'Cake Lady's' museum finds a new home

A sweet ending for a one-of-a-kind cake museum was assured Friday when bakery students from a San Fernando Valley vocational school rescued more than a hundred colorfully decorated cakes from a trip to the dumpster.

The elaborately designed wedding and birthday cakes — actually, frosting-covered Styrofoam — were kept in glass display cases by cake-decorating expert Frances Kuyper. She operated her museum in Pasadena before moving to a Boyle Heights retirement home.

For a dozen years, operators of Hollenbeck Palms allowed Kuyper to maintain a mini museum in a small basement room. After "the Cake Lady" died July 15 at age 92, Hollenbeck officials made plans to scrap the 150 cakes.

Then along came Susan Holtz, a culinary department instructor at the West Valley Occupational Center in Woodland Hills.

Holtz was familiar with Kuyper's museum. In the past, she had taken students from a cake-decorating class there to show them examples of expertly done cakes.

"When I called Hollenbeck, they said I had two weeks to find those cakes and that history a home," she said. After asking around for ideas, Holtz decided to find out whether there was room at her school.

Principal Veronica Montes was enthusiastic about the idea, and Hollenbeck Palms officials were grateful for it.

On Friday, a dozen of Holtz's students, who had recently ended their summer commercial baker's class, traveled to the Boyle Avenue retirement home to pack up Kuyper's life's work.

"These are famous cakes. They show a lot of advanced techniques," Holtz explained, as students gently lifted the daintily decorated cakes out of the museum cabinets and carefully placed them in boxes.

"There are really important people in the industry here. About three dozen cake artists are represented. Look at this upside-down pineapple cake. It's famous; it's in books. Colette Peters of New York did it. She made cakes for royalty. They fly in their own seats when they're delivered on planes."

Holtz offered impromptu lectures about some of the cakes in the collection. "This is the lambeth method — it looks 3-D. It's an English thing," she said, pointing to a cake decorated with delicate strings of icing.

"Frances wanted to keep a record of the art. That's what we want to do," Holtz said. "I've always felt a kinship to Frances."

The museum cakes are not edible, although they feature royal icing, rolled fondant, pastillage or sugar paste, she said. In the collection are several of Kuyper's signature airbrush portraits of figures such as Lucille Ball and Oprah Winfrey.

There were "oohs" and "aahs" as students Tomas Cifuenpres of Calabasas and Roobik Bagdasian of Beverly Hills cautiously eased a whimsical frosting-sided panda birthday cake into a box. Across the room, classmates Sue Sicari of Valencia and Jackie Balfe of Tarzana boxed up copies of Kuyper's autobiography, "A Bitter Sweet Life." Holtz said the books would be awarded to outstanding students in future bakery classes.

"These cakes are a work of art. They're fantastic," said student Worawan Chantrjaroen of North Hills. Added her daughter, Claire, who was also in the summer class: "It's amazing how detailed they are. I wish I could do this."

Hollenbeck Palms executive Dennis Hiebert said Kuyper was a popular figure at the retirement home and often hosted groups of baking experts and enthusiasts in the museum. He said Hollenbeck's operators offered her the basement site when she and her husband moved to the facility so she would not have to destroy her beloved collection.

Another Hollenbeck executive, Nancy Jablonski, said the retirement home would take a cue from Kuyper and use the former cake museum space to commemorate Hollenbeck's 120-year history.

Holtz, meantime, is looking for cabinetry to display the collection in Room 49. In time, the school hopes to open it to the public, she said.

For Kuyper's fans, that will be icing on the cake.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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