to Central Park. In the Playhouse District, with a potential for getting all the way to Lake, he would take advantage of the Arcade across from Vroman’s, linking it to the existing Converse Alley above the Pasadena Playhouse.
And it’s not just the walkways themselves. Wolf dreams of parklets and micro-businesses lining them, decrying the “oligarchy of just a few businesses” that can afford the high rents of downtown, and of creating pedestrian bridges modeled on the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno in Florence, with its dozens of tiny shops along the span, taking design cues from the Greene and Greene bridge in South Pas, and the former bridge across Raymond from the Castle Green.
Wolf began these dreams as a teen hanging out in the late, lamented Espresso Bar in the alley behind Raymond, sitting on a wall and watching the freight trains go through where the light rail now goes below. He wants to reclaim city planning for the ordinary person, saying it’s been taken over by a “middle-management” mindset that seeks to step on no toes.
“We are the anchor tenant!” of our urban places, Wolf says. And he wants your input about how to make the city better before finalizing his proposal. Check it all out at archtool.com/pasadena.pdf, where you’ll find the routes and his email address for comments. “It’s about common sense and the common person,” he says, “when what we have is a government that hires public relations people to handle us.