Why Hollywood A-listers Are Buying Historic Homes in Pasadena

Cameron Carothers; ullstein bild via Getty Images
Left: This 1959 home, built by architects Whitney Smith and Wayne Williams, hadn’t changed hands in 50 years before Meryl Streep bought it in December; right: Albert and Elsa Einstein in front of their home in Pasadena, where they spent three winters during the 1930s when he was a visiting professor at Caltech.

Stars from Meryl Streep to Kristen Wiig are suddenly being drawn to the grande dame of L.A. suburbs, where it "takes an act of God" to get some residents to sell.

When Meryl Streep and Kristen Wiig buy similar homes within blocks of each other in the span of a week, the question inevitably arises: What hot new enclave is drawing Hollywood now? Here, the neighborhood in question — Pasadena — may be hot, but it's the opposite of new. The grande dame of L.A. suburbs and the region's de facto intellectual capital (home to Caltech, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a half-dozen major cultural institutions), Pasadena and its storied mid-century and post-and-beam homes have welcomed a steady stream of stars and execs. "I have certainly seen an uptick in entertainment industry people coming here from all levels — costume designers, actors and producers. There are people that I would never expect to be calling me," says agent Matthew Berkley of brokerage Deasy/Penner, who has worked with star clients including the late Paul Walker.

In 2017, the median sales price of a home in Pasadena — about $1.2 million in the fourth quarter — climbed 6 percent, according to Pacific Union International. Compared to 17 percent year-over-year growth in Pacific Palisades, Pasadena prices — even in the ritzier South Pasadena neighborhood — seem (almost) modest. Keeping them in check, in part, is the abundance of historic districts and landmarked homes: Not every buyer is up for the hassles that often come with legacy properties. And Pasadena's zoning restrictions on new development, some of the strictest in L.A. County, keep some residential developers at bay.

Streep and Wiig purchased mid-century homes — for $3.6 million and $3 million, respectively (Wiig's is one of the original Case Study Houses). They join Mandy Moore, who bought in Pasadena in 2017 ($2.6 million), as did Rachel Bilson ($3.25 million).

"The perception that Pasadena is in the boondocks has kept it lower on Hollywood's radar," says Pacific Union International's Maggie Navarro, along with a certain "impenetrability" due to limited housing supply. "There is very little turnover or spontaneous construction," says Navarro. "Getting some [residents] out of their houses, some of whom have lived there 40, 50, even 60 years, takes an act of God," she jokes, adding homes are often passed down for generations.

But the visibility of Pasadena, convenient to the studios in Burbank, is growing amid the eastward creep of such production companies as Blumhouse (based in Echo Park) and Justin Lin's Perfect Storm Entertainment (DTLA). Says producer Barry Mendel, who has lived in Pasadena for two decades: "It's great to see the artistic community migrate east to where the bohemians live."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.