Historical Pasadena Mansion Destroyed by Fire

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Brick chimney restoration survives the blaze

On October 5 this year a fire destroyed one of the most beautiful architectural specimens of the early 1900s: a mansion at 160 South San Rafael in Pasadena, California. Formerly the residence of Max Busch, the home was well on its way to being completely and faithfully restored by owners Michael and Dru Hammer. One of the actions underway was the restoration of the brick chimneys.

Perched on a hilltop on the west side of the Arroyo and visible from the Ventura (134) Freeway bridge, this elegant home attracted Hollywood's attention. The mansion was used in several movies, including 1989's "Batman," 1990's "Rocky V" and 1985's "Clue: The Movie."

The mansion was also historically significant. It was designed by the famous African-American architect, Paul Revere Williams (1894-1980), the first black member of the Architectural Institute of America and its first Black Fellow. In 1914, at age 20, Williams took first prize in a national student competition to design a civic center for Pasadena. He excelled to a degree that could not be ignored, graduating from USC in 1919 and receiving their Alumni Merit Award in 1966.

At a time when racial prejudice was common, Williams took one impossible step after another until he owned and operated a successful architectural firm simply called Paul Williams & Associates. From there, he became a moving force in the architectural landscape of Los Angeles. If you can think of a particular building that represents Los Angeles in people's minds, chances are Williams had a hand in designing it. Over a period of 50 years, Williams was responsible for over 3,000 projects. From the iconic "theme" restaurant at LAX to the Sax Fifth Avenue department store to the Shrine Auditorium, Williams' unique design talents helped shape Los Angeles.

Williams also designed homes for many notable celebrities such as Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra. The Pasadena mansion was Williams' largest residential undertaking. In 1929, Jack P. Atkin, a wealthy Santa Anita horse breeder, awarded the contract for a $500,000 Pasadena hilltop mansion to Williams. There are several subtle design features that set the residence apart. For example, the chimney that serves the den on the front face of the house is within the wall. Williams brought the exterior wall of the house out to be flush with the edge of the chimney, thereby creating a rather unique effect. The intricate details of the interior such as the hand-carved oak paneling were just as extraordinary.

I can't drive over that bridge now without looking over to the ruins of Williams' residential masterpiece and feeling as though I have lost a close friend - and I am not alone. After the fire, people left flowers on the front gate and even shed tears, evidence of how much this house meant to the community. This historical jewel cannot be replaced.

Dave Laverdiere is the owner of Boston Brick & Stone, which took on the technically challenging job of restoring the brick chimneys at 160 San Rafael to their original beauty.

Read more at http://www.bostonbrick.com

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Shawn Rhine
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