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How the Alhambra Preservation Group is taking its fight directly to City Hall

When Melissa Michelson moved to Alhambra nine years ago, she was excited to learn more about the city's historic architecture. Her interest led her to the Alhambra Preservation Group, where she became a board member and has now started an Advocacy and Action Committee, where its members lobby in front of the city government against the demolition of historic buildings.

"[I slowly saw] how the Alhambra City Council overdeveloped Alhambra, and doesn’t seem to be interested in preserving and reusing what’s existed, and tearing things down and making things big," she said.

Alhambra's architectural diversity has been threatened in recent years, with the Los Angeles Conservancy giving the city an F in preservation in 2014. The Alhambra Preservation Group has tried to raise awareness of architectural preservation, with initiatives such as the Heritage Home Awards, to recognize homeowners who take steps to maintain their homes' original architecture. With the Advocacy and Action Committee, the APG is getting even more involved in the politics of promoting preservation.

The mid-century medical building that the Alhambra Preservation Group is trying to save. Photo by Melissa Michelson

Michelson and her team attend the city's Design Review Board and Planning Commission meetings to advocate for saving buildings whose historic architecture might be threatened. Their first initiative is to save a mid-century medical building at 1237 E Main St., which also has a two-story house on-site. According to the Aug. 9 Design Review Board meeting minutes, the architect asked this advisory committee for approval to build a new medical building where the current one stands. That, to Michelson, is a shame.

“They’re going to tear down the whole thing, even though the brick — the exterior materials — are reflected in the neighboring materials of neighboring buildings,” she said. “And it’s pretty continuous in that little area, in that enclave of Alhambra, where there’s office buildings and they’re brick and they’re gonna rip that out."

At the meeting, Michelson suggested that the architects incorporate the wooden house into the new design. Instead, the Design Review Board approved the architect's application, and only "encouraged" him to find some other use for the house, instead of razing it.

The woodframe house attached to the medical building. Photo by Melissa Michelson.

The Advocacy and Action Committee also has their eye on other historic buildings.

One is a "dilapidated" Victorian house and an empty lot at 318 and 322 Fremont Ave. The applicant, Jack Wu, wants to build two new houses on both sides, which means the Victorian house would have to go. Specifically, according to the Design Review Board's Aug. 23 meeting agenda, Wu wanted to build a Craftsman-style house on one lot, and a Mediterranean-style house on another. The Design Review Board approved this application, pending Planning Commission approval.

A beautiful architectural feature of the Victorian house at 403 S Garfield. Photo by Melissa Michelson.

Another is a "significant" Victorian-style house at 403 S Garfield Ave, which currently bears a large for-sale sign, suggesting a medical office or condominiums. Michelson is concerned that this property might also be in danger of demolition.

The for-sale sign in front of the Victorian house on 403 S Garfield. Photo by Melissa Michelson.

With all these architectural treasures possibly going away, the Alhambra Preservation Group's Advocacy and Action Committee has its work cut out for them. "I think we will be very busy," Michelson said.

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6 thoughts on “How the Alhambra Preservation Group is taking its fight directly to City Hall”

  1. …as I keep saying “throw the bums out (city council)!”

  2. The mid-century medical office was the home of my pediatrician, the wonderful Dr. Robert Schwartz.

  3. Historical places should be saved not demolished.

  4. Since its founding ten years ago Alhambra Preservation Group has had members present at both Design Review Board and Planning Commission meetings advocating for the preservation of historic properties. Both Eleanor Carter and Chris Olson attended DRB and PC meetings for many Years resulting in numerous successes including the prevention of a teardown of a catalog home on South 5th St. Advocating at the city level has been the Preservation’s role since its founding.

  5. It will only get more expensive to preserve these “dilapidated” homes as land prices skyrocket.

    The APG only blames the city and developers and yet doesn’t seem to care why owners aren’t putting more money into these homes. It costs money to maintain property, especially one that’s older. Thus, the real push is to have our taxes (in some form) subsidize APG’s agenda.

  6. The Alhambra City Council seems to have no interest in preserving our city’s historic structures, both commercial and residential. And I think that’s a real shame. Look at the beauty that exists just north in South Pasadena, in Pasadena, in Monrovia, and other nearby cities. There is a distinction that Alhambra can’t match with the close-minded attitude of the City Council as it’s presently constituted. The only way out, as I see it, is to elect replacements for the two seats (districts 3 and 4) that soon will be vacated by the incumbents. Two of the candidates who are running are open to new ideas and not beholden to the present City Council members. They are open to new ideas and determined to work for the good of ALL Alhambra citizens. I for one intend to vote for those two. In two more years, we’ll have another opportunity to replace others whose interests do not include those of most Alhambrans. Will it be too late to save our historic buildings? I hope not, but it’s up to us to prevent those losses.