Historic Homes, City Survival Tour de Force

Larry McGrail conducts a tour of his and Diana McGrail’s 1893 Victorian home on Glendon Way, pointing out the location of his residence on a historical photograph. Photos by Sally Kilby

Many people want to tour lovingly-restored historic properties built in South Pasadena.

More than 150 attended the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation’s summer Home Tour de Force held last Sunday afternoon. They came from as far as Santa Barbara, Orange County, Kern County and other distant locations. Most came from the immediate area. An interested party from Architectural Digest also attended, organizers said.

Visitors toured six sites on their own schedule, traveling to each property by car. All properties were built between the late 1800s and 1927. Docents guided groups through the properties.

This inviting back porch was added to the 1893 Victorian home with Eastlake influences owned by Larry and Diana McGrail on Glendon Way. Extensive work has been done on the house over the years. It was originally only half its current size.

Guests were also invited to an evening soirée and the organization’s brief annual meeting held on the wooded grounds of the final home on the tour.

Many on the tour may not have realized that the homes on the tour were fortunate to still be standing. The majority are along the Meridian Avenue route of the now-abandoned 710 surface freeway, north extension.

“Most of the properties would be eliminated or seriously impacted if the 710 surface freeway hadn’t been killed,” said Steven Lawrence, president of the Preservation Foundation, following the tour. “Even with the proposed tunnel, they would be affected.”

He was referring to the effort to construct two massive underground tunnels through South Pasadena between El Sereno and Pasadena.

“The tunnel plan is still going through the environmental process,” said Joanne Nuckols, long-time preservationist and anti-710 activist, by phone. She is a current Preservation Foundation board member and city Transportation Commission chair.

“It is not dead yet,” Nuckols said, “even though the LA Metro board voted a year ago not to fund the tunnels and endorsed the non-tunnel alternative, one of the five alternatives being studied.” 

Caltrans is the decision maker, she said, and it has not announced which alternative it will be choosing in the final environmental impact report.

For decades in South Pasadena, key anti-710 activists have also been closely affiliated with preservation efforts. The existence of so many historic properties has served since 1973 as a cornerstone of the legal argument against building the freeway, Nuckols said. 

“Historic preservation has saved South Pasadena,” she said, “not only because of the freeway but because it greatly improves property values.”

Nuckols was involved in organizing the tour.

Lawrence said that the tour was titled a Home Tour de Force because of the architecture, age, history, and unique aspects of the homes selected. “When taken individually and all together,” he said, “they are truly a tour do force.’”

Most of the sites are owned by current or former board members of the Preservation Foundation. Owners were present at their homes and participated in the tour.

The first stop on the tour was at the South Pasadena Historical Museum, which was built around the time of the city’s incorporation in 1888. It is operated by the Preservation Foundation for the city.

Katie Taylor demonstrates how the master switch panel worked to control lighting in this 13,000-square-foot, early 1900s English Tutor Revival home on Buena Vista Street.

Nearby, ex officio Preservation Foundation board member Larry McGrail conducted tours of his and Diana McGrail’s extensively upgraded Victorian home on Glendon Way. Farther up Meridian Avenue, Preservation Foundation board member Aleta Blanc guided docents in showing her 13,000-square-foot early 1900s home with an indoor pool and chapel.

Down the street, Preservation Foundation board member Odom Stamps oversaw tours of his and Kate Stamps’ 1904 restored carriage house-residence, guest house and extensive grounds. On South Grand Avenue, anti-710 freeway activist Dr. Bill Sherman described his and Teresa Sherman’s 1927 English Revival home and showcased a thriving garden. 

Across town, Glen Duncan, ex officio Preservation Foundation board member, helped show his unique 1914 Craftsman home built for artist Mabel Packard. Duncan is a veteran city commission member, anti-710 activist and long-serving board member of the California Historic Route 66 Association.

Of the successful tour, Lawrence said, “This is another example of the overwhelming support from this thriving community.” He said the organization plans to honor that by working on upcoming preservation projects with the city and its residents.