Lanterman Mansion to Be La Canada City Hall : Home Again Becomes Community Focus

Times Staff Writer

There was a time, particularly in the heady days of the 1920s, when the home of Dr. Roy S. Lanterman and family was the social spot of the growing community of La Canada.

Guests would come to the spacious grounds at 4420 Encinas Drive to stroll among the imported trees and bushes in the botanical garden, tap out a friendly game of croquet on one of several courts at the estate or spend the evening dancing in the ballroom that occupied the entire second floor of the house.

Those times are still a topic of conversation for Lloyd Lanterman, who at 88 is the last descendant of the community's founding family, and the few friends who visit the old gentleman at the Lanterman home. But these days the future of the estate is as much discussed as its past, now that the City of La Canada Flintridge stands to inherit the home upon the death of Lanterman.

With tentative plans to renovate the property into a combination city hall and community center, the Lanterman home may once again become a hub of activity in La Canada Flintridge. The house, built of concrete, is expected to make a more comfortable home for city offices than the two rented suites at the Villa Real professional building on Foothill Boulevard where the city conducts its business.

"We could have a city five times as large as we are now and still have adequate room for city offices," said Councilman Ed Krause, sizing up the space available at the home.

The city this month signed the final papers to close a deal that took three years to conclude and involved negotiations among city officials, USC (also an heir to the Lanterman property) and Lanterman's representatives. City officials are aware that the significance of acquiring the Lanterman home goes beyond the monetary value of the 1.2-acre estate, whose land alone is estimated to be worth more than $1.2 million.

'A Special Place'

"The Lanterman estate is the single most historic site in our community," said Mayor Thomas Curtis at last week's City Council meeting, when the city officially accepted the deed to the property. "It occupies a special place in the heart of La Canada Flintridge."

"Going through the doors of that home," said Councilwoman Barbara Pieper, "is like stepping into another era of life in Southern California."

It was Lanterman's desire to see the home remembered for what it once was that led him to make changes in an estate planning package set up by his brother, Frank D. Lanterman, the former state assemblyman who died in 1981. The two brothers each owned a half interest in the Lanterman property, but, those close to Lloyd Lanterman, say it was Frank Lanterman who largely determined who the heirs would be. Neither had any other close surviving relatives.

Under the original terms of trusts that were established in 1969, the lion's share of the sizable estate, which includes other land holdings besides the Encinas Drive property, was to go to the brothers' alma mater, USC, said Harcourt Hervey, the attorney representing Lloyd Lanterman. The remainder of the property, Hervey said, was willed to the Church of the Lighted Window, a United Church of Christ congregation where Lloyd Lanterman still attends Sunday services.

At the time the trusts were established, nothing had been left to the City of La Canada Flintridge.

Not long after his brother died, Lloyd Lanterman began to have second thoughts about the intended property distribution, particularly regarding the house.

"Lloyd just got to wondering what would happen to the house," explained Eugene Burrows, the trustee of Lloyd Lanterman's estate and his friend. "I said, 'If it doesn't go to someone in particular, it will likely be destroyed.' He almost came unglued at that."

Burrows said there was also a concern that Lanterman would not be able to continue living in the house once his brother's half interest passed to USC. "It was a risky thing. There was nothing to say that he could or couldn't. It wasn't arranged for in the will that either one could remain there" after the other's death, Burrows said.

Lloyd Lanterman's decision to rearrange the distribution of the property marked one of the few times he did not carry out his younger brother's wishes, said both Hervey and Burrows.

Apparently the persuasiveness of the strong-willed Frank Lanterman, who authored 400 bills that became law and was called "Uncle Frank" by his fellow legislators, was as effective in his private life as in his public life.

Brother Called Domineering

"Frank was a very domineering person, as anybody in the state Legislature will verify," Burrows said. "Lloyd let him run things and then administrated Frank's wishes to a great extent."

But that changed when his brother died at age 79, leaving Lloyd Lanterman, who resides in the home with a live-in aide, to make his own decisions.

"After Frank's death, Lloyd had the opportunity to actually act on his own," said Hervey, who was an acquaintance of both brothers. "He'd always sort of been in the shadow of his brother. This was his first opportunity to spread his wings and make some decisions on his own about what he thought was important."

Lloyd Lanterman originally considered arranging to leave the entire house to the Church of the Lighted Window, Hervey said, but it was found that the church could not afford to preserve the property. That left the City of La Canada Flintridge, which Hervey said "was right there saying, 'We would preserve the house.' "

Traded for Land, Cash

It was then arranged that USC would transfer its interest in the home to the city in exchange for a cash gift from Lloyd Lanterman and his half interest in 33 acres of land in Cherry Canyon, undeveloped property just southeast of Descanso Gardens. That part of the transaction was concluded in December.

Hervey would not disclose the value of the exchanged property or the amount of the cash gift, citing a possible breach of confidentiality.

Representatives of USC declined to discuss any aspect of the transaction.

Next Lanterman transferred his interest in his home to the city, with the stipulation that he be allowed to live out the rest of his days there. The city is also bound to preserve and maintain the premises for community and civic purposes. Until the city actually takes over the property, maintenance will be limited to "a bit of cleanup in the yard," City Manager Don Otterman said. "We can't do anything with the building until it becomes ours."

Necessary repairs would include bringing the plumbing and electrical wiring up to code and making minor modifications to meet requirements for fire exits and accessibility for the disabled, Otterman said. The city hopes to use federal block grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to do the work, Otterman said.

The Lanterman family history has been tied closely to the development of the community ever since Dr. Jacob L. Lanterman and his partner, Col. A. W. Williams, purchased the 6,000-acre eastern portion of Rancho La Canada in 1876. It was the Lanterman family that guided the growth of the community since the time when much of that 6,000 acres was subdivided and sold at $40 per acre in the real estate boom of the 1880s.

Jacob Lanterman had a hand in organizing the La Canada elementary school district. With his wife, Amoretta, Lanterman established the community's first church in a room at Homewood, a two-story frame house at what is now 1322 Verdugo Blvd. Later they donated the land at Foothill and Verdugo boulevards where the Church of the Lighted Window, originally known as the Community Congregational Church, stands.

It was the Lanterman family that brought to the area a sufficient water supply in 1910 when the couple's son, Frank, drilled a well and formed the Valley Water Co., which is still in operation. Frank is Roy's brother.

And it was another Lanterman, Frank D. (Roy's son and Lloyd's brother), who as a state assemblyman in 1951 co-authored the Municipal Water District Act, which enabled the communities of La Canada, La Crescenta and Altadena to share in the water supplied by the Metropolitan Water District. Frank D. Lanterman went on to serve 14 terms in the Assembly and was a pioneer in authoring legislation that expanded the state's mental health programs.

Now only Lloyd Lanterman is left. And in Burrows' estimation, Lloyd is in "pretty good physical health, but forgetful. He just sits and dozes most of the time."

Except when guests pay him a visit. On those occasions, Lanterman dresses up in suit and tie and accompanied by his aide, Jesus G. Monroy, conducts informal tours of his home.

The house, constructed of hand-mixed gravel that was scooped from the surrounding hills, contains much of the original furnishings from the time it was built in 1914. Many of the items in the home's 13 rooms have been kept in excellent condition and are precisely arranged, down to the set of five silver-handled hairbrushes that rest on a marble-topped vanity table in the master bedroom.

The gas lighting fixtures still work, although electric fixtures are now used in their place. An icebox built into the wall of the tiled kitchen and a wringer washing machine in the basement also have been replaced by modern appliances. But the 1913 Cass gas furnace in the basement still warms the memorabilia-filled home.

Theater Organ

In a specially constructed mini-auditorium that was once an open courtyard sits a rare 34-ton 1929 Wurlitzer organ, whose 2,295 pipes are compacted into three adjoining rooms. The organ was purchased in 1963 from the old Fox Theater in San Francisco by Frank Lanterman, an accomplished keyboardist and composer, who worked for a time as a solo organist providing the music that accompanied silent films. When he showed the organ to visitors, Lloyd Lanterman gazed at the eight tiers of keys and said, "This was Frank's treat."

City officials envision "Frank's treat" as the centerpiece of music recitals to be held in the home someday. They are seeking to have the home declared a historical monument and hope to turn some of its rooms into exhibit areas.

And the ballroom, Otterman said, would be the "perfect" place for conducting City Council meetings that are currently held in the La Canada High School library.

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