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pyrenees.castle.tour_.apg_.group_.jpgby Barbara Beckley, Alhambra Preservation Group Board of Directors

It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Taking a guided tour inside Alhambra’s beautiful Pyrenees Castle.

Sitting atop a forested hill at the end of a long private driveway off Grand View Drive, for most Alhambra residents the mansion has remained a lifelong mystery, with only glimpses of the castle’s rooftop among the trees leaving us to wonder what it looks like inside.

The curiosity was finally satiated on Saturday, September 21, for a select number of Alhambra Preservation Group members who signed up for the exclusive APG-members-only tour of this beautiful residence.

Arranged through the courtesy of Ladd Jackson, the Estates Director of Hilton & Hyland, which is listing the hilltop castle for $4.9 million, APG members were treated to a one-hour walk and talk – led by Ladd – through the 8,686-square-foot, two story home and its 2.5-acre walled grounds.

A landmark since it was built in 1924 by Sylvester Dupuy, a wealthy Basque immigrant who wanted to recreate a chateau-style residence of his homeland, the mansion was home to his family into the 1960s. It was divided into apartments for a few years, then returned to a single-family mansion in the 1980s. Phil Spector bought it in 1998. His ex-wife is currently in residence.

The day was sunny and bright, and Ladd was extremely knowledgeable as he led us through the grand marble foyer, flanked by the wood paneled living room and formal dining room, both with impressive fireplaces, pointing out the crystal chandeliers, hand-painted murals and original hardwood floors. While renovations have changed much of the interior’s originality, the nine bedrooms, two kitchens, kitchenette, billiards room, full bar and 10th baths remain impressive.

The kitchen and breakfast nook opens off the formal dining room. Walking up the main stairway – and down what we thought was the maids’ stairway – Ladd provided insight into the castle’s mysterious past.

No, the back stairway wasn’t for staff. The Dupuys didn’t have staff, Ladd revealed. They kept up the mansion themselves – and only lived on one side of the house. Being from Europe, they liked wine and made their own. But the castle was built during Prohibition. Ladd pulled out what looked like a heavy wall mirror in one of the bedrooms to reveal a hidden staircase. Just one of the several secret doorways and staircases that led to where the family hid their wine barrels.

We learned that the wide, sunny room on one side of the upstairs, was where Mrs. Dupuy did her needlepoint – a grand take on our grandmothers’ sewing rooms. And the spacious downstairs billiard room originally built and enjoyed by Mr. Dupuy and his buddies had been changed to other uses throughout the years – until Mr. Spector returned it to a billiard room.

Sweeping Los Angeles views from the upstairs veranda were complimented by equally picturesque views from the front of the home, which is landscaped with old-growth trees on one side and a beautiful water fountain in the main courtyard.

Photos were not allowed inside, but members captured memorable photos from the grounds. To see the interior rooms visit the Hilton & Hyland website.

The tour was limited to 50 APG members only. The response was enthusiastic with the tour selling out within 24 hours. Proof that historic preservation remains a priority for many Alhambrans and visiting Alhambra’s most famous mansion is just one of the many benefits of APG membership.

Why not join APG during our 2019 fall membership drive and be a part of our next members-only tour?

Photo courtesy of Alhambra Preservation Group.

Alhambra.neon.signAnyone who has lived in Alhambra any length of time has probably caught a glimpse of one of three “Alhambra” signs located at the city’s borders – East Main Street on the border of San Gabriel, West Huntington Blvd on the border of El Sereno and West Valley Blvd at the 710 terminus. The problem is that two of the iconic neon signs haven’t worked for decades and the third sign on West Valley, while still working, has been looking worn out and neglected.

That all changed when Alhambra’s Arts Commission voted earlier this year to allocate funds to fix these three neon signs. Alhambra Preservation Group applauds the City’s decision to give these signs a bit of TLC and get them working once more. “Fixing Alhambra’s neon signs is an easy way to preserve an important historic resource and demonstrate pride in our city,” stated Oscar Amaro, APG Founder and President. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who never noticed these signs at night. Now it’s impossible to miss them as you drive into Alhambra after sundown.”

Neon signs were first introduced in the United States in the early 1920s by Georges Claude and his French company Claude Neon. Georges Claude had demonstrated neon lighting in a modern form at the Paris Motor Show in December 1910, but it didn’t catch on here in the U.S. until 1923 when a Los Angeles Packard car dealership purchased two signs advertising “Packard” for $24,000. Soon after that, neon lighting became a popular outdoor advertising fixture in America with patrons stopping to stare at the neon signs dubbed “liquid fire.”

In Alhambra, there are several establishments who have retained their neon signs from the mid-20th century. The Hat on the corner of Valley Blvd and Garfield Avenue lights up their neon sign nightly. Alhambra’s Bun and Burger located on east Main Street has an intricate working neon sign, but it’s rarely on because the restaurant is not open during evening hours. One of Alhambra’s most iconic neon signs was recently removed when Twohey’s left its location at the corner of Atlantic and Huntington.

Alhambra.Come.Again.Soon.NeonWe are pleased that Alhambra’s welcome signs have returned in a blaze of glory. Here’s hoping that they shine bright for generations to come.

Do you have a favorite neon sign in Alhambra or Southern California? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of Alhambra Preservation Group.

Alhambra.City.HallAlhambra Preservation Group strongly urges you to attend the Alhambra City Council meeting on Monday, September 9, 2019 when City Council will have a second reading of an ordinance that was initially intended to institute Rosenberg’s Rules of Order rather than Robert’s Rules of Order at City Council meetings. However, at the August 12 Council meeting when this ordinance had its first reading, Councilman David Mejia proposed two amendments, which included the following:
  1. Reduce the public comment time for agenda items from the current five minutes to three minutes per person.
  2. Prevent members of the public from turning in speaker cards for an agenda item or oral communications if public speaking for that item has already begun.
Alhambra Preservation Group is very concerned about these two amendments, and we are adamantly opposed to them.
One reason for our opposition is that often times the concepts and/or ideas that our representatives and members present at public meetings are detailed or complicated in nature, with historical data and figures. It is difficult, and at times almost impossible, to express any ideas or rebuttals in just five minutes. To reduce the public comment period by two minutes would unnecessarily restrict our right to provide important input regarding city decisions.
These amendments not only impact APG’s mission and historic preservation efforts, but they also affect every single Alhambran and their right to speak at City Council meetings on any item of concern in our city. Your attendance and voice at this meeting will send a clear message that the residents of Alhambra will not be silenced.
Here is the information on the meeting:
Date:  Monday, September 9, 2019
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location: Alhambra City Hall, 111 South First Street, Alhambra, CA

IMG_3824Tune in on August 14 to the DIY Network’s hit show Restored to see an Alhambra Craftsman home featured as the inspiration home during the restoration of a 1910 farm house in Cherry Valley.

This episode of Restored focuses on the restoration of a 1910 home owned by a couple who are interested in organic farming. In the episode, host Brett Waterman takes the couple on a tour of a restored 1912 Craftsman home in Alhambra to give them a taste of what their home will look like during the final reveal and to receive feedback from the couple on how they’d like certain elements in their home restored.

IMG_3822“We were jazzed when the producers of Restored contacted us about featuring our humble 1912 Arts and Crafts house as this episode’s ‘inspiration home’,” said Alhambra Preservation Group Founder Oscar Amaro.  “To have our house showcased on Restored and have Brett compliment us on our restoration efforts really validated all the hard work we put into our home,” continued Amaro.

“One of the features that will be showcased in the episode is our home’s original ‘California Cooler’,” stated Joyce Amaro, Vice President of Alhambra Preservation Group. “In the early 20th century, California Coolers were installed in kitchens as small pantries to keep perishables fresh. With slotted shelving and screens above and below, the air flow coming from the full-sized basement below (a standard feature in older homes) would keep food cool. We wanted Restored to showcase all the unique features in our vintage, historic home. But, nope. The show wanted to focus on our simple California Cooler,” laughed Amaro.

The goal of the show is to demonstrate how 20th century homes can be restored using 21st century preservation techniques with stunning results. Hosted by preservationist Brett Waterman, the DIY Network show focuses on homes that have amazing potential often hidden under bad additions and inappropriate renovations.  Season 3, Episode 6 features the Amaro’s Alhambra home and will begin airing on August 14. Additional air times can be found here.

Alhambra Preservation Group is immensely proud that Restored will be featuring a historic Alhambra home, putting our city on the map as a community with historically significant and beautifully restored houses. Alhambra has an incredibly diverse and robust collection of historic homes just waiting to be discovered and celebrated. Tune in on August 14 to see how one historic home in Alhambra receives the VIP treatment on the show Restored.

Photos courtesy of Joyce and Oscar Amaro.

Alhambra.City.HallThe Alhambra City Council will consider the final City of Alhambra General Plan at its August 12 meeting. We encourage all Alhambrans to attend and show their support for strong historic preservation goals and policies.

Named Vision 2040 – A Community Mosaic, Alhambra’s General Plan describes the vision for Alhambra over the next 20 years. It addresses issues related to land use & community design, mobility, quality of life, resources, infrastructure & services, and health & safety.

Included in the Resources segment of the General Plan are goals and policies related to the development of a historic preservation program. “Since the first General Plan community meetings, Alhambra Preservation Group has advocated for strong historic preservation goals,” said Oscar Amaro, Alhambra Preservation Group Founder and President. “While the General Plan does include the goal of considering the adoption of a historic preservation ordinance and the development of a Mills Act Program, it specifically omits the goals of conducting a citywide inventory of historic resources and the establishment of an independent cultural resources commission. That needs to change. These are vitally important historic preservation elements that need to be included,” continued Amaro.

We encourage you to attend this meeting and show your support for strong historic preservation policies during the public comment period.  First, here are the specifics regarding the City Council meeting:

Monday, August 12 2019

7:00 p.m.

Alhambra City Hall/Council Chambers, 111 S. 1st St., Alhambra, CA

If you choose to address the City Council, may we suggest the following speaking points as they relate to historic preservation elements in the General Plan:

  • State your support for the historic preservation elements that are currently in the General Plan and which include considering the adoption of a historic preservation ordinance, considering the development of an incentives program (e.g. the Mills Act), and exploring private and public grant funding opportunities.
  • Thank the Planning Commission for their robust discussion and consideration of historic preservation elements and their decision to revise the priority of the adoption of a historic preservation ordinance from “medium” to “high”.
  • Ask City Council members to amend the General Plan to add two vitally important historic preservation elements: 1) consider the formation of an independent cultural resources commission and (2) consider conducting a citywide inventory of historic resources into the General Plan’s list of implementation action items.
  • Remind City Council that the establishment of an independent cultural resources commission and a citywide historic resources inventory are integral to developing a strong historic preservation program in Alhambra.

Remember, if you decide to speak at the meeting, you must fill out a blue speaker card and give it to City staff behind the dais before the item is considered.

Alhambra Preservation Group greatly appreciates your ongoing support and we hope to see you on August 12!

Photo courtesy of Alhambra Preservation Group.

DSC_0767Throughout the United States, cities both big and small have conducted historic resources inventories to better understand the properties within their communities that are historically, culturally and architecturally significant.

Here in Alhambra, we have never conducted a citywide inventory of historic resources. A partial survey was conducted in 1984 and an unofficial windshield survey was conducted by Alhambra Preservation Group a few years ago, but an inventory of Alhambra’s many historic homes, businesses, schools and churches has never been completed.

Many ask why a citywide historic resources survey is necessary here in Alhambra? Here are five reasons why our city needs to conduct a survey and why Alhambra Preservation Group will continue to advocate for a citywide inventory of Alhambra historic resources:

Identify and Understand – A citywide inventory allows for the identification and understanding of properties that are historically, culturally and architecturally significant and assists the community to make informed policy decisions about these properties.

We Love Alhambra! – A citywide survey will stimulate public awareness, encourages civic engagement and community pride about historic resources. It could lead to walking tours and increased architectural-tourism dollars here in Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley.

Is it Worth Saving? – A survey would identify properties worth protecting and preserving as well as those with limited or no historical significance where redevelopment can easily take place.

More Efficient Government – An inventory of historic resources expedites environmental review by governmental agencies and provides a basis for preservation and planning at all levels of government.

Tax Savings for Property Owners – It could lead to further designation of historic properties such as recognition as a National Register of Historic Places property, a state-designated historic place or a local landmark. These designations can sometimes lead to property owners being eligible for state and federal property tax reductions.

It’s time that Alhambra conduct a citywide inventory of its historic resources! You can help by talking to elected officials about the importance of a citywide historic resources inventory. It’s time we put Alhambra on the map!

Easter.EggsMany of you may be familiar with Easter eggs. No, not the kind filled with candy that children go hunting for this time of year. The Easter eggs we’re referring to are hidden features, messages or images in a video game. With the holiday weekend upon us, we thought it would be fun to highlight some of Alhambra’s architectural Easter eggs – those architecturally significant structures and/or features that may be easy to miss if you’re not looking for them. Here are just a few – waiting to be found by you!

Millard.Sheets.muralMillard Sheets Murals at Mark Keppel High School – In the late 1930s, as Alhambra’s Mark Keppel High School was being built, Millard Sheets – a Chouinard Art Institute graduate and leading figure behind the California Style watercolor movement – created three exterior enamel and stainless steel relief murals. The murals remain today. The three murals depict the history and culture of early California with one showcasing the state of California, the second featuring Los Angeles County and the third showing three groups of people who populated early California. (Mark Keppel High School, 501 East Hellman Avenue, Alhambra)

DSC_0755Neon “Alhambra” Welcome Signs – At the western, eastern and southern entrances to the city of Alhambra, you’ll find “Alhambra” neon signs, which welcome visitors to our city. Currently only the southern sign on Valley Blvd. is working. Neon signs and their rich history date back to the early 1900s. The French chemist, inventor and engineer Georges Claude introduced the first neon lamp to the public in 1910; he introduced neon signs to the US in 1923. In addition to its welcome signs, Alhambra has two historic businesses that use neon signs. The Hat on Valley Blvd. and Bun N Burger on Main St. both feature vintage neon signs. Alhambra’s Arts and Cultural Events Committee is considering the restoration of Alhambra’s neon welcome signs. APG applauds this idea. (Alhambra’s neon signs – Huntington Blvd. at the border of El Sereno, Main Street at the border of San Gabriel, Valley Blvd. at the border of Los Angeles)

Joe.Candalot.1926Joe Candalot & Sons Building – Just east of Alhambra’ neon sign on Valley Blvd. at the terminus of the 710 Freeway, you’ll find a simple non-descript two-story brick building with the words “Joe Candalot & Sons – 1926” imprinted near the roof. In 1899, Sylvestre Dupuy – the original owner of Alhambra’s Pyrenees Castle – married Anna Candalot, a young Frenchwoman and accomplished chef. They raised four children – a daughter and three sons – in Alhambra. After the Dupuy’s moved into the Pyrenees Castle in 1927, the couple began developing lots on present-day Valley Blvd. Mr. Dupuy set up his sons in the tire business, naming it Y Tire Sales, which is still located on Valley Blvd. and is still owned by the Dupuy family. Whether this building in southwestern Alhambra was at one time the offices of Y Tire Sales has yet to be proven. And who was Joseph Candalot? Anna Candalot Dupuy’s father? Her brother? We’re still researching this branch of the Dupuy family. But the fact that the Candalot name features prominently on the building’s edifice links it to Alhambra’s Pyrenees Castle somehow. (Joe Candalot & Sons Building, 3078 Valley Blvd., Alhambra)

Olson.1930sAlhambra’s Millionaire’s Row – In the early 20th century, many cities had neighborhoods that came to be known as “Millionaire’s Row.” These were streets lined with mansions owned by wealthy and influential city leaders. Alhambra was no different. During the 1920s and 30s, Alhambra’s elite lived on North Almansor Street in the Orange Blossom Manor tract, which featured homes with revivalist architectural styles ranging from English Tudor to American Colonial, from Dutch Colonial to Spanish Colonial. The homes were owned by such Alhambra luminaries as Victor Clyde Forsythe, renowned southwest Plein Air painter; Frank Olson, a lumberman who owned Olson Lumber and whose stunning English Tudor Revival home remains today; and Elmer Bailey, an experienced citrus orchardist who established the Golden Pheasant brand. Homes on Alhambra’s Millionaire’s Row have been featured on home tours and in movies. (Alhambra’s Millionaire’s Row, North Almansor Street north of Main Street)

43.Main.St.FacadeFormer Home Furniture Company Building Façade – As you drive east on Main Street just past Garfield Avenue, look to your left and you’ll discover a building that looks decidedly different than its neighbors. Several years ago, the 1970’s façade of this building was removed and an early 20th century storefront was discovered underneath. This building was the original location of Alhambra’s Home Furniture Company, which was Alhambra’s preeminent furniture store in the early 20th century. Boasting more than 32,000 square feet of furniture display space, the Home Furniture Company saw several owners during its lifetime. Today the façade that remains features decorative pillars and ornamental urns adorned with garlands of fruit and ribbon. (Former Home Furniture Company Building, 43 East Main Street, Alhambra)

We hope you enjoyed reading about a few of Alhambra’s architectural Easter eggs and the stories behind these gems. There are many more to be found in Alhambra, which is why a citywide historic resources inventory is overdue and necessary. We simply don’t know where all of our city’s architectural Easter eggs are hidden. It’s time to find them all and discover Alhambra!

Note: If you do decide to visit these locations or look for additional architectural Easter eggs in Alhambra, we ask that you not disturb business owners, residents and students. Happy hunting!

Did we miss any of Alhambra’s architectural Easter eggs? If you’re aware of any, please tell us about it in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

Photo courtesy of Alhambra Preservation Group.