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Luxury

Have Big Bucks? Live on Millionaire's Row in This Fascinating Italian Revival

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    Italian revival mansion

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    Italian Revival detail

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    Italian Revival mansion

This grand Italian Revival mansion isn't just one of the swankiest homes on Millionaire's Row in Pasadena. It's also been an integral part of a controversial religious institution. Now a devoted buyer can write his or her own intriguing chapter in one of Southern California's oldest and most famous communities -- for $4.8 million.

When you hear "Millionaire's Row," your mind races to Beverly Hills or Bel Air. However, this seven-figure home is located in an enclave in relatively sleepy Pasadena. If you've seen the city's Rose Parade on New Year's Day, you might have noticed some of the gorgeous historical mansions along the parade route and wondered, "Who lives in those houses? I bet they have some great stories."

We can confirm your wonder. In the case of this house now known as "Terrace Villa," it began when retired Chicago judge Stillman B. Jamieson hired California architect Walter C. Folland to build his West Coast home in the Italian Revival style, which was all the rage among California's elite in 1924. Because a neighboring mansion cost a then-unheard-of $1 million to build, this particular part of the street was dubbed Millionaire's Row.

The home was a private residence until 1947, when Herbert W. Armstrong, leader of the Worldwide Church of God, came to town and began acquiring the lavish mansions on Millionaire's Row to anchor his newly founded Ambassador College.

The educational institution was established as a liberal arts college, but its main mission was to prepare youth for life and service in the church. The church had a checkered history over the decades and was besieged by controversy and scandal.

In the '90s the college was moved to Texas, and the church began selling off small parts of the once-thriving college.

Many of the buildings sat vacant for more than a decade, but this particular home was used for special events (e.g., it was a staging area for nuptials held in its gardens). Around the turn of the century, developers bought the 19-acre property and turned it into a community known as Ambassador Gardens. The development includes the three historic mansions, an original sunken Italian-style garden and other formal gardens, the Ambassador Auditorium, and a number of luxury townhouses, condos, and private residences.

Today one mansion is being used as a sales office, another is a Tudor that's a private residence, and this 8,000-square-foot Terrace Villa. The four-bedroom home is in the midst of a renovation that will blend modern amenities to its classic features. Among the new additions are a 900-bottle wine cellar, game room, media room, maid's quarters, and four-car underground garage.

The villa has two grand entrances, with the main entrance facing a 2-acre lawn. The upper walls are edged with hand-painted friezes and garlands. Period elements include scrolled wood roof brackets; prominent entry bays with classical detailing; arched openings; multiple chandeliers; a spectacular curved staircase; original hardwood, marble, and tile floors; and decorative wrought iron.

The grounds are lush with mature specimen trees, including two massive fig trees as old as the home itself. The property was designated as a historic landmark in 2012 with Mills Act property tax status, and most of the gardens are cared for by the Ambassador Gardens HOA.

One other advantage of Terrace Villa? It's located within walking distance of the famous Old Town Pasadena, where some of the area's best shops and restaurants are found, along with the Norton Simon Art Museum. Also, classical music concerts at the revived Ambassador Auditorium are only steps away.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a piece of our Pasadena history that is completely refurbished with beautiful, modern systems, yet retains its original, historic features," says listing agent Sarah Rogers of the John Aaroe Group. "So many of the older homes I work with need so much restoration work. Terrace Villa will be absolutely turnkey."