Lanterman House ceiling restoration placed in artist’s able hands

For most centenarians a facelift would be an ill-advised move, but La Cañada’s historic Lanterman House would be nothing without the surgical attentions of a few professionals committed to keeping it in top condition.

Under the skillful hands of specialist Bob Burchman, owner of Santa Monica-based Landmark Decorative Painting and Restoration, the ceiling of what was Roy and Emily Lanterman’s master bedroom is currently being returned to its original state.

Burchman and his assistant Bettina Wilson began cloaking the period furniture and Lanterman belongings on Monday for what they anticipate will be a three-week project at the museum. The work is one of many Lanterman-related duties undertaken by Burchman and now-retired partner Ed Pinson over the years.

“There hasn’t been a project that’s called us back as many times as this,” Burchman said of the structure, designed in 1915 by Arthur Haley.

Lanterman House Executive Director Melissa Patton admits restoring the plaster walls originally decorated with wallpaper by Emily Lanterman, and repairing cracks and stress fractures in the hand-painted decorative ceiling, is no small feat.

“An amazing amount of artistic labor went into this house [when it was built],” Patton said. “It would be a huge disservice not to restore it to the way that it was.”

The $10,000 restoration, paid for with funds raised by the Lanterman Historical Museum Foundation, isn’t the first makeover the master bedroom has undergone since the stately Encinas Drive homestead was bequeathed to the city after the 1987 death of Lloyd Lanterman and dedicated in the early 1990s as La Cañada’s historic museum.

“This is the fourth time this ceiling has been worked on,” Patton said.

With the furniture draped in a clear plastic drop cloth, Wilson places small segments of blue painters tape to indicate hundreds of stress fractures on the wall. Burchman uses a large dremel-like tool to gouge open cracks that have ripped straight across the ceiling. He explains this will make the repairs deeper and more lasting than mere spackling.

“That’s like putting a Band-Aid on it,” he said of spackling. “It doesn’t do any good — it’s just cosmetic, like putting makeup over a pimple.”

To preserve the integrity of hand-painted flowers, the pair traced the patterns onto paper they can then trace over in a transfer process. Every single color has been perfectly matched to the original, Burchman assures.

The end product will be a a far cry from the state of the room when the city took ownership of Lanterman House, according to Patton — who winces at the memory of discovering that Frank Lanterman, Lloyd’s younger brother, had used their late parents’ bedroom to store old, dirty pipe organ pieces and equipment — but one that seems appropriate given the house’s provenance. Frank Lanterman, who passed away in 1981, for nearly three decades represented the area and surrounding communities in the state Assembly.

“One of the things we’re really proud of is that the house has been absolutely professionally restored, to the extent that we can do, so it’s the same as when it was built,” Patton said.

Twitter: @SaraCardine

A previous version of this story stated that Frank Lanterman was the older brother of Roy Lanterman. He was Lloyd Lanterman’s younger brother.
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