Bakewell & Brown’s Pasadena City Hall

Pasadena’s City Hall is one of the most photographed buildings in Southern California.

When standing at the base it’s like a huge monument to democracy.

It’s hard to get the whole building in one shot.

This is the best I could do. I was crazy even to take this shot because I was standing in the middle of the street and we all know what California drivers are like.

Inside the entrance is a vestibule.

The vestibule contains this clock which sits at the entrance to the exterior courtyard.

The vestibule has a barrel ceiling with rosettes. It also contains numerous light fixtures like the one above. Notice the medieval towers above the fleur-de-lis on the light fixture.

The courtyard contains a large fountain.

The courtyard is beautifully designed with towers and an arcade.

This is the view from across the street looking at the back of city hall.

Yet, it wasn’t always intended to look like this. Below is the competitive drawing that won Bakewell & Brown the city hall commission. The firm had already designed San Francisco’s City Hall, which was completed in 1916, so that probably gave them a leg up on the competition.

The original design was influenced by the missions. I don’t like it. Image courtesy Architect and Engineer.

John Bakewell, Jr. wrote an article for Architecture and Engineer. In it he described the process in which his firm, Bakewell and Brown, were selected as the firm to design the city hall. According to Bakewell, Pasadena contacted ten firms and asked them to submit plans. Each plan was “keyed” and then the drawings were submitted for consideration anonymously. The selection committee was comprised of George Ellery Hale, Stuart W. French, Ernest J. Batchelder, Robert D. Farquhar and Pierpont Davis. After the selection committee made their decision the firms not chosen were given payment for their submissions.

The Chicago firm of (Edward) Bennett, (William) Parsons and (Harry) Frost were the men behind Pasadena’s Beaux-Arts civic center plan which was drawn up in 1923 and included three buildings. The city hall was at the center of the plan. The library was the second building in the configuration which was north of city hall and designed by Myron Hunt and H.C. Chambers. The civic auditorium was the third building and was located south of city hall and designed by Edwin Bergstrom, Cyril Bennett and Fitch Haskell.

A call for construction bids went out on January 4, 1926 and by this date an ornamental observational dome (referred to at the time as a tower) was already part of the new city hall design. Two months earlier the dome had tentatively been approved but it was quickly rescinded when citizens complained about the cost. While a bond issue had raised over $3 million for the construction of the three buildings it wouldn’t be sufficient to erect all three. Yet, in the end the city decided to spend the money for the dome which would raise the cost of the building.

The following images are all from Architect and Engineer.

Bakewell explained the change in design for city hall:

“In the original, or competition design for this building, an entirely different central motive was used from that finally adopted. A comparison of the two designs is interesting. The first, or abandoned design, was strikingly original and apparently of great promise. However, it is easy to imagine that its study would offer many difficulties. In order to make its mass truly impressive, as was very necessary on account of the size of the building and the scale of the whole civic center scheme, it would have to grow much larger than the original drawings showed it.”

Bakewell also wrote,

“The fact that it was not the front piece for a building but the central motive of a long façade made it questionable whether a pierced wall design, no matter how massive that wall should be made, could fulfill its purpose. The perspective effects might have been very picturesque, but on the other hand they might readily have been grotesque when seen from certain angles. The design of the dome that was actually used has the great advantage that its mass is preponderant and consequently counts from every point of view. It actually forms a marking point for the center of the city and a fitting termination to the broad avenue of approach to the civic center.”

Bakewell continued,

“However, the idea of a portal has not been lost and the present design probably owes it openness to the earlier idea. It still remains as an open portal leading into the patio and converts the patio into a veritable garden vestibule for the whole building, instead of an inclosed [sic] court. This feeling of airiness and openness has been preserved in the dome that the central mass supports.” From Architect and Engineer, pages 37-38.

Bakewell saw the arcade that runs along the east side of the patio as a stop gap measure.

“The scheme consists of a large single court, or patio, with a narrow ribbon of a building running completely around it, the whole forming a hollow rectangle. The rear of this rectangle is at present left open and the scheme cannot be considered as completed until it is closed in by the future extension of the building across this side, for which provision has been made. While the garden court, or patio, will not be completed until the extension of the building along Euclid Avenue entirely closes it in, a temporary arcade has been built along this street connecting the circulations of the first and second floors. This arcade is, perhaps, a little uninteresting as it stands today and it is to be hoped that its monotony will be broken in time by judicious planting. However, it serves a very useful purpose that justified it until such time as the scheme is finally completed.” Architect and Engineer, page 38.

The northeast corner of the patio showing the arcade and one of the towers.

The viewpoint from the patio looking west into the vestibule.

Construction started on January 21, 1926 and the building finally opened on December 27, 1927. The final cost of the building was $1,337,365.39.

Bakewell wrote that the style of the building was Renaissance.

The building is located at 100 North Garfield and has a frontage of 374 feet. The wings are 238 feet deep. The building covers an entire city block. The main story and the wings are three stories in height. The dome rises to a height of 205 feet and is 52 feet in diameter.

Arthur Brown, Jr. attended the École des Beaux-Arts and graduated in 1901. Bakewell also attended the École and graduated in 1901. The two men must have know each other in Paris and reconnected in San Francisco. They became partners in 1905. The San Francisco earthquake in 1906 was a boon for their business and provided numerous commissions for the young firm including the Green Library at Stanford and the Palace of Horticulture at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915.

Bakewell was born August 28, 1872 in Topeka, Kansas. He received a B.A. from the University of California in 1893 then was off to Paris. He served with the Red Cross in 1918-1919 in Lyons, France. He married Hazel King in 1922 when he was 50 years old. His home address was 855 Chestnut Street in San Francisco.

Brown was born on May 21, 1874 in Oakland, California. He received a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of California in 1896 and then attended the École. He married Jessamine Garrett in 1916, when he was 42 years old, and the couple had two daughters: Victoria and Sylvia. Brown lectured at Harvard in 1918 and was a professor of architectural theory at the University of California in 1918-1919. He was also a member of the architectural committee that oversaw the design of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.

According to SNAC Brown was the principal designer in the firm while Bakewell ran the office and attended to the finances. The firm’s office was located at 251 Kearny Street in San Francisco. The partnership continued until 1927. After the dissolution, Brown designed one other notable San Francisco landmark: Coit Tower.

Arthur Brown, Jr. died July 7, 1957. John Bakewell, Jr. died on February 19, 1963.

Arthur Brown, Jr. circa 1912. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

From left to right are John Bakewell, Jr., Arthur Brown, Jr., Jean-Louis Bourgeois and John Baur. Courtesy of UC Berkeley.

Here’s another photo of Bakewell & Brown with Percy Young around the time Pasadena’s City Hall was constructed. Courtesy UC Berkeley.

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Sources

Arthur Brown, Jr. photo from Wikimedia commons.

Ask bids for new city hall at Pasadena. (1925, November 25). Los Angeles Times, A10.

Ask bids to build city hall. (1925, September 28). Los Angeles Times, A8.

Bakewell, John, Jr. (1928, June). The Pasadena City Hall. Architect and Engineer, 93(3), 35-39 & 67, 69, 71, 73, 75, 77, 79, 81-83.

Detwiler, J. B., (Ed.). (1929). Who’s who in California. San Francisco: Who’s Who Publishing Company.

Drawings for center chosen. (1924, March 29). Los Angeles Times, D8.

Ground breaking for new city hall. (1926, January 22). Pasadena Star-News.

Harper, F. (Ed.). (1913). Who’s who on the Pacific coast. Los Angeles: Harper Publishing Company.

John Bakewell, Jr., Arthur Brown, Jr., Jean-Louis Bourgeois, John Baur photo courtesy of UC Berkeley.

John Bakewell, Jr., Arthur Brown, Jr., and Percy Young photo courtesy of UC Berkeley.

Pasadena Public Library. Accessed on 2/7/2020 at, https://www.cityofpasadena.net/library/pasadena-history/

Rasmussen, C. (2007, May 6). One of Pasadena’s architectural jewels gets a polishing. Los Angeles Times, VCB2.

SNAC: https://snaccooperative.org/ark:/99166/w6wm9v4n

Start city hall this fall. (1925, August 31). Los Angeles Times, 7.

Special thanks to Wei Zhang, a reference librarian at the Pasadena Public Library, who helped me track down when construction began.

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My book from The History Press, Architects Who Built Southern California, was released on March 11, 2019. It’s 10 chapters with each chapter devoted to a different architect (or architectural firm) including: Harrison Albright, John Austin, Claud Beelman, Elmer Grey, Hudson & Munsell, A. C. Martin, Meyer & Holler, Julia Morgan, Morgan Walls & Clements and Alfred F. Rosenheim.