Park recreates Boddy's summer fêtes

E. Manchester Boddy, owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News, was a legend not only for his sharp editorials and shrewd business skills, but for the fantastic parties he threw in his backyard.

Of course, it wasn’t just any backyard. In 1937, Boddy purchased 125 acres of land in La Cañada and commissioned famed “architect to the stars” James Dolena to build a home for his family, which included his wife Berenice and the couple’s two sons, Bob and Calvin. Dolena constructed a 12,000-square-foot, 22-room home on hillside with sweeping views of the valley. Completed in 1938, the house incorporated some of the most advanced architectural technology of the era, including steel framing, a built-in music system and a sophisticated heating and cooling system. The family named their dwelling Rancho del Descanso, or “restful place.”

A restful place is exactly what Rancho del Descanso proved to be for the guests who came to the property for the summer gatherings that Boddy (pronounced “Boady”) hosted. Guests often included Hollywood stars, political dignitaries and neighborhood friends.

The dress code at Boddy’s gatherings was casual, with women often wearing pants and many guests donning hats and aprons when they helped out with the cooking. The parties were such large affairs that actress Janet Gaynor gave the family an oversized cooking pan so they could accommodate their ever-growing guest list with enough food.

Guests were welcome to fish in Rancho del Descanso’s lake, but reports say that there were never enough fish caught to feed the crowd, and thus barbecued meat usually was the meal of choice.

In the mid-1950s, Boddy retired and sold the land, which was converted into the beautiful public venue Descanso Gardens. On Monday, as the nation celebrates Labor Day, Descanso will honor Boddy by recreating one of his summer fêtes, and this time around, everyone is invited.

“When I was a kid, Labor Day marked the end of summer and, the very next day, back to school,” says David Brown, Descanso Gardens’ executive director. “A lot has changed since then, but the feeling of Labor Day remains: a longing for the lazy days of the summer just past and tingling anticipation of the new school year ahead. Boddy's Big Backyard at Descanso gives us one last chance to celebrate summer and look forward to the unique pleasures of fall, and the changing of the seasons in the garden.”

Boddy’s Big Backyard will feature live music from the Mobile Homeboys, great food and garden activities for kids and adults. Guests are invited to bring a picnic or follow Boddy’s tradition and enjoy the catered barbecue on Descanso’s main lawn. The event begins at 11 a.m. on Labor Day.

Descanso Gardens is located at 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge. For more information, call (818) 949-4200 or visit

KATIE BAIN is a freelance writer. She can be reached at

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