Amid clashing visions for Pasadena’s historic civic center, a proposed expansion to the All Saints Episcopal Church by Richard Meier & Partners was rebuffed for the second time in six months by the Pasadena Planning Commission on December 10.
Meier’s master plan for the church mapped out the addition of four buildings, measuring about 68,000 square feet, to the church’s 2.8-acre site in Pasadena’s historic district. The plan would leave the exterior of the church’s cloister intact, while facilitating interior renovations of the parish hall and rectory. New development would be centered around a two-level, cylindrical-shaped assembly building for worship opening onto an expansive plaza. Other development would be rectilinear in form and include a two-story building with offices, conference rooms, and an outdoor cafe; a three-story daycare and youth center; and a six-story senior housing building. The plan also called for multiple outdoor courtyards and gardens. Few specific design details have been released, although materials were described during the public presentation including stone quarried from Bouquet Canyon to match the cloister’s facade, a copper sunscreen, architectural concrete, and tubular steel railings.
In its action, the commission not only declined to approve the church’s master plan as presented but reversed a previous decision—made on May 28, 2008—which had allowed the church to file a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which would have been far less cumbersome than filing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The action also came after the city’s Design Commission, charged with making recommendations to the Planning Commission, had approved the project on October 13.
“It is difficult not to think that the planning commissioners came into the meeting already having made a decision against us,” said the church’s rector, Ed Bacon, responding to AN via e-mail. “We had followed all of their rules and suggestions and then they changed the rules. It was frustrating in light of the fact that we’re trying to make an important contribution to the community, both in ministry and architecture.”
According to Keith Holeman, a spokesperson for All Saints, the church will continue to pursue approval of a master plan for expansion, but has yet to decide upon the best route. “There are potholes that you go through here,” noted Holeman. “Disappointments along the way. But we’re also very positive about the project.” (Meier's office referred requests for comment to the church.)
Several options now lie before All Saints: follow the planning commission’s requests and return to the commission with a new master plan and an EIR, or make their case before Pasadena’s city council with or without a completed EIR.
Though representatives of the church claimed the project complied with directives given by the commission in May (after the first rejection of the plan), the commission sided with community residents like Marsha Rood, who asked at the December 10 meeting: “Should Pasadena look like new development, or new development look like Pasadena?” Rood, who served as the city’s development administrator from 1982 to 2000, said that the endeavor violated the 2004 Central District Specific Plan, enacted to protect the area surrounding Pasadena’s civic center—which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She contended that Meier’s plan did not pursue a relationship with the civic center, which sits directly across the street from the church, and violated the scale, massing, and rhythms delineated in the specific plan as well as the palette of materials and colors.
The specific plan does call for designers to maintain stylistic unity for civic buildings and draw inspiration from classical Italian and Spanish models, but it also states: “this should not prevent contemporary interpretations responsive to the Southern California environment.” It is unclear when the church and its architect may return to make its case for contemporary architecture in Pasadena.