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LA Times: Ambassador College Parcel Purchased by City Ventures for Townhouses

The beautiful Ambassador campus in Pasadena

By Roger Vincent

January 8, 2010

A long-delayed real estate development on the site of the former Ambassador College in Pasadena has been revived by the sale of a 10-acre portion of the campus to a builder that plans to start construction on housing in 2011. 

 

City Ventures bought the property on New Year’s Day for about $15 million from New York hedge fund Fortress Investment Group, which had foreclosed on the previous owners in 2008. Santa Ana-based City Ventures plans to develop the site following plans previously approved in principle by the city.

Set to begin construction early next year is the first phase of a 70-unit town house complex along Orange Grove Boulevard that could be valued at as much as $140 million on completion, said Craig Atkins, chairman of City Ventures. A historic mansion and 27 existing apartments would remain on the site, but former classrooms and offices dating to the 1960s would be razed.

The first 10 or so town houses, priced at about $1.5 million apiece, would be completed by late 2011. Atkins said he believed there would be a market for new luxury housing in the area by then. Owners of homes in affluent neighborhoods to the west may want to scale down and move to the edge of Old Pasadena.

“Residents will be able to walk to downtown Pasadena and still be in a quaint, upscale neighborhood,” Atkins said.

City Ventures’ property is part of a parcel known as Ambassador West, which lies on Orange Grove between Green Street and Del Mar Boulevard. It was part of a controversial larger plan to add hundreds of housing units and thousands of square feet of commercial space on and around the former religious college’s campus.

A senior housing complex proposed on another portion of Ambassador West was scrapped. The owner of that site, Sunrise Senior Living, is trying to sell the property, said John Poindexter, the city’s planning-division manager.

Development at the Ambassador site has been approved in principle, Poindexter said, but City Ventures must face Pasadena’s design review process before construction can begin.

The Ambassador Auditorium and other key campus structures on 13 acres east of City Ventures’ property were purchased by Harvest Rock Church and Maranatha High School in 2004.

roger.vincent@latimes.com

15 Comments

  1. We’ve seen developers for this site come and we’ve seen them go. We’ll see if this one sticks!

  2. eudae says

    Pretty soon Pasadena will be nothing but condos and townhomes. What a bore.

    • Far from it eudae. Not only does Pasadena have one of the largest stock of beautiful historic homes in the area, Pasadena also has some of the most beautiful condos and townhomes as well. One of the most grand streets in the LA area has got to be Orange Grove Blvd. from Colorado to the South Pas border. 95% of the buildings on that stretch are condos and townhomes.

      Not only that, but some of the most beautiful and INTERESTING cities in the world are also made up of condos and townhomes.

      Here’s an example:

      http://gracemagazine.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/paris-skyline.jpg

  3. Brigham, I have to agree/disagree with you!

    I agree that Pasadena has a fantastic stock of historic homes. But I disagree that Orange Grove between Colorado and South Pas is grand. To me it’s a stretch of road to be avoided. The unimaginative architecture along there…well, I guess it’s a matter of taste. In my opinion most of those buildings are boring.

    Paris may have condos and townhomes (and you know I love Pasadena), but our condos and townhomes don’t hold a candle to their gorgeous 18th and 19th century architecture and genius city planning. We’d do well to hold onto as much of our stock of older buildings as possible–just as Paris does.

  4. In my opinion, Orange Grove is one of the most beautiful stretches in LA. There are plenty of buildings that ADHERE to the standard of Pasadena’s more historic architectural context. (I’ll need to go out and take pics of them some day.)

    Anyway, the underlying offense I take to someone lamenting “condos and townhomes” being built in Pasadena lies in my staunch support of creating a more dense, compact, and walkable Downtown Pasadena (mainly in the areas of Old Town, Paseo, Playhouse, and South Lake).

    I’ll give another example of a city that is much less architecturally “grand” than Paris, but much grander in the urbanistic sense where millions of people live in “condos,” and at the same time, also live an efficient and healthier life style based on walking and on-time mass transit service.

    Tokyo:

    http://www.raubacapeu.net/people/yves/pictures/2000/04/13-tokyo-ginza.jpg

  5. Let’s agree to disagree about Orange Grove Blvd. At least there are trees, and behind them some attractive buildings, albeit hidden from view.

    I agree with you about the “new urbanism.” It has to happen. However, if we go about putting up these admittedly useful buildings without any thought to beauty, we will suffer for it.

    The video discusses threats to the environment. It’s wasteful to tear down a building. Re-use is preferable. It would be a horror to tear down Pasadena’s old mansions for some sort of urban re-use ideal. Pasadena would lose its character. Re-using these mansions for condo living would be key. Which brings us back to City Ventures–looks like that’s part of their plan.

    • I completely agree with you Petrea! If we can reuse existing buildings (including office buildings that are no longer economically useful), then we should try to convert them to another use. This has been done on a massive scale in Downtown LA where most of the beautiful historic office buildings have been converted to lofts/condos.

      I also agree that we need to improve design standards. However, with land costs higher now, it is financially more difficult to hire more “skilled” architects to design buildings since they are usually more expensive. (Not to mention the cost to build underground parking for these new condo buildings is prodigious.) That adds on to the cost of the units for sale/rent, which then people complain about because it’s not affordable. It’s a catch 22 situation really. Build them cheaper, get complaints. Build them better, get complaints. Sometimes I feel like we just can’t win!

  6. I understand that. But buildings are going to be here for a long time and we have to think of the long-term picture.

    Are land costs higher now, even in an economic recession? That’s counter-intuitive!

  7. Increasing density is always a touchy subject. I will have to agree with Petrea’s comment regarding Orange Grove…the architecture of the condos along that stretch has always seemed underwhelming to me. When one takes into account the fact that turn of the century “millionaire’s” mansions were razed for these developments, I do wonder what the city council was working with when such decisions were made. Yes, the condos along Orange Grove have been very well maintained. But it would certainly have been far more creative if those mansions could have been repurposed for higher density housing.

    Moreover, adding density to Orange Grove runs counter to new urbanist/smart growth principles given the lack of public transit (let’s be honest, the Arts bus does not cut it!) or any commercial/retail along that corridor. Sure, developers would argue that the Ambassador College is close enough to Old Town to promote walkability, but other than occasional jaunts to restaurants and shops, residents there will be very car dependent.

    I’m not trying to be overly critical (and Brigham you obviously have lots of experience with real estate!), but Pasadena does need to grow its density more intelligently. There are high density projects around Del Mar Station, Paseo Colorado, Lake, and Old Town that make sense. And then there are the piecemetal condo developments along Marengo and Los Robles that make people like eudae gag. Pasadena could make greater efforts in ensuring that density growth occurs where it’s most appropriate, in the most architecturally responsible way.

    • I absolutely agree with you and Petrea! I wish that the grand mansions that lined Orange Grove were kept because they were so beautiful.

      However, I still have to assert that Orange Grove is such a beautiful street! Maybe I’m biased because I love Pasadena and I view things through “rose colored lens?” I guess I would have to have you two take me on a walk (or drive) someday and show me exactly what you two mean when you say it’s “underwhelming.”

      Besides that, I think the Playhouse District (being centrally located in Downtown Pasadena) still has plenty of room to densify with mixed-use housing and commercial developments.

  8. I may be the only one on this board who likes those 1960s style buildings at Ambassador College – the ones with the hexagonal facade treatment. I think they are awesome examples of mid-century design, and it would be great if they could somehow be renovated for housing.

    The Ambassador campus is at an interesting “knuckle” of Pasadena. It’s the point where the dense compactness of Old Pasadena and the central district transitions into the medium- to low-density garden apartments of Orange Grove Boulevard. As such, the architectural response at the Ambassador site should reflect these two different conditions.

    And lastly my two cents about Orange Grove Boulevard: Orange Grove is a great street. The greatness of that street lays neither in the density nor the architecture. The density is relatively low, and most of the buildings in and of themselves are nondescript. It’s greatness is in it’s totallity: it’s verdure, it’s rhythm, it’s spaciousness, and generosity of proportion. One of my favorite Pasadena experiences is driving (yes I said the “d” word!) down Orange Grove at night, and seeing the glow of the globes of the streetlights march into the distance. Truly a sight to behold!

  9. Great discussion. Everyone’s right!

    Mike, I like the globes, too, and the wide expanse of the road. It’s nice to come home that way at night if I’ve been in LA. And I agree about Ambassador College and its mid-century design. It’s just the condos that turn me off.

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  11. Get out of your car and walk around that campus and you will instantly agree that replacing any part of that campus with more condos is a huge mistake!

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