A Preview of Some Grand Old Homes

So it was up the hill to grandmother's house, except it never would have been my grandmother's or yours since it was the 21st Pasadena Showcase House of Design and sort of an English castle. Well, not a castle, although that's what Jack Atkin, the Englishman who came to America as a cabin boy, wanted and had the money to build 50 years later. Paul Williams, the noted black architect, tamed down Atkin's fantasies into a Tudor mansion with brick and lots of oak panels, beams and carved doors.

This was 1929. Williams was one of the first architects I met when I started running the Architectural Panel in 1954 and certainly the most charming; he seemed to have a monopoly on graciousness. (He also did Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, which gives you some idea of how he applied that graciousness to his architecture.)

But this was party night when the designers show swatches, drawings and ideas of what they're going to do with the empty rooms before the grand public opening on April 21 (phone 818-792-4661 for information).

I'll tell you right now the main feature of this brick fantasy on the hill is its hot-air registers. Yes, they're fascinating. All bronze--I hope they get the paint off in time--small rectangles with two winged lady figures facing each other. I called them phoenix ladies, but I don't think that's quite correct and I cannot find my late husband's "Bannister-Fletcher" right now. (Alfred could have told me what they were in an instant.) But one designer called them gargoyles and I know that's not right.

One of the Pasadena Junior Philharmonic Committee women, who volunteer all their time and work to raise money for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and youth music education programs, gave me a tour of the upstairs. This is full of interesting bathrooms. Each one is huge with those shower heads stuck up and down the walls to zip out at you so you would get a great mean shower, I would think, (I'd be glad to add an extra $2 on my tour ticket if they'd let me take a shower when they are open. Ladies, consider this as an extra money-maker).

Yes, the baths are almost as interesting as the registers. One has an old white wood cabinet you sit in, called the steam bath, but I noticed light bulbs running up the corners and I think it is a sun-bathing cabinet or maybe an electric shock treatment or worse.

The ironing room (that shows you how rich a place it was, having an ironing room) will become the nursery with white ducks swimming on blue wallpaper and wicker and the works.

Most of the bedrooms had that neat dentil molding up near the ceiling. Funny how that gives elegance, although one was out of proportion, giving a gap-toothed feeling; I'm sure Paul Williams had nothing to do with that.

I know I'm supposed to be remarking on the size of the rooms and the window views but gee, look at these door hinges--they're H hinges and they meet themselves in the middle in the shape of a heavy brass egg.

There's fireplaces and coats of arms and marble and iron grilles and paneling and carving and 16 "major rooms" and a fella gets confused. One room seemed to me to be a sun porch, but surely designers in this millionaire's mansion aren't going to allow it to remain a sun porch? They do get carried away, you know, these designers, even with the committee keeping an eye on them. One was covering up hand-painted wall murals (ladies languishing around flowered urns) with wallpaper, although, to do her justice, she was installing new hand-painted tile murals in the adjacent bathroom.

In the entry, Walter Sawicki is putting suits of armor, a jousting tent and a brass stag. "A brass stag?" I said, excited, raising my hand at head level to the imaginary stag's shoulder. "This tall," he said, lowering it to three feet, and, when I looked disappointed, "It's a young brass stag".

Well, it is something to see. Someone asked me if I was going "to throw someone in the fountain" as I apparently had suggested a designer or two needed last year. No, not this year, although there is a fountain, a water-lily pool and a cascade and 13 landscape areas being spruced up and redesigned.

However, there is "The Alternative," a girl's bedroom suite "designed for the discriminating, well-bred young lady; a place to while away the hours in privacy daydreaming about her future Prince Charming while tossing aside her homework. Now I know the alternative I'd give that young lady: Get out and get a job or get in that electric chair bath-cabinet thing.

And there's an alternative for you if you miss seeing the Showcase House. As a sign on one of the locked committee doors upstairs said, "If we are closed, just shove your money under the door."

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