Playhouse Plaza

Pasadena, California

In Pasadena, California, the Playhouse Plaza has replaced a single-story furniture store with “an architectural triumph that has added to Pasadena’s legacy of well-designed, beautiful buildings,” says Susan Mossman, Executive Director of Pasadena Heritage.

Located in the city’s revitalizing 32-block Playhouse District, the 155,000-square foot mixed-use development includes office space with ground floor shops and restaurants organized around courtyards and paseos and fronting two important commercial thoroughfares. The building’s open spaces and architecture celebrate the Pasadena Playhouse, an early 20th Century theater with a unique and unusual history that stands across the street.

Playhouse Plaza Pasadena Plans
Playhouse Plaza dimensions. Source: Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists.

Because of the historical importance of the playhouse, the development of the site was embroiled in a multiyear battle. The dispute was settled by a series of charrettes that led to the current design. The developer wanted a building that met 21st Century functional and constructional requirements. The community wanted a building that would relate seamlessly to its historic setting and sit comfortably with the scale of existing buildings.

“The final project is a lesson in listening to the concerns of the community up front, so that stakeholder consensus, including community perspectives, can be achieved and successfully implemented early on,” notes Nina Chomsky, Community Activist.

The site fronts Colorado Boulevard, famous for the Rose Bowl Parade, a formerly automobile-dominated thoroughfare that is transitioning to an urban place. The six-story Art Deco-style façade, inspired by the rich Deco traditions of Los Angeles, reflects the scale of commercial structures on that street.

Playhouse Plaza Pasadena facade details
Plaza Pasadena facade details. Source: Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists.

To the west, along El Molino Avenue, the building faces the historic two-story playhouse with its courtyard opening on to the street. Playhouse Plaza echoes this gesture on the opposite side of the street, forming a joint mid-block quad framed by two-story buildings. The retail buildings facing the historic Playhouse reuse the historic brick of the former demolished retail building on the site—using material to express memory.

Resolving the new building’s relationship with the historic playhouse was instrumental in reaching political consensus, demonstrating the power of New Urbanism to bring communities together.

Top photo: Playhouse Plaza exterior. Source: Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists.

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