October 10, 2005

Historic Mansion Destroyed

Last Wednesday, an iconic Tudor Revival style residence at 160 S. San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena was destroyed by a devastating fire. The news media has spent a lot of time focused on whether it was or wasn't the mansion used to film the Batman movies, or whether it was owned by Paul Mcartney. Unfortunately, nearly everyone fails to provide the information we here at PreserveLA are most interested in knowing, namely that this impressive residence was designed by reknowned African-American architect Paul R. Williams for Jack Pease Atkin in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression.

Atkin, a British immigrant who made his fortune racing thoroughbreds, hired Williams to design what he intended to be his castle on a 3.5-acre site on the west bank of the Arroyo Seco. According to history related by a 1995 Los Angeles Times article, Atkin told Williams he wanted to spend half a million dollars in building the house. "In those days," Williams later recalled, "that was hard to do." He complied, however, by a lavish use of the most expensive materials, such as oak, marble and leaded glass.

The 12,000-square-foot manor house stands on a knoll overlooking the Arroyo with a view of the Colorado Street Bridge and the snow-capped San Gabriel mountains. It was built of brick and had a slate roof, all typical of the Tudor Revival style.

Atkins House in Pasadena, Photo Courtesy J. Trotoux

Atkin, his wife and their daughter, Clarabel, moved into the house in 1929, just before the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. The Depression caused many to lose their jobs, so Atkin rented the property to movie studios as a way to finance a soup kitchen. The house is best known for its role in the movies 'Topper' (1937), 'The Bells of St. Mary's' (1937) and 'Sweet Bird of Youth' (1962). Atkin passed away in 1938.

Read the recent media coverage:

Tudor style mansion gutted by a fire
"The fire completely destroyed the 16,000-square-foot home. The house was originally designed by famed African-American architect Paul Williams..."

Fiery End for Wayne Manor? Not So Fast
"To local architecture buffs, the building is better known as the handiwork of Paul Williams, the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects. The house, at 160 S. San Rafael Avenue, suffered $15-million worth of damage, according to the Pasadena Fire Department. The cause of the blaze is under investigation..."

"Batman" house escapes damage in Pasadena fire
"A Tudor style mansion in Pasadena that was used for a number of movie shoots has been destroyed by fire but the house nearby where the 1960s "Batman" TV series was shot escaped damage, fire officials said on Thursday..."

Holy smoke! Fire destroys Batman's home
"A FIRE has gutted the Californian mansion best known as the Batcave - the home of Batman and Bruce Wayne in the 1960s cult television series..."

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