• This article first appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net March 2021 print edition.

      An old pinkish colored building

      Sierra Madre Old City Hall (Photo – Jean Sudbudry)

      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.

      column of sculpted knight

      Details at the front entrance (Photo – Jean Sudbury)

      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!

      a room with large keys outside hanging

      Jailhouse Inn (Photo – Jean Sudbury)

      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.

      a document in a glass case

      Original declaration of ownership, circa 1927 (Photo – Jean Sudbury)

      a lobby with glass and sofas

      A panoramic view of the inside, 2021 (Photo – Jean Sudbury)

      > This article appeared in the ColoradoBoulevard.net March 2021 print edition.


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      Comments

      1. Cathlyne Pyle-Talevich says:

        Our chiropractic office is in the front, where the big windows are…and the owner is a wonderful landlord! A beautiful old building with a happy vibe. ♥

      2. Christopher Martin says:

        And they had a real pole to slide down like in the old days, at least they did in 62 when I wen there on a class field trip. Which is weird come to think of it because it was a volunteer FD and everyone was pretty much somewhere else when that big old horn went off.

      3. Janice Helmer says:

        Fun bit of history.

      4. William Baptiste says:

        I remember when it was the Polizia station, with one car parked in front.

      5. Sharon Fowler says:

        Stayed in the little lodging on the side once. Really fun to sleep in a cell.

      6. Dave Link says:

        I am proud to have been in a cell there as a child,we allegedly threw dirt clods at the Richter’s equipment and were jailed till our parents picked us up worst 15 minutes of my life. I don’t believe till this day I have ever entered from the front door always the side. We were innocent btw some older kids copped to it.

      7. Chip Young says:

        We built the float there for a few years.

      8. Cindy Jean Varnado says:

        My Grandfather helped start the fire department. He was First Assistant Fire Chief. Good article by the way.

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