Senior Center Supervisor Liliana Torres issued an urgent call to the center’s members last week. She requested assistance for Barbara Watkins and Bob Lynes, two of their fellow members.
Their home in the South Pasadena hills in the 1800 block of Hanscom Drive had been red-tagged by city officials. This signaled it was not safe for anyone to enter the property.
This development was completely unexpected. The couple had returned to their hillside home following an evening out on March 12. Both were in Lynes’ car. He then parked it on the home’s wide driveway in front of their garage. Her car was parked there, as well.
The 1960s-era, two-story residence on a steep hillside is not noticeable from the street. All that is clearly visible is the garage, which serves as the home’s entrance. The house’s upper floor is at the level of the garage, according to the couple. The lower level is situated below the street. A drive along Peterson Avenue, which is below Hanscom, provides a breathtaking view of homes built this way.
As they parked, the couple heard running water and then a creaking sound. The pair realized that a water pipe below their home had broken. Watkins saw water streaming out from under the driveway and knew they were in imminent danger.
They managed to move their two cars into the street just before the driveway cracked and sank a number of feet.
Lynes said that if the cars had remained, the weight of the vehicles would probably have caused the driveway to sink even more.
“The cars would also have been destroyed,” he added.
Fire departments from South Pasadena and several other jurisdictions responded to their call for aid. News of the incident was covered by reporters from television outlets and in both digital and print media.
The couple was not allowed to enter the home the night of the incident. Lynes said they were told that they would not be able to return home for two months or more.
“We got out with only the clothes on our backs,” homeowner Barbara Watkins said in an interview at the site on March 15. “We went to a thrift shop and bought a change of clothes.”
She pointed out that she was wearing the same black sweatshirt she had worn that night. The inscription on it read “Stay Calm and Play Chess.”
Last weekend, they stayed at the home of friends who were out of town. There she said they were able to launder their one set of clothes and their thrift-store purchases.
They are now seeking affordable temporary housing. Through a friend, they are staying in a retired ministers’ complex in Pasadena for less than the cost of a motel.
“We’re not sleeping under the underpasses, yet,” said Lynes at the site. They were at the home to meet an insurance company representative.
At press time, the property appears stable. Strips of yellow and red caution tape are still strung across the property. Neighbors on either side of the home said their properties, though, were unaffected.
Senior Center Manager Torres learned of the residents’ misfortune from the television news. Once she realized they were center members and volunteers, as well as participants in the center’s lunch program, she acted.
She emailed the center’s 250 members within two days of the incident.
“I have decided to take up a collection to help them until they have some answers,” she wrote. “I spoke with them today [March 14], and they are overwhelmed and beyond frustrated.”
She also contacted the center’s foundation board and others. “I’m reaching out to everyone I know,” Torres said in a March 14 email to the South Pasadena Review.
Torres said in an interview March 15 that she convinced the suddenly homeless pair to attend the Senior Center’s St. Patrick’s Day luncheon that day. This is a popular event attended by close to 100 people. Torres thought attending would boost their spirits.
She had collected $700 and a number of gift cards for them from members, she said. She and city Community Services Department Director Sheila Pautsch also donated.
The couple was appreciative of everything the city had done.
“The city has been wonderful,” said Watkins, who is in her late 70s.
“Especially what we received from the Senior Center,” added Lynes, who is in his early 80s.
“They gave us gift cards and money,” Watkins said. “We can go to Target. I need tennis shoes as these boots are killing me.” She had been wearing the same footwear for four days.
Watkins called the Fire Department’s Chris Szenczi a hero. The night of the accident, she said, he retrieved her jacket from the tagged site with a hook and 10-foot pole. The temperature that night had turned frigid.
Lynes said the Police Department is allowing them to park one car on the street without its being ticketed. Library staff renewed their checked-out items until June, he said.
Torres said they will not have to pay for their senior lunches at the center during this trying time.
She is asking the community to help them find a temporary residence.
Also needed, she said, are advisers who can help the couple navigate their insurance claim. The company sent an adjustor and has scheduled an engineer to assess the property.
The couple continues to need funds for living expenses, Torres said.
Those wishing to help can contact Torres at the Senior Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (626) 403-7364.