Local activists have expressed support for a proposed project that would see the historic Julia Morgan YWCA building converted into a hotel and property originally intended to build a Pasadena Water and Power (PWP) headquarters across the street used for affordable housing.

Support for the plan — one of five selected from 10 requests for proposal, or RFP responses — came during the Nov. 4, City Council meeting. At that meeting, the council did not make a final selection and instead unanimously approved further study on all of the final five proposed projects.

According to a proposal submitted by the Los Angeles-based Ratkovich Company, the YWCA building would either become office space, with surface parking, or a 142-room hotel with an 80-space subterranean garage.

Under the Ratkovich plan, The PWP site would become 94 low-income units, 46 of which would be permanent housing for at-risk households.

“Take advantage of this unique opportunity we have to increase the affordable housing inventory in the city of Pasadena and bring more affordable housing into this community,” Juliana Serrano of All Saints Church told the City Council.

Other proposals came from Carpenter & Company Inc., Continental Assets Management, Edgewood Realty Partners, and HRI Properties. All four companies proposed hotels for the YWCA, which was designed by Julia Morgan, an acclaimed architect of the earlier part of the last century. The building, often referred to as the Morgan YWCA, is located in the Pasadena Civic Center, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with City Hall, the Pasadena Central Library, and Centennial Place, a single-room-occupancy or SRO facility that was formerly the YMCA, located directly across Holly Street from the YWCA.

Three of the five companies also presented affordable housing plans for the former Water and Power site on the corner of North Garfield Avenue and Ramona Street.

“We feel strongly that this is a win-win for the city and the citizens of Pasadena,” Anne Miskey, chief executive officer at Union Station Homeless Services, said of the Ratkovich proposal. “It restores, preserves and provides a civic and revenue generating use for the beautiful and historic YWCA building, while creating a combination of affordable and supportive housing on the Water and Power site, something we know we obviously and desperately need.”

The city purchased the YWCA building for $8.6 million seven years ago under eminent domain. At that point, the 96-year-old structure was dilapidated having fallen into serious disrepair after it changed ownership in 1996.

That owner balked at the city’s initial purchase offer of about $6.43 million leading to a court battle that resulted in the city purchasing the property under eminent domain in 2012.

But even after the city purchased the building it continued to sit vacant and unused.

In 2017, preservationists opposed the idea for a hotel project that was eventually scrapped when the developer asked for a $30 million subsidy to help cover increasing costs on the proposed 127,912-square-foot, 60-feet high, 181-room hotel project. If approved, the subsidy would have granted the developer decades of free rent and parking.

Local preservationists filed a lawsuit challenging the approval of a report clearing the way for the project and claimed the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by certifying an environmental impact report (EIR) on the project.    

According to lawyers for the Civic Center Coalition, the EIR did not consider traffic impacts, the loss of green space or the encroachments on memorials dedicated to historical figures Jackie Robinson and his brother Mack.

After that project died, locals began calling on the City Council to use the project for affordable housing.

The lack of affordable housing in the city has devastated local schools. The district has lost more than 1,000 students over the past five years and has been forced to close a number of schools due to a decline in funding. The district makes about $10,000 per student in average daily attendance funds from the state.

“We know the schools are closing because there isn’t housing for low-income families so this is a wonderful opportunity for us to set an example for other cities and also do what’s best for our own city,” said affordable housing advocate Anthony Manousos.

One of the developers not chosen to move forward in the process proposed rehabilitating the building as a museum honoring Julia Morgan and other high achieving women.

Other proposals included, demolishing the structure to make way for an assisted living facility for seniors, a four-story office building with underground parking, and a three-story 150-room hotel.

“Whatever we build here will be here for 50 to 100 years,” said Council member Victor Gordo. “Hopefully we get it right.”

City staff will report back to the council on a date that has yet to be determined, with a closer look at the five selections, in terms of feasibility and further recommendations.

“Given the high cost of rehabilitating the YWCA Building, it is not surprising that the majority of proposers focused on a revenue generating project i.e., hotel, that takes full advantage of the building envelope established by the City Council and the existing entitlements. All of the housing options focused on the Water & Power site which is less costly to develop,” the report states.

The Civic Center District was developed using the Bennett Plan, so named for Edward H. Bennett of the Chicago architecture firm Bennett, Parsons and Frost. The plan centralized the city’s most important civic institutions within a single district where streets terminate at the most important buildings — City Hall, the Pasadena Central Library and the Civic Auditorium, located to the south on Green Street. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

In April, the council voted 5-3 to seek development proposals based on recommendations from a consultant who is expert in a style known as Beaux Arts, which permeates Centennial Square.

Morgan was the first woman admitted to the architecture program at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She designed the YWCA building in the early 1920s. The building was completed in 1923.

Morgan arrived in Paris in 1896 to attend the École des Beaux-Arts, the most respected architecture school in the world. Up until that point, no woman had gained admittance into the school. The diminutive Morgan, who designed Hearst Castle for publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst starting in 1919, took the entrance exam three times before she was admitted in 1898.