Heritage tour makes a stop at Walt Disney animator's mid-century home

Frank Thomas, member of the animating team Walt Disney fondly titled "The Nine Old Men," is well remembered for the characters he brought to life on screen — from Bambi and Pinocchio to Lady and the Tramp and Captain Hook.

In the 1940s, he and longtime friend and fellow Disney animator Ollie Johnston were looking to purchase land to build their family homes and settled on splitting a 3-acre plot off Flintridge Avenue.

For their half of the acreage, Thomas and wife Jeannette enlisted noted architect Ted Criley Jr. to design a dream house that accommodated their love of the outdoors, desire for openness and antipathy for housekeeping.

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"Frank's manifesto is a five-page sheaf of notes he gave to Criley of what he and my mom wanted," explained son Theodore "Ted" Thomas, son and current property owner, while giving a tour of the property this week. "It was titled 'Infinite Riches in a Small Space.'"

This Sunday the 3,500-square-foot Mid-century Modern collaboration is a featured stop on Pasadena Heritage's Spring Home Tour, a drive-up event featuring six area architect-designed houses constructed after 1945 and fitting the theme "Modern Works."

Other landmark destinations include: the 1947 Case Study House #10 by Kemper Nomland Jr; the DeLong House in Altadena, built by James DeLong for his parents in 1951; Pasadena's Bellegrove Garden Apartments, the 1958 creation of James Resh; and the 1979 Arroyo Del Rey in Pasadena and 1983 Hamlin House in San Marino, both designed by Conrad Buff and Donald Hensman.

Lovingly maintained and kept in its original condition, Frank Thomas' 1949 home at 758 Flintridge Ave. not only embodies the modern theme of this year's tour, but pays tribute to the artist's animated life in postwar America.

Drafting tables, musical instruments, a convertible listening room and several pieces of Disneyana bespeak days marked by industry and the appreciation of nature, music and conversations with friends. The master bedroom's windows were specifically lowered to allow Thomas to view the surrounding hillside from bed.

"It was more an expression of how they wanted to live," said Ted Thomas, who had the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. "It's just a fun, gracious, inviting space that felt good to be in."

Even the room Ted Thomas shared with older brother Gregg remains in tact, complete with books, toys and pieces of school art. Pasadena Heritage educational director Patty Judy said the tour aims to capture a "time capsule" effect.

"When I send the letter to (prospective) houses, I say, 'This is not a showcase tour. We want your house to look like you live there,'" Judy said. "If you have a laundry basket in the corner of your bedroom, you'd better leave it there."

FYI

The Pasadena Heritage Spring Home Tour takes place Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $48 and can be purchased at tour homes. For more information, visit pasadenaheritage.org/springtour.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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