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Life and Arts

On the Town: Historical society marks 40th during annual gala

Heather Norris joins husband and Zelia Blanton Awardee Sean Bersell at the Glendale Historical Socie
Heather Norris joins husband and Zelia Blanton Awardee Sean Bersell at the Glendale Historical Society Gala on the grounds of Glendale’s Stanford House.
(Ruth Sowby Rands)

A highly anticipated event on the community’s social calendar is the Glendale Historical Society’s gala and benefit.

This year’s event, held on June 22, marked the organization’s 40th anniversary.

Stacey Boucher and Darren Merritt donated the use of their 1928 Spanish Revival Stanford house on Kenneth Road for the festivities — and festive they were.

At the start of the evening, early arrivals were photographed in front of a step-and-repeat banner. The early birds also had first crack at the silent auction full of items not usually found at other auctions, such as an architectural rendering of one’s home.


The Doctor’s House in Brand Park was also popular. Who wouldn’t want “an elegant, intimate” Victorian tea for six to eight people — an event donated by Robin Lee Hansen, Peter Rusch and Cathy Grayson.

After the gala’s reception offering wine and cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and the auction, Steve Hunt, the historical society’s president, welcomed his audience of about 170 members, their guests and supporters.

Early arrivals at the Glendale Historical Society Gala are, from left, Gala Chair Scott Smissen, hon
Early arrivals at the Glendale Historical Society Gala are, from left, Gala Chair Scott Smissen, honoree Onnig Bulanikian, wife Maral, and Society President Steve Hunt.
(Ruth Sowby Rands)

He introduced Glendale’s VIPs present, including state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and City Council members Paula Devine and Vartan Gharpetian.


Also recognized were Glendale Police Chief Carl Povilaitis, and Roubik Golanian, assistant city manager. Also attending was Shant Sahakian, a Glendale Unified school board member.

Portantino, Friedman and Najarian were at the event to present awards and commendations to the historical society. Hunt accepted the certificates.

Hunt, in turn, awarded the historical society’s 2019 awards in recognition of outstanding achievement in historic preservation.

Awardees included Onnig Bulanikian, director of Glendale Community Services & Parks as well as the Friends of Rockhaven and the South Glendale Historic Resources Survey.

Bulanikian has stewardship over the Doctor’s House Museum.

The former Rockhaven sanitarium in Montrose, founded by nurse Agnes Richards, was put on the state’s historical resource list in 2016. It has recently been in the local news over its new consideration by the City Council to turn it into a boutique hotel and community garden.

The mission of the South Glendale Historic Resources Survey is to identify potential historic houses in that area of the city.

State Assembly Member Laura Friedman and State Senator Anthony Portantino present state commendation
State Assembly Member Laura Friedman and state Sen. Anthony Portantino present state commendations to Glendale Historical Society President Steve Hunt, center.
(Ruth Sowby Rands)

Francesca Smith has been leading the charge. Povilaitis and Golanian accepted the award.

The volunteer award recipients were Hansen, Smith, gala chair Scott Smissen and Don Snyder.

Sean Bersell was awarded the Zelia Blanton Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.

Bersell served for five years on a voluntary basis as the society’s first executive director. He played an instrumental role in advancing the cause of historic preservation in Glendale.

“So-called ‘old relics’ represent how we became this community, they inform us, they give us a sense of place,” Bersell said. “They invigorate the past into the present and future.”

He accepted the award with his wife, writer Heather Norris. The couple now resides in Pittsburg, Pa.

Hunt estimates the net proceeds from the evening will be between $15,000 and $20,000 based on previous galas. Proceeds will benefit the society’s endowment and preservation funds.

Ruth Sowby Rands may be reached at


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