Local Landmarks Lost
|December 6, 2016 - Palm trees? What palm trees? Remember those grand palm trees at the Twin Palms restaurant? Gone without fanfare or a permit.|
Many may not have noticed, but the two landmark trees that graced the tented courtyard of the old Twins Palms restaurant in Old Pasadena, a long closed but once bustling night spot that is currently being remodeled, are gone, felled without fanfare or a permit by the property’s owner.
“Oh, my God! Those trees were iconic,” said Altadena-based biologist and activist Lori Paul. Paul is perhaps best known for her recent unsuccessful efforts to prevent three 70-year-old Indian ficus trees in front of the Shops on Lake, on South Lake Avenue, from being cut down.
“I had no idea they were gone,” Paul said.
According to Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer, the dormant restaurant’s two enormous namesake Canary Palm Trees were protected by the city. The owner will likely face a fine for cutting them down without a permit.
“The trees were cut down without permission,” Boyer said. “The owner needed a permit because they were protected, even though they were on private property.”
Boyer said fines are imminent, but he did not know how much they would be.
Boyer added he did not believe the fines could cause a work stoppage at the site. But, he said, “The project will not go before the Design Commission until all fees and fines have been paid.”
The last listed owner of Twin Palms, according to city records, is Jack Guiragosian. Efforts to contact Guiragosian were unsuccessful. However, a hearing was held on Dec. 2, 2015, for a conditional use permit to allow the sale of alcohol at the site, which remains empty but has had some construction work done on the exterior and interior of the brick structure over the past year.
The Pasadena Weekly is located directly across the street from the former hot spot and reporters with the paper visited the site on Monday and Tuesday, but the owner was not there either day, according to a lone worker who was cleaning up and declined to be identified.
The loss of the trees enraged preservationists. Activist Ann Scheid, a member of the group Stewards of the Land who joined Paul in the protests over the now-gone ficus trees, also expressed concerns over historic items left at the site.
“What about the cast iron grilles in the walls around the courtyard? They are historic remnants from a Myron Hunt building demolished for Plaza Pasadena. Will they also be trashed?” Scheid asked in an email.
Boyer said the city was aware of the grilles, or decorative ornament, and was in the process of contacting the owner about their status. As of Tuesday morning, the grilles were still at the site.
Scheid called the trees historic.
“They were there long before Old Pasadena became a historic district and were just as historic as the buildings,” Scheid later said. “Trees like this don’t grow in a day; the city needs to be able to recover the appraised value of such important icons from whoever removed them without a permit.”
The removal of the trees at Twin Palms has some people concerned that the city is participating in what’s been called “arborcide” in order to please property and business owners.
And, as that is happening, tree advocates say the city is neglecting trees growing in public places, forcing their removal due to disease brought on by severe drought conditions that have gripped California over the past several years.
According to the city, Pasadena has an “urban forest” of about 60,000 city-owned trees growing in parks, open spaces and along city streets. A 2015 study by the US Forest Service estimated that 12.5 million trees in California died as a result of drought conditions.
In Los Angeles, thousands of trees have been cut down, and Pasadena is being forced to do the same. Ironically, the city approved its City Trees and Protection Ordinance in 2002 in order to preserve and grow Pasadena’s urban forest, according to the city’s website.
According to the city’s current tree removal list, which was released in City Manager Steve Mermell’s September 22 newsletter to fellow employees, 94 trees have been designated for removal, most due to poor health.
The city’s list includes two split sycamore trees at Brookside Golf Course, a dead and insect-infested oak tree on Vinedo Avenue, and three oak trees with overgrown root crowns on Mar Vista Avenue.
In April 2015, just weeks after a 70-foot-tall tree fell on six children at Kidspace Museum in the Arroyo Seco, 65 trees were cut down in that area and dozens of others that had not received maintenance were trimmed.
Plans for a six-story hotel, the Kimpton Hotel, at the site of the landmark YWCA building in the city’s Civic Center, will result in the demolition of green space and the removal of several trees from Pasadena’s Sister Cities Garden, located behind the Robinson Brothers Memorial in Centennial Square. The memorial consists of two giant bronze busts honoring the accomplishments of legendary athletes and civil rights leaders Jackie Robinson and his older brother, Mack Robinson. A tree near the memorial has already been cut down.
In the case of the ficus trees on South Lake Avenue three weeks ago, city officials said they were forced to allow those trees to be cut down as part of a settlement agreement with the Beverly Hills-based owner of the property, Rodeo Holdings LLC. Rodeo’s attorneys complained that debris from the trees clogged storm drains and accumulated on sidewalks. They also said the large trees obstructed the view of their building which affected the ability to rent the property. The property owners further claimed that the damaged sidewalks could lead to a lawsuit should someone slip and fall.
“We may lose a third of our trees between Pasadena and Altadena due to disease and the drought,” Paul said. “If you don’t feed something it starves. It takes money to take care of the trees and now that the problem has started the city does not want to take on the bill to fight the problem. The trees need supplemental water. You drive around the city and it is phenomenal what is being lost. They could have stopped this early on.”
“There are policies in place to protect the trees and we have an Urban Forestry Advisory Committee that agonizes over every tree that has to be treated or cut down,” said local activist Jonathan Edewards in reference to the Kimpton Hotel project. Edewards is a member of the Civic Center Coalition which is currently suing the city over the hotel project.
“The intention [to save trees] among citizens is there, but I think that the current staffing of the city is not committed to fulfilling the principles” of the now-100-year-old Civic Center plan. “I think the council is overly deferential to the city staff,” Edewards said.
This isn’t the first time that plans to cut down trees have resulted in public outcry. In 2009, dozens of people attended City Council meetings to criticize a 1996 streetscape plan that involved repairing damaged sidewalks, installing decorative benches and placing new trash cans along portions of Colorado Boulevard in the city’s Playhouse District.
To fulfill that plan, 13 ficus trees and 20 carrotwood trees on Colorado between Los Robles to Lake avenues were targeted for removal. Protesters argued that the plan to replace the large, bushy trees with dozens of gingko and palm trees would harm the character of one of Pasadena’s most iconic thoroughfares.
The plan was supported by many in the business community who had at first complained about the trees being a nuisance.
The National Arbor Day Foundation has designated Pasadena as part of “Tree City, USA” due to its urban forestry management.
Paul and others have started Save Pasadena Trees which seeks to protect all local trees.
“I don’t know how their actions have earned a designation from the Arbor Day Foundation,” Paul said. “I plan to write a letter to the foundation asking them to yank the designation. The city has made it patently clear in their actions that they don’t give a hoot about trees.”
Arroyo Seco Foundation, 570 W. Avenue 26 #450, Los Angeles, CA 90065-1011
PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326 firstname.lastname@example.org