In 2012, Tanner Manor turned 100 years old. During that century, many families owned and occupied the 7200-square-foot mansion on top of the hill at 1133 Buena Vista Street in South Pasadena, California. However, you would be hard-pressed to find another family that used every square inch of it and loved it as much as my family did during the 18 years we lived there.
But before we could move in, my parents needed a miracle—a big one.
They had been living with 10 children in a tiny house next to the Post Office on Fremont Avenue. There the family was "packed in liked sardines," as Mom was fond of saying. But she was expecting Scott, their eleventh child, and they all needed more space. So, with some gumption and a lot of faith, typical of how they approached insurmountable obstacles, Dad and Mom were able to find and buy Tanner Manor. This is how Dad described the miracle:
“In 1960 we experienced another wonderful blessing as we found our next home (also in South Pasadena) at 1133 Buena Vista Avenue. By that time, we had really outgrown the 1015 Fremont home. It had only two real bedrooms—plus one that had been added on in the back and some space in the attic. We were really ‘stacked up on top of each other’ in there, with all of the boys in bunk beds and the three oldest girls sharing a bedroom we’d converted out of the attic. Athelia was expecting our eleventh child at that time and we were quite desperate to find something bigger. There just weren’t many houses in Southern California in our price range that could accommodate a family as large as ours. We looked all over and finally located a home in Glendale that we thought could work if we did some fairly extensive remodeling. This Glendale location was a one-story home with a swimming pool on the roof. We had a plan drawn up for adding a second story with six more bedrooms. We had worked things out with the owners and thought it was a ‘done deal,’ only to be disappointed when the City of Glendale refused to give us a permit for the remodeling plan. So, we were forced to continue the discouraging task of looking for something that didn’t seem to exist.
“Then one day as we were walking around an area close to the border between South Pasadena and Pasadena, we came upon a large home for sale that had obviously been very nice when constructed but had not been consistently well cared for in some time. We later found out that the original owners and builders of the home had owned most of the land on which the present city of South Pasadena is built. However, the current owner was a gentleman who was living alone in the huge house after his wife had died and his three children had married and left home. We asked our friend and realtor, Lydia Smith, to make an offer that was much lower than the asking price, but one we felt we could afford with a small down payment from the sale of the 1015 Fremont home. Lydia frankly told us that the offer was so ridiculously low that it would probably just make the owner angry and unwilling to work with us at all. But I said, ‘If you won’t do it, I will.’ So, she made our offer. And the owner took it!
“Once again we had experienced a miracle in obtaining a home for our family. It was such a great deal—we could have turned around and sold it the next day for $10,000 more than we paid. But the best thing was that we finally had a house that fit our family. And even though it was in a fairly serious state of disrepair at the time, it had great possibilities to become our dream home with its beautiful leaded glass windows, wood-paneled library, and spectacular entry hall. We did a lot of cleanup work to make the home livable and then moved in just before Christmas of 1960. The pillars on the front porch were perfect for winding in festive red ribbon, which we then stretched across the doorway so we could hold a family ribbon-cutting ceremony to properly celebrate this landmark event."
Many miracles followed, but this might have been the biggest miracle of all.
Floor plans for Tanner Manor when it was on the market in 2001. Not included is the attic, which runs the full length of the house.
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I'm the twelfth of 13 children. I was born into a poor family living in a big house on top of a hill in South Pasadena, California. We called it Tanner Manor, and these are my stories of growing up there.