AKA: Pasadena City Hall #3, Pasadena, CA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - city halls

Designers: Architectural Resources Group (ARG), Architects, Planners and Conservators, Incorporated (firm); Bakewell and Brown, Architects (firm); Forell | Elsesser Structural Engineers, Incorporated (firm); Lyndon/Buchanan Associates (firm); John Bakewell Jr. (architect); Arthur Brown Jr. (architect); Marvin Buchanan (architect); Eric Elsesser (structural engineer); Nicholas Frank Forell (structural engineer); Donlyn Lyndon (architect)

Dates: constructed 1925-1927

3 stories, total floor area: 170,000 sq. ft.

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100 North Garfield Avenue
Civic Center, Pasadena, CA 91101-1726

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Building History

The Pasadena City Hall was a rare work in Southern California by Bakewell and Brown, the talented San Francisco firm, masters of Beaux-Arts Classicism. Previously, Bakewell and Brown gained fame for their flamboyant Beaux-Arts design for San Francisco's City Hall (1915), completed in time for the city's Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. Opened on 12/27/1927, the Pasadena City Hall would be one of Bakewell and Brown's last large-scale works, as the partners dissolved the firm in 1928. The architects created a graceful design that combined French Beaux-Arts details (the dome's tall proportions and design echoed those of Les Invalides in Paris [1674]) with aspects of the Italian Baroque (seen in the complex broken pediment of the main entry) and the Spanish Colonial Revival, demonstrated by the use of the Romanesque arch, arcades and Spanish tile roofs. The Pasadena building's ornamental richness (seen especially well in the dome's florid decoration) and quality of its materials underscored the prosperity of the city's inhabitants. Many upper- and upper-middle-class retirees came to Pasadena from the Midwest between 1880-1930.

A cost over-run of $200,000 was mentioned by the Los Angeles Times in a story of 10/06/1927: “City Directors are planning a conference this week with John Bakewell, Jr., of Bakewell & Brown, San Francisco architects who designed the Pasadena City Hall, over a bill for extra expenses on the building totaling nearly $200,000, which the contractor is said to be preparing. The city ordered the Orndorff Construction Company to make certain changes in the construction of the building after it had been started, contending that the contractor had made mistakes in reading the plans. The construction company holds that it followed the plans properly and that the city will have to pay for the changes demanded. These claims have not been presented officially to the City Directors, but City Manager Orbison said today that he has heard that the bill was presented to the architects by the contractor.” (See “Pasadena City Hall Cost to be Parley Subject,” Los Angeles Times, 10/06/1927, p. 28.)

The Pasadena City Hall was a central part of a master plan for a civic center created by Lyndon Buchanan Associates in the early 1990s. (See Sally Byrne Woodbridge, "A tale of two civic centers: development around the city halls of Beverly Hills and Pasadena, California," Progressive Architecture, vol. 74, no. 4, 04/1993, pp.98-103,131.) As per the web site of the University of California, Berkeley, Environmental Design Archive: "In 1987 the firm [Lyndon Buchanan Associates] formed an urban design team consisting of Allan Jacobs, Randy Hester, Marcia McNally, and Frances Halsband, which prepared the Pasadena Civic Center Master Plan and a later urban design plan for the Pasadena Playhouse District." (See University of California, Berkeley.edu, College of Environmental Design Archives, "Lyndon/Buchanan Associates," accessed 11/22/2019.)

Building Notes

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The firm's chief designer, Arthur Brown, Jr., (1874-1957), configured the seat of Pasadena's municipal government to be a hollow rectangle, measuring 351 feet (on the north-south axis) by 242 feet (east-west) and containing 200 rooms with 170,000 gross square feet; the building's linear mass was shaped around a sizable, central courtyard. The eastern entryway was marked by a one-story arcade. while the other three facades have three stories, each courtyard corner highlighted by copper towers. A dome, measuring 206 feet at the top of its cupola, covered the west entrance.

Over the years, the City Hall has been featured as a backdrop for many Hollywood television shows and movies. Recently, it was used in the NBC situation comedy, Parks and Recreation, as the city hall backdrop for the fictitious city of Pawnee, IN.


To remedy seismic inadequacies in the Pasadena City Hall, the city government vacated the building between 07/2004 and 04/2007. Renovation and seismic work began in 03/2005. All employees were moved back by 07/2007. Architects for the renovation obtained a LEED Gold Certification, the second highest, indicating that building processes and its materials have been environmentally responsible. The Architectural Resources Group supervised the seismic retrofitting and preservation of the historic architecture. It collaboarated with Forell/Elsesser Engineers, who devised a new base isolation system for the building.

PCAD id: 2385