Janice Ogden Carpenter’s family was here before there was a Los Angeles--for that matter, before there was a United States of America or an independent country of Mexico.
Both her mother and her father, the late Victoria and Lionel Ogden, were descended from families who migrated from Spain in the 18th Century, receiving land grants from the Spanish Crown and intermarrying and flourishing for several generations before the Yankees arrived.
On the maternal side, she is descended from the Dominguez, Sepulveda, Nieto, Cota, Carson and Cotton families; on her paternal side, from the Ortega, Carrillo, Arguello, Bandini and Winston clans. The 75,000-acre Dominguez Ranch encompassed much of southwestern Los Angeles County. The Bandinis controlled about 300,000 acres of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties--much of it into the 20th Century. Their homes are national historical monuments. Whole cities stand where their cattle ranged.
With an eight-generation, more than 200-year tradition of community involvement, Carpenter’s family produced the Spanish alcalde (pre-statehood mayor) of Los Angeles and a signatory of the California Constitution (maternal great-great-grandfather Don Manuel Dominguez); the first administrator of Los Angeles County and the founder of the City of Carson (maternal great-grandfather George Henry Carson); a member of the Congress of Mexico when that country was formed (paternal great-great-grandfather Don Juan Bandini). Her paternal great-great-great uncle, Jose Arguello, was Spanish governor of California when Mexico became a republic in 1824.
As such, it is fitting that Carpenter is current president of Las Madrinas, the organization that stages the city’s foremost and oldest debutante ball.
Las Madrinas, a group of 68 women, is now in the fourth of a five-year pledge of $3 million to Las Madrinas Program of Molecular Pathology at Childrens Hospital. This new research, headed by Dr. Timothy J. Triche, uses small pieces of human genes to diagnose cancer and infectious diseases.
Carpenter, 50, has never been one to rest on her family’s laurels. She praises the new. “Tradition is important in a city’s life. It is important for people that we do have tradition in Los Angeles--and we build upon it for a better future--for the community as a whole. But, it’s good to have its leadership come from all walks of life. . . it makes for a healthier community. The leadership is coming from many backgrounds . . . and the new blood in Los Angeles is very exciting.”
Roots she enjoys. “My roots are here. I went to school here. My friends are here. I think it is the people that I truly like about this city. I like a city that has ties, but is not wed to the past, is reaching to the future, and I think there is a wonderful mix of that in Los Angeles. I will always have this as my home.”
As a child she spent many summers at her grandmother’s home in San Clemente, at Cotton Point, listening to family reminiscences and sitting in the room overlooking the Pacific where President Franklin D. Roosevelt got off the train to play cards with her grandfather.
It’s the house another President, Richard Nixon, turned into the Western White House. Nixon bought it from her grandmother, Victoria Cotton. Before it was sold, however, Janice Carpenter invited several hundred friends for a farewell party benefiting Las Madrinas, sending them off with geranium cuttings that are still being propagated in the Southland.
Like others in her circle of friends, she also attended Marlborough before two years at Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y. In her first year of college she returned home for Christmas at age 17 to be a Las Madrinas debutante.
At age 24, she was married in St. Vibiana’s Cathedral to Rex Vest.
Following protocol, Carpenter also joined the Los Angeles Junior League. Her mother had been a vice president. When she was 28, she chaired the league’s 1968 Auction I, netting $150,000--"like a million dollars then.” The league did not fail to reward her success. She was named president the following year.
Volunteering has been a hallmark of her lifestyle. She’s a trustee of Good Samaritan Hospital and chairman of the development committee. She’s also served on the boards of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Red Cross, Florence Crittenton Services and Third Street School, and has supported the Cardinal’s Christmas Party for children.
“The busier I am, the happier I am--but I don’t like to be fragmented,” Carpenter said.
After her divorce in 1970, she became director of development for Harvard School and was there eight years. During that time, she married Robert Hudson Carpenter. A former advertising executive, he is managing partner of C/K Pacific Partners, an investment firm.
With affluence has comes financial responsibility. Carpenter also is on the board of the Carson Companies, the family holding company founded upon the death of her great-grandmother, Victoria Dominguez Carson. She is chairman of its audit committee and a member of the historical committee. Of the original Dominguez land grant, the company has 500 acres left; it is involved in real-estate development and the oil business.
Las Madrinas began in 1933 (a relative on her father’s side, the late Carolina Lokrantz, was a founder). Its purpose was to support Childrens Hospital’s convalescent home, which had lost its operating funds due the failure of a local bank. The women decided to establish a charity ball.
The first ball was held two months later, Dec. 15, 1933, in the Sala de Oro Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel. More than 1,000 dined and danced until 4 a.m. The floor show of Spanish dancers and troubadours saluted California. “Seldom, if ever,” said one press account, “has a local social affair surpassed all advance notices and exceeded all hopes and expectations of its sponsors.”
In 1939, the affair became a debutante ball, the intent to donate greater funds to the hospital, and to rival debutante balls in New York and Baltimore. Twenty young ladies from Los Angeles’ finest families were presented.
While Las Madrinas is still comprised of women from prominent families, the membership today binds professional with non-employed women in a commitment to the hospital.
Last year, $680,000 was contributed by Las Madrinas. Nearly $100,000 represented credit members received for goods given to the hospital’s gift shop. The remainder came from member donations and donations from parents of debutantes and their friends.
To keep up with the high costs of research, Las Madrinas this year hopes to increase financial support from foundations. “We’ll build on that . . . we’ll take an old tradition and put our own individuality on it.”
She doesn’t find the debutante tradition archaic. “A girl goes to high school. She goes to college. She comes back, and she is her own person, and this is the time for her to meet as an adult the adult friends of her family. It is a passage, a very traditional one, into adulthood. It is a happy time for a deb, for her family, for her aunts and uncles and friends.
“And, it raises money for Childrens Hospital.”