The History of the Cravens Estate
Completed in 1930 for Pasadena residents Mr. and Mrs. John Cravens, this elegant estate was designed by renowned San Francisco architect, Lewis P. Hobart. His inspiration for the estate’s design was the baroque Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, which was also the inspiration for Versailles. Situated just south of Paris, the chateau was unique in that it incorporated the grounds into the design of the mansion. Currently, the Cravens Estate serves as the headquarters of the San Gabriel Pomona Valley American Red Cross. In 1965, the mansion was honored with the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation Award and was designated a Pasadena Cultural Landmark by the Pasadena Heritage Society. In addition, the city of Pasadena has designated it a Landmark of Historical Significance, its highest category. In partnership with the American Red Cross, this spectacular property was chosen for renovation and has been transformed into the 2010 Pasadena Showcase House of Design.
Lewis Parson Hobart was born in St Louis, Missouri on January 14, 1873. Upon completion of preparatory school in the east, he attended the University of California, Berkeley for one year before enrolling at the American Academy in Rome. He studied architecture for three additional years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris from 1901-1903. He returned to San Francisco following the Great Earthquake and Fire in 1906. His classical training and his expertise in steel frame construction gave him an advantage in gaining commissions for the rebuilding of San Francisco. Many of his structures can be seen throughout the city today, most notably being Grace Episcopal Cathedral in Nob Hill, which was inspired by 13th century French Gothic architecture. Other notable structures include the Crocker Building on Market Street and the Postal Telegraph Building on Battery Street. French-influenced residences are also prevalent on Russian Hill and in the surrounding bay area communities of Hillsboro, Palo Alto and Pacific Heights.
The Home Owners
John S. Cravens was born in 1871 in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from Yale University in 1893. Later that year, he married Mildred Myers of St. Louis. Mildred’s father, George S. Myers, amassed his fortune as the co-founder of the Liggette and Myers Tobacco Company. John Cravens worked for his father-in-law until the company was sold to the American Tobacco Company in 1900.
The Cravens had wintered in Pasadena since 1897 but chose to move permanently to Southern California in 1900. They built an English style home on what is referred to as “Millionaire’s Row,” at 1101 South Orange Grove. In the 1920s, the property was torn down to make way for the existing estate.
The Cravens were very active in local affairs and generous donors to charities throughout the Pasadena area. Mr. Cravens was the first elected president of the Edison Electric Company and, later, the Chief Executive of the Southwestern National Bank. He also served as a trustee of the California Institute of Technology and was a member of the Community Chest.
Mrs. Cravens was a founder of the Pasadena Children’s Training Society and also served on the boards of the Huntington Memorial Hospital and the American Red Cross of Pasadena. The estate was the site of frequent meetings and events, which the Cravens generously hosted. After the Cravens passed away in the 1940’s, the estate passed through a number of owners until it was donated by Simon Zervos to the American Red Cross in 1962. The estate has been used as a backdrop in many television shows including Mad Men, Ghost Whisperer, Desperate Housewives, as well as feature films, including Being There, Public Enemy, and Traffic.
The Cravens Estate is a refined three story, fifty-room residence with a wealth of architectural features. It originally encompassed 16 acres beginning at Orange Grove Boulevard and extending to south Grand Avenue. The estimated square footage of the home was 19,970 square feet. The total building cost of over $310,000 made this home one of the most expensive built in Pasadena at that time. The first floor had seven living rooms, a dining room, a kitchen and two pantries. The second floor included eleven bedrooms and six bathrooms. There were two bedrooms on the third floor. There was also a 1,082 square foot completed basement. Heat was provided by a gas furnace and five fireplaces. Sharing the estate with the Cravens were up to 32 servants.
The home’s impressive exterior is made of steel reinforced concrete, with brick veneer to create the home’s expansive facade. The mansard roof, typical of many French structures, is made of Vermont slate. Large French doors span across the front and back of the mansion.
Much of its interior decoration, including the door and window hardware, was imported from Europe. European craftsmen were hired to install golden mahogany and French walnut paneling, gold plated fixtures, and carved mouldings.
Upon entering the foyer, one encounters spectacular painted murals, high ceilings, and marble floors. The large living room opens onto a beautiful terrace that overlooks the garden below. A stunning glass and wrought iron skylight illuminates the foyer and draws the eye up the gracious curving staircase with its decorative iron railing. Upper rooms display high ceilings, with French doors accented with lovely wrought iron balconies.
Though the Cravens Estate has been reduced in size over the decades, it remains an architectural masterpiece and a part of Pasadena’s proud history. The Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts is honored to now be playing a role in its story.
Research by Tim Gregory, The Building Biographer
The physical home inspection was carried out by Bob Cherry, Inc.