This article first appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net March 2021 print edition.
The original “California Mediterranean Style” structure for the Sierra Madre City Hall, Police Department, Fire Department and two-room jailhouse was built at 55 West Sierra Madre Boulevard in 1927, the same year as the construction of the Pasadena City Hall.
By Jean Sudbury
Officially opened to the public on January 20, 1928, the 21st anniversary of Sierra Madre‘s incorporation as a city, this beautiful building served the community for about 40 years. In the 1960s, the building was deemed to be unstable and not earthquake ready. The city hall, police station and fire station moved to a new, larger and earthquake resistant building across the street.
A commercial real estate development company bought the historic building; it planned to create a large, fancy restaurant. The project was unsuccessful because of repair and retrofitting costs and operating expenses. Gentrification of Sierra Madre is difficult because few travelers stop in Sierra Madre enroute to their final locations. We who live in Sierra Madre love that, but those who want to start a successful business in this small, charming town often fall short in fulfilling their dreams.
In the mid-1970s, an architect named Don was looking for office space larger than the one he had in Arcadia. He envisioned this historic building as his new space. LA born and raised, Don graduated from USC with an architecture degree. He saw this building as an investment opportunity with multiple office spaces. The adventure began.
The original building had two floors and a basement. Dirt floors rendered the basement unfit for occupation. The truly odd thing about this basement is that it has a fireplace good enough to occupy any home living room. What was it doing in a dirt basement? In the days when the building was used as the police station, the basement was used by the officers as a firing range. Perhaps they used the fireplace to heat the firing range.
Don, the architect, cleaned out the basement for office space. The fireplace is housed in a conference room in the former basement, which is now the first floor, downstairs from the street entry. The 3-story office building has 24 offices and maintains the original early 1900s California Mediterranean architectural design.
But wait, there’s more!
As one of the offices was being remodeled for a dentist office, plumbing was discovered in the back of the building. There were two separate sets of plumbing because there were two jail cells in the back of the building. Two women needed office space for a jewelry store and signed up for the jailhouse space. One of the women had been a prosecuting attorney for the DA’s office, so she thought it would be fitting to have an office behind bars. She also wanted to turn one of the cells into a bed and breakfast, and the City approved their application. The Jailhouse Inn opened in 2000. Due to COVID, the Inn closed its doors to the public after 20 successful years. The office building remains dynamic as a community icon. No gunshots are heard from the basement.
> This article appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net March 2021 print edition.
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