Crawford Avenue Blues

crawfordaveFor more than 12 years, I’ve been commuting on my bike on a route that takes me up Crawford Avenue, a street that runs just one block between Alameda and Calaveras and allows me to avoid Lake while pedaling up the hill. It is a pleasant street of modest homes from the 20s and 30s and, sort of unusual for Altadena, sidewalks and street trees line both sides. Each house is different, surely constructed by various builders over the years – bungalows, Tudorish half-timbers and Mediterranean revivals – small, sweet homes.

Recently a cyclone fence appeared, enclosing all 16 houses on the west side of the street. This land, adjacent to the old Scripps Home for the Aged, will become part of MonteCedro, a retirement community for this century.

Even though I had long known that these homes had been purchased by Scripps and that demolition was coming, seeing that fence go up was a stab in my heart. These are more than houses; they embody a portion of our collective memory. Each one has framed so many human lives, provided the stage for so many events, the very timbers of these structures are imbued with the stories of people living and passed, of families, of loves and tragedies, the ups and downs of lives through time.

The foreman in charge of the site expressed sincere regret. He said they’d tried to work it every which way to save some of the houses to use as offices or residences, but bringing them up to code just didn’t pencil out. He’s certainly right; current building codes would require such extensive rebuilding that any structure saved would essentially be a different house. Habitat for Humanity was about to come in and strip useable doors and fixtures, but they won’t take much, as even perfectly good windows don’t usually meet current codes unless they are double-glazed replacements. These houses could not be built today.

What is lost? Sixteen attractive and perfectly serviceable living units are gone, but far more, a significant piece of our history is being erased. I am not opposed to MonteCedro, though I had reservations about the loss of Scripps Home’s charitable mission when it was proposed. Altadena Heritage did not oppose its demolition; by the time its old buildings were torn down, the facility was an obsolete mish-mash of remodels and tacky add-ons. No one voiced opposition when the plans were first presented to the community, not even the elderly residents who were to be moved out of Altadena to a facility in Alhambra (though, not surprisingly, some neighbors expressed second thoughts when demolition began). We are happy that MonteCedro retained and rented out the houses until this project – delayed since 2008 – was finally ready to break ground.

We dare to hope that the MonteCedro buildings will be at least as attractive as the renderings we were shown years ago, and that this addition to our town will fuel economic renewal; the influx of residents, their visitors, and the MonteCedro staff can support shops and restaurants on sad old Lake Avenue–which would benefit us all. Altadena Heritage was founded as a preservation organization, we seek to educate people to the value of our architectural heritage, and we will continue to fight for the preservation of our historic neighborhoods. Sometimes we lose a few, but our mission remains: to preserve the old and to advocate for a better Altadena. Saddened, we still choose to see the loss of the Crawford homes in a positive light.

— Mark Goldschmidt, Chairman