First Century Families Tip a Hat to Past

Times Staff Writer

The trouble with First Century Families is that they have so much valuable history at their fingertips, so many descendants, and not enough time to talk about it all.

Last week at the Beverly Wilshire, a big crowd lunched until almost 3 p.m. at the 49th annual affair, renewing friendships that have drawn some together for five generations. For the first time the organization and its chairman, Gretchen Dockweiler, videotaped the proceedings. FCF highlighted three families: the Vignes and Sainsevain clan, the Leonises and the Rowlands.

Diane Haggerty has spent decades gathering data on Jean Louis Vignes, who came to Los Angeles in 1831 and was the leader in the development of the wine industry in this city. Vernon's Mayor Leonis Malburg, grandson of John Leonis, who founded the industrial city of Vernon in 1905 and is a descendant of the legendary Miguel Leonis, a towering Basque shepherd known as the King of Calabasas, told tales taller than life.

Then came the stories about John Rowland, who arrived in San Gabriel in 1841 with his partner William Workman, Benjamin D. Wilson and a party of 25. Rowland and Workman secured a 48,000-acre grant. The City of Industry presently owns the Rowland home, the oldest brick house surviving in Los Angeles. For generations Rowlands have been sheriffs, and headed school and water boards, according to historian Christine Shirley.

FCF leaders there: Sis and Louis Jones, Gwen Lundy, Sue Forgie, Lucy McBain, Alyce Williamson, Bitsy Hotaling and Alice O'Neill Avery.

IMAGINING: It didn't take much imagination for those touring the dank and deteriorating National Guard Armory Building in Pasadena to envision the vast space as the Armory Center for the Arts. At the kickoff this week, campaign chair Peggy Phelps revealed more than $400,000 is in hand toward the $1 million goal and the February remodeling agenda.

Within a year, Craig Watson, president of the Armory Center board of directors, and Phelps and campaign vice chairs Susan Caldwell and Jane Olson (she'll be busy, too, co-chairing an estimated $10-million endowment campaign with Jim Fullerton for the Polytechnic School) plan that Pasadena Art Workshops will have new environs, that bright artists will fill an exhibition hall, that leading arts groups will make the Armory a center for conferences and ideas.

Supporters were in abundance: Joan Palmer, president of the Pasadena Art Workshops, Hannah and Russel Kully, Ann Barrett, Susan Hollingsworth, Mayor John Crowley, D. Harry Montgomery, Dorrie Braun Poole, Elisa Crystal, Lois Ukropina and Carolyn and Jim Fox.

BRITISH PRIDE: Major Ronald Ferguson, the father of the Duchess of York--the popular Fergie--all but popped his brass buttons at the cocktail party at the home of British Consul Gen. Donald F. and Elizabeth Ballentyne the other night when he announced he and other members of the Guards Polo Club Windsor Great Park will play a charity match March 5 at the Eldorado Polo Club in Indio, and then he dropped what everyone hoped was coming: "The Duke and Duchess of York are going to attend.

"And there is no way I am going to let my daughter say, 'Why in the hell did you bring me down here? There aren't enough people!' So if you could possibly help me by driving down, I'd be most appreciative."

Then he introduced the handsome "up and coming lads" who are "the men who are going to carry the old geriatric around" and proceeded to hand out Harrod's ties with polo ponies to the consul general and to actor Sam Wanamaker, who will reap the benefit proceeds for the Shakespeare Globe Trust.

The hope is for attendance of 5,000 people at $500 each. Sir Oliver and Lady Marjorie Wright (he's former ambassador from Britain) and the Earl of March attended the cocktail party, mixing with the equestrian creme de la creme of California: Hal and Betty Ramser, Clement and Lynn Hirsch, and Glen and Gloria Holden. Orthopedic surgeon Joe Culverwell, there with his wife, Janet, confessed he has polo fever and is trying to form his own polo team.

FLORAL MAGICIAN: Since 1970, Chris Giftos has carried out the wishes of the late Lila Acheson Wallace, co-founder of Readers Digest, who endowed a fund to keep New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art perpetually blooming with fresh flowers. Chris creates the magnificent arrangements in the Great Hall that stop visitors to the Met in their tracks 52 weeks a year.

He was in town to demonstrate his talents during a a brunch hosted by the Friends of Robinson Gardens at Le Bel Age Hotel. Bridget Martens, Helen Bing and Dale Shumate had front seats while Giftos concocted tall arrangements. Melinda Winston, Donna Wolff, Nancy Weakley and Peggy Parker were all taking notes, too.

HIGH ENERGY: Expect vitality from the Encores, the new support group for the Los Angeles Theatre Center. They premiered a few days ago at the Spring Street performing arts center, holding a stage-door mixer and walk-through with Mary Anne Chalker, center president. Encores president Emil Lau, a Bank of America vice president, brought his board to share brown-bag lunches with the Theatre Center's general director, Bill Bushnell, and producer, Diane White. The Encores leaders include Shirley Wilson and Hollis Smith, Bobbie Liebenbaum, Jiva Mody, Connie Horak, Liliane Ravel, Terry Taft, Jim Browder, Tom Ramirez and Iris Gordy.

PAST PERFECT: Edward and Patty Turrentine collect, collect, collect. They unveiled their 300 religious vestments dating to the 16th Century for the Mayfield Senior School "Treasures of the French Church" fund-raiser. Among those attending were French Consul Gen. Bernard Miyet and the Rev. G. Patrick Ziemann, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. . . .

Neither rain nor the stock market dampened the spirits of visiting Italian linen magnate Athos Pratesi. With his daughter, Daniela, and Brian Sullivan, he hosted a cocktail party reception at the Pratesi boutique in Beverly Hills. Four Seasons Hotel owners Beverly and Bob Cohen walked across Doheny for the festivities.

SALUTES: The Los Angeles Area Council, Boy Scouts, recognized "our fair ladies of philanthropy" by honoring Kay MacDonald, Lilly V. Lee, Dolly Green, Peggy Whittlesey Marlett and Florence Henderson at the Century Plaza. . . .

The Entertainment Industries Council salutes B. Donald Grant Nov. 24 at a black-tie dinner at the Beverly Wilshire. . . .

Neil Simon is the honorary chairman of the benefit preview of "Off Limits" starring Gregory Hines Dec. 4 at 20th Century Fox Studios. It's the Liver Assn. for Research and Education remembrance of Robert A. Memel.

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