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2 Years of Students’ Toil Pays Off in Photo Book on Historic House

TIMES STAFF WRITER

During the past two decades, Hoover High School students have come to expect exotic assignments from art and photography teacher Pierre Odier.

In 1973, Odier took a class to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. A class in 1976 journeyed to Africa and published a book about its experience. A group of students in 1980 spent two weeks at the former island prison on Alcatraz and documented the trip with a book. Other students have traveled with Odier to photograph New York City, San Francisco and Germany.

But this year, Odier’s students stayed home to complete an assignment and, rather than focus on the present, cast a photographic eye on the past.

The result--just off the presses this week--is a book of photographs about the historic Lanterman house in La Canada Flintridge.

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“We had more public pressure to perform here” than in foreign settings, said Odier, a Switzerland-born photographer who came to Hoover in 1966. “But it felt a little safer.”

About 1,000 copies of the “The Lanterman House--A California Saga” will be printed, with an option for publication of 5,000 more. A batch will be given to an organization that is converting the Lanterman house into a museum and to the La Canada Historical Society, which donated $2,000 to the project. The rest most likely will be sold to cover the remaining $2,000 in costs, Odier said.

“It is a good idea,” said Russ Campbell, historical society president. “We were going to make our own pamphlet for the museum, but having a nice, glossy book is always better.”

The students, mainly recruited through Odier’s photography and art classes, paid several visits to the house, a 1915 Craftsman-style structure at 4420 Encinas Drive. They talked to its caretaker, Gene Burrows, and local historians. They dug through literature provided by local and state archives and searched the Lantermans’ personal files for information.

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“I thought it was just doing some editing and running a few captions,” said Isabel Poole, a senior who did much of the research and writing for the 56-page, soft-cover book. “I thought it would be easy and fun. But it was much harder work than I actually envisioned.”

The assignments were not always invigorating and the lessons not always exciting, some of the students said. “The historical research for me was really boring although the historical gossip was fun,” Poole said.

But documenting the house was not a lesson in history, Odier said. Like his more exotic escapades, it was meant as a lesson in self-discovery.

“My payback to these students is ‘You did this. Be proud,’ ” Odier said. “I don’t have time to change them. What I have time for is to give them an opportunity to do something.”

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About 10 Hoover students had a role in creating the publication, a nearly two-year venture that sprang from a Hoover High Philosophy Club discussion about local politics, Odier said.

The Lanterman house became the property of La Canada Flintridge in 1985 after the death of Lloyd Lanterman, the last surviving member of La Canada’s pioneer family. Lanterman willed the vintage house to the city.

After city officials announced plans to convert the 1.35 acre property into a museum and cultural center, neighbors filed a lawsuit in April, 1989, complaining that the conversion would add noise and traffic to the area. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge in October ruled against the neighbors, and last month the City Council approved a five-year operating agreement with the Lanterman Foundation, clearing the way for the restoration.

Members of Hoover’s philosophy and photo clubs became interested in the controversy before the lawsuit was filed and welcomed Odier’s proposal to publish a book on the house, students said.

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“I didn’t know exactly what it was,” said Pam Gillis, a senior. “Mr. Odier said it was a house in La Canada that they were going to turn into a museum. When I saw it, though, I thought it was amazing. I liked the ballroom.”

“The first time I saw it, my first impression was, ‘What’s the big deal?’ ” Poole said. “Then a historian started telling me about how the Lantermans shaped the area, and I started learning about the design of the house and its rooms. And then it seemed like what I was doing wasn’t just a project in school. It seemed to have a lot more impact.”

Odier and a few students attended several La Canada Flintridge City Council meetings in support of the restoration, Odier said. But most of their time was spent poring over research, photographing the sizable house and searching for ways to finance the project, he said.

The photographs and narrative illustrate the details of the house’s five bedrooms, living and dining rooms, ballroom and classic 1926 Crawford Special theater organ, one of four in the United States.

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The Hoover High book shows everything from the large organ to detailed shower heads, from whole living rooms and bedrooms to old silk bodices preserved in the house. One photograph of the house’s interior shows in detail a hanging apron, which belonged to Frank and Lloyd Lanterman’s mother and has not been moved since her death in 1949, Odier said.

“We tried to go for what we felt were significant details,” he said. “We opened up Mrs. Lanterman’s old recipe box and found her reading glasses inside. We capitalized on pictures like that.”

The Lanterman house is not the first historic structure Odier and his students have documented. A 1977 class published a book on the Lummis house, the home of Charles F. Lummis, founder of the Southwest Museum.

The Lanterman project also is not the only publication produced this year by Hoover High students. They also published the annual Photo Book, a collection of students’ art and photo works. That book, according to Odier, is financed by ads and student fund-raising projects, such as the recycling of aluminum cans.

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Another group of students is considering documenting Randsburg, an old mining ghost town north of Lancaster in the Mojave Desert, Odier said, feigning a sigh at the prospect of another two-year venture.

“It’s difficult to keep kids committed over long periods of time,” he said. “Some of the tedious, unglamorous work is becoming increasingly harder to accomplish. But I pump the kids full of stuff and hopefully something remains. I want them to think, conclude and come to their own terms.”

Odier will continue to initiate unconventional projects for his students, carrying them out despite a system that often bogs teachers down in bureaucratic rules.

“This is my philosophy,” he said. “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, you know, and I have a pretty good batting average.”

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