Pasadena’s First Skyscraper Has Just a Few More Months Before It Comes Crashing Down to Earth

The new owner of Pasadena’s tallest empty building has 2 items on its agenda for the 1962 structure: air it out and tear it down. For nearly 2 decades, the 12-story office tower at 1002 Southmore Ave. — originally known as the First Pasadena State Bank building — has managed to get by untouched by those who want it gone. (It came this close to vanishing in 2005 when the city issued a demolition permit for it, but a new owner scooped it up before anything went down.) In June, the city filed a lawsuit demanding that the property owner demolish the tower or reimburse the city for taking matters into its own hands. The defendant did neither, and instead passed the building off in October to the Pasadena Economic Development Corporation — which, having secured financial help from Pasadena’s city council shortly after the sale closed — now plans to go through with the teardown.

It’ll cost about $2.5 million to get rid of structure, the private development group estimates, after having negotiated the terms of its demise with various demolition and asbestos abatement contractors. According to the PEDC’s meeting minutes following the purchase: “the roof leaks so badly that water has gone through the whole building.

When Houston architectural firm MacKie & Kamrath designed it for what was to become the commercial center of Pasadena in the early ’60s, the challenge was to make something “that signalled the former Strawberry Capital of the World‘s transition into the era of manned spaceflight,” according to the Chronicle’s Lisa Gray. It became an icon in town — showing up on school report cards and in the logo for the city’s chamber of commerce — and beyond, as a notable waypoint between downtown Houston and NASA’s then-new manned spaceflight facility further south off I-45.

Looking from closer up, you can see the corner holes in the building’s cantilevered roof overhang:


Along with a few more openings closer to ground level:

As the building’s namesake was acquired and re-sold over the years, the 2-story lobby offered branch banking under a variety of brands.

By the turn of the millennium, however, it was empty along with the office space above it.

Photos: Patrick Feller [license] (first); (all others)

Breaking the Bank Building

15 Comment

  • The reason that hopelessly abandoned buildings continue to exist is that the underlying land value fails to exceed the cost of demolition. Unless north Pasadena has very recently and unbeknownst to me undergone a renaissance of some sort, this seems very likely to be one of those cases.
    It’s not very different from the situation with the Astrodome, really. There are simply times when it is well worth it just to keep a structure in mothballs because all of the alternatives are worse. The notion that the public ought to step in to hasten the process, when the public’s wherewithal is finite and scarce…well, unless the building was posing some kind of threat to public health and safety, this course of action seems very dubious.

  • A shame it could not be saved.

  • What a shame… only skyscraper in Pasadena….

  • Isn’t several of Pasadena’s EDC members and their Port Commissioner under indictment??

  • It is technically not the only “skyscraper” in Pasadena. The condo tower on Clear Lake is within the city limits.

  • @Michael Flynn Cohen Yes, Pasadena EDC under grand jury indictment for lack of open meetings and awarding contracts without competitive bid.

  • @Local Planner

    Good to know. The new symbol of Pasadena is a condo tower overlooking Clear Lake.

    Well that and the new city logo that is derived directly from Church’s Chicken.

  • Something doesn’t smell right about this entire situation. A city suing to tear down a historic landmark? A city’s economic development council acquiring to tear down? With all the preservation funding available, why doesn’t the economic council work to lure tenants and drive economic development? There are many offices for industrial companies along 225 and the beltway that would be glad to pay low rent and get into renovated offices. What will go up in another lot? Another dollar store? Where do the interests of city hall and the economic council really lie?

  • My spouse and me managed this property for over 23 years. It was a distressed property in 1992 when we took it over. We took it from 17% occupancy to 95% occupancy because the owner of the property, Gary Sexton put his heart, soul and lots of money for improvements. He sold the property to a person who no longer cared for the tenants, and the building slowly emptied out including our anchor tenant Chase Bank.

    This property has set empty for ten years. The gangs and vagrants have moved in and have stolen all the copper from the building. I am terribly sad that it must go, but it has become a very unsafe place and I am sure it must be torn down. This served our community well and I will miss it so much.

    My spouse is deceased and as Bitter sweet as that is. I am glad he won’t be there the day it is demolished. It would break his heart.

  • My company was a tenant for years. Sorry to lose this land mark. The LeValleys were good managers and great people.

  • To Concerned Pasadenien

    There is no way this building could ever be restored. It has all the wiring, the electrical the plumbing, all it’s Vidal mechanical meconisms stripped out by the gangs and vagrants. It could never be worth once it was when it was sold by Gary Sexton in the late 1990’s. With the asbestos left on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors the costs would exceed $20million dollars to restore that property. We managed that property for over 23 years. When Mr Sexton owned the property, it was maintained and kept maintained for the time we were there to care for it. When the building was sold, four owners ago, the new owner could have cared less about it. He cared only that he make a profit off of it.

    When it finally went into foreclosure most of the property was still usable. It wS when it sold to the second owner that nothing was done because the owner passed away and the co-owner was not willing to do anything. We stayed with the property through foreclosure the second time but as you know a property that is in foreclosure will never be brought back to use. That is when the gangs took it over and the vagrants moved in.

    There is nothing anyone can do for this property except to demolish it. It is heartbreaking, we spent a good portion of our life making this a wonderful property for the residents of Pasadena and surrounding areas to be proud of. Thank God for Economic Development. Taking down this building, they should be thanked for getting rid of this horrible eye sore it has become.

  • @Linda Levalley Your husband was a great man and loved this building.

    The building is THREE BLOCKS from the City of Pasadena Police Station. The city did NOTHING when the vandals and vagrants attacked the building. They did not put up security fence and send the owner a bill. They did not post sensors or cameras or anything.

    I called the police when a guy was sawing off a fire hydrant standpipe in the parking lot. Nobody showed up.

    The city let this happen. So it’s an expensive demolition funded with our tax dollars. Disgusting.

  • My mother worked in this building.She loved it .i remember the Christmas tree.Going to be odd driving by & It will be gone .And the water in the front Pasadena & Rayburn week the green or blue waterGreat memories

  • This was such a beautiful building. It is a shame the owners did not take care of it.
    By the 90’s there was so much disrepair but it could have been renovated. It would have been a nice apartment building.

  • I remember when the tower was lighted up for Christmas in it’s last years before Bank One left it. I used to get to visit yearly for the postal credit union meetings my parents attended in the overhanging side and there were so many cookies to choose from and the grand atmosphere. I’ve only had a few chances to enter the main lobby and see the indoor fountains with their lights in different colors, and the safe deposit box room on occasion.