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Lukens House a Victorian Gem With Many Facets

Keller is an Altadena free-lance writer

Behind an evergreen hedge and wrought-iron fence in downtown Pasadena sits the Theodore Parker Lukens house, the perfect vehicle for a bit of time travel.

Roger Kislingbury makes the trip every day.

Kislingbury purchased the Lukens house, an elaborate, 5,000-square-foot Victorian gem, in 1971. He and his wife, Ellen, now live there with their 3-year-old son, James, and Kislingbury’s daughters, Anne, 16, and Amy, 14.

“Living here is old-fashioned fun,” he says. “It gets me away from the real world.”

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Passers-by on busy El Molino Avenue can catch a glimpse of the home’s shingled, deep-pitched roof and its wide upper porch. Adorning the porch and large front dormer is a stick-style, Gothic gingerbread frieze, painted cream and blue against the earthen tones of the roof and wood siding.

The house, completed in 1887, is set far back on an expansive lawn with towering palms. There’s a circular fountain, and a worn Model T rests in front of a mock “cemetery” shaded by lush orange trees. But the tombstones mark no graves--Kislingbury, 46, put them there for fun.

“I got them from a stonecutter,” he says. “They were leftover tombstones.” A shirt-and-boots man, he delivers one-liners with an intense, deadpan expression, like the comedy writer he always wanted to be. Instead, Kislingbury is the proprietor of Delacey’s Club 41, a restaurant in Old Pasadena, where he’s opening a second eatery, The Right Spot. Near both he keeps a warehouse that he calls “Revolting Development,” where he stores moose heads and serves, as his business card states, “cold beer, cigars and insults” to his pals.

He bought the Lukens house for $32,500, and has since spent countless dollars and all his spare time to restoring it.

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The interior is like something out of Charles Addams’ sketchbook. From the imposing foyer stairway to the three bed-sitting rooms, it’s a treasure chest of wood and velvet--voluptuous Americana at its bawdy, nostalgic best.

Consider the poolroom, with its penny peep show and six-penny arcade slot machines--one, an ornate 1905 Mills Dewey with the admiral’s face sculpted on a musical cabinet. The jackpot is $2. In another slot the payoff is a cigar.

Not lost among the glories is a five-sided window seat under a two-story bay window, one of six in the house. It sits next to the tile and brick fireplace, one of three.

Taxidermy is a popular motif. A giant grizzly bear confronts one from his post alongside a cast-iron turtle spittoon. Mounted overhead are a caribou, an elk, a rhino and an African Cape buffalo.

“I don’t shoot the animals--I just collect them,” Kislingbury shrugs.

If one wants to rest, there are two chairs made of steer horns, circa 1890. And a stool made out of an elephant’s foot--"It’s a footstool,” Kislingbury quips.

Kislingbury’s 19th-Century American art collection all but camouflages the gold-leaf-on-deep-red paper that covers the 12-foot walls. One work, a bar scene that rivals the best of the turn-of-the-century Ashcan School of realistic art, was reproduced on tin and given away to barkeepers by liquor distributors, he says. Posters advertise whiskey or cigarettes. And exquisitely sculpted, curvaceous ladies--in the form of statuettes--hold court throughout.

There’s a 1905 Victrola in the parlor. An ornate Italian rocking chair, circa 1860, with busts of two women projecting from its rolling legs, seems ready to sail the seas. Woody the chiseled dog, who sits nearby, has glass eyes. And Kislingbury’s wife houses her doll collection under the figure of a hovering owl.

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In the kitchen, there’s an eight-burner stove. In the breakfast area, the family dines under a buffalo head and to the accompaniment of tunes from a jukebox. An adjoining bathroom has an ornamental cast-iron sink with original 1885 hardware. And the dining room holds an antique piano crafted in 1887.

The house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, was designed for Lukens, Pasadena’s first real estate developer, by Harry Ridgeway, who also designed the city jail and some of Pasadena’s early Methodist and Episcopal churches.

The house’s front parlor holds an 1890 portrait of the original tenant, who served two terms as Pasadena’s mayor, then known as the president of the Board of Trustees, according to Lukens’ biographers.

A mountain peak in Southern California and a lake in Yosemite National Park, for which he urged federal control, are named after Lukens, a lifelong naturalist and a friend of Sierra Club founder John Muir.

Kislingbury says he didn’t know anything about the home’s celebrated first owner until about a month after he moved in.

For that matter, Kislingbury, who was born and raised in Pasadena, hadn’t thought much about his city’s history. Now he and his family are living inside a piece of it.


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