A Vintage Yule Old Phineas Would Love

Times Staff Writer

When Wilmington founder Phineas Banning and his family lived at his estate there, they were fond of entertaining. Sometimes the guests stayed for days, and Christmas was a special time.

But it is doubtful that they ever had 1,500 guests for a celebration, as the Banning residence is expecting by the time its Victorian Christmas ends this afternoon.

Started three years ago as a way of re-creating the Banning Christmas--as well as calling attention to the Victorian-era museum housed in the sumptuous white home--the celebration has gotten big.

"People come from Orange County and West Los Angeles, as well as the (Palos Verdes) Peninsula and South Bay cities," said museum director Zoe Bergquist. "We do it as a community event, but we also hope it will attract people who might not otherwise be interested in the museum."

Carriage and Carols

Last year, 1,500 people attended the event, and Bergquist said perhaps even more will attend this year, partaking of cookies and candies, touring the home, watching Santa Claus in Victorian garb arrive in a vintage carriage, and learning how to make old-fashioned holiday wreaths and gingerbread houses. There also will be 19th-Century carols sung by a choral group from West High School in Torrance.

The first celebration--on the East M Street side of Banning Park--occurred last weekend, and the final one is scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today. Admission is $4 for adults; children under age 12 may attend free.

The two-story, 23-room home--with a cupola providing a view all the way to Los Angeles Harbor--was built in 1864 by Banning, who helped the small Pueblo of Los Angeles boom through agriculture, land development, oil production, railroad operations and creation of what became the Port of Los Angeles. He sought to transfer his East Coast heritage to the West by building the home in Greek Revival style and naming his new town of Wilmington after his home city in Delaware.

While visitors will not see exactly how the Bannings observed Christmas, they will be treated to a pretty fair re-creation, according to Shelley Mills, the museum's curator. They also will get an insight into how wealthy Southern California families lived 100 years ago in a household of chandeliers; heavy, dark, ornately carved furniture; richly upholstered sofas and chairs; fine English china, and gilt mirrors.

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