Retaining historic buildings and adding luxury townhouse flats and condos on an 11-acre bucolic parcel west of downtown Pasadena earned kudos for developer/builder City Ventures, even before units went up. The site, with four mansions from the late 1890s and 1920s when the city’s “Millionaires’ Row” was constructed, had been left unused since Ambassador College, the next owner, relocated its campus to Texas. Other developers tried to redevelop the site, but a confluence of factors stopped them—the city’s active historic preservation movement, its complex approval process, and the 2008 economic downturn. With help from William Hezmalhalch Architects, City Ventures persevered, and the “Ambassador Gardens” project opened late last year to accolades. The firms salvaged the old buildings, and developed a master plan for 70 luxury condos that would fit stylistically and proportionately. This award of Merit is for the first 10 completed, housed behind two period facades that mimic mansions. The jury cited the ingenuous disguise, quality exteriors, density, and site’s overall cohesiveness. Architect Ron Nestor is also proud that they preserved a forest with 100’ tall trees. To attract the desired move-down luxury homeowners, units contain spacious interiors with separate dining rooms and deluxe kitchens. Homeowners can pick finishes, appliances, and cabinets; and an underground garage tucks cars away. Unit costs are $1.5 to $2.2 million, comparable to other area luxury condos. City Ventures president Herb Gardner’s assessment of what was needed hit a bulls eye. “All but one has sold,” he says.

Getting It Done

Though a prior developer got the approval process rolling, City Ventures’ decision to upgrade quality and layouts required more time and patience to move the project forward—five years from purchasing the site in 2009 to pulling permits and seeing Phase I open last year. Pasadena’s old-world charm, the site’s location, and an “insanely low” $10 million price tag made the challenge worthwhile, says Gardner, adding, “It would now cost 10 times that.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.