PANES OF THE PAST : Huntington Hotel Renovators Find Plastered-Over Stained Glasswork

Times Staff Writer

Claire Bogaard heard the story years ago. Huntington Hotel workers had plastered over and concealed whole panels of stained glasswork in the Georgian Room during a remodeling job in the 1950s.

The person recalling the event was furious, said Bogaard, executive director of the preservation group, Pasadena Heritage. "They told me a ceiling of stained glass had been sealed. (After that) I used to walk around the Huntington and look up at the ceilings and wonder if it was there."

Friday morning her wondering ended.

At a news conference, a company building a luxury hotel on the site of the old Huntington showed off three windows proving that Bogaard's was no ordinary apocryphal tale.

In Nearly Perfect Condition

The windows--10 of them in all--were a startling find, considering that the contractors renovating the Georgian Room did not even know they existed and considering that the booty was in nearly perfect condition.

"At first, everybody was basically in shock when we found them," said construction foreman Rich Pratte, who made the discovery about a month ago.

As he was perched at the top of a ladder in the Georgian Room pulling down old wallpaper and wooden wall moldings, Pratte encountered a stubborn piece of electrical pipe or conduit that would not come loose.

In an attempt to pry the pipe loose, his hammer pierced the wall and lodged in a hollow space. Curious, Pratte pulled away the plaster, peered inside and saw stained glass.

"We thought it was a concrete wall--solid," Pratte said. "We would have left them in there if that conduit hadn't been so hard to get down."

The discovery brought an immediate stop to work on the Georgian Room, one of two ballrooms left standing after the six-story hotel, built in 1907, was demolished earlier this year. The demolition and the $100-million reconstruction project was opposed by preservationists.

The new hotel, scheduled to open by the end of 1990 as the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel, will resemble the old landmark structure on the outside. Inside, its 385 rooms will be modern but will incorporate historical touches such as the stained glass windows discovered by construction workers.

'There Were No Records'

"We had no idea anything was behind the walls," said developer Lary Mielke, a partner in Huntington Hotel Associates. "There were no records that told us they existed."

The old hotel, a sprawling complex on 20 acres that included 20 bungalows, had six previous owners. The main building was closed four years ago. No records remain, so information such as who created the windows, the date they were installed and when they were plastered over remain a mystery, Mielke said.

Nonetheless, because of the find, the Georgian Room has been redesigned to include the 10 windows, plus two new stained glass windows designed to duplicate the originals.

On Friday, Mielke donned a hard hat at the site to show off the redesign and three of the windows. The identical arched windows are about three feet wide and four feet high. The design includes 12 panels of clear window glass in the center, a flower of lavender glass that duplicates gilded flower moldings in the arched ceiling and carmel-colored opalescent glass.

Opalescent glass, first produced in the 1880s, is the only type of stained glass invented in the United States, said John Wallis of Pasadena, a veteran of 65 years in the stained glass business.

Only two or three companies produced the glass in the early 1900s, he said. By the 1940s, it had fallen out of favor, along with stained glass in general. Wallis speculated that is why the 10 windows were plastered over at the Huntington.

Old Photos

Photos displayed Friday from the hotel's earlier days show the Georgian Room in its original configuration as a theater with light streaming through the windows. Photos taken in the 1950s and '60s show a conventional hotel dining room with a dropped ceiling and the windows gone.

Wallis examined the windows Friday and said they represent Victorian design typical of the turn of the century.

For construction foreman Pratte, the windows represent his best find so far at the Huntington. During his labor at the historical site, he has found a pile of 1909 newspapers hidden in a staircase, old stamps lodged underneath floor molding, a milk bottle buried in the dirt and a 1948 Time magazine hidden in a chimney.

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