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Melissa Patton to retire as head of Lanterman House

Melissa Patton, executive director of Lanterman House, has announced to the museum's board of directors and La Cañada Flintridge city officials her plans to retire later this year after 25 years at the helm.

Patton was a young mother of two with her master's in museum studies from USC when she was hired in 1992 by Lanterman Foundation Board President Sue Schechter, then-mayor Joan Feehan and Gabby Pryor, then city manager, to oversee on a part-time basis the restoration of the former Lanterman family house, which had been left to the city.

"This female mafia was running the city, and they just said, 'This is who we've decided is going to be the director of Lanterman House,'" Patton joked of her hiring. "That is how I ended up here."

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As phases of rehabilitation to the building were completed, Patton's job duties shifted toward turning the Encinas Drive house and its contents into a functioning museum and showcase of La Cañada's founding family and their role in Crescenta Valley history.

A quarter of a century later, the 1915 stone bungalow-style manse once called "El Retiro" is a cultural touchstone for visitors who want to learn more about the city's founders and the early days of the valley. A thriving archive of historical documents makes the location an important local resource and point of interest to the estimated 43,000 people who've come to the house since it opened to visitors.

Patton, 60, says now seemed as good a time as any for her to retire and, in doing so, make room for the next leg of Lanterman House's journey.

The executive director officially announced her plans to step down as of Sept. 1 — the 25th anniversary of her first day on the job — in a March 9 meeting of the Lanterman Historical Museum Foundation Board of Directors.

"I figured I will have been here for 25 years. That seemed like a good time to depart," she said.

The Lanterman board has appointed board member and docent Bob Moses to serve as interim director while it searches for Patton's replacement, according to President-elect Mary Lou Langdyke.

"We're in the process of creating a current job description," Langdyke said Monday. "Bob has graciously agreed to be the interim director, so we're not going to miss a beat. But we want to take our time and make sure [the job description] reflects what's really needed at this point."

A retired nursing home administrator whose own roots go back to La Cañada's early families, Moses praised Patton's many contributions to Lanterman House.

"She has come, personally and professionally, a very long way, as well as bringing the museum a long way," he said. "She has been a fantastic executive director."

Patton, who plans to get more involved in art and art history and travel internationally with husband and Caltech chemistry professor Jay Winkler, is bracing herself for a bittersweet departure.

"It is going to be hard to let it go," she said. "(But) I hope I'm leaving it in a very good place, both physically and educationally, and that we have not just made ourselves useful, but made ourselves an important part of the Crescenta Valley."

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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