Mountain Avenue ‘Puzzle Palace’ proves a perfect fit for the neighborhood

Luke and Jessica Cheney with a homemade puzzle trading post they made from a Barbie Grand Hotel and installed at Jessica's parents' Mountain Avenue home in La Crescenta.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

Walk down the 2300 block of Mountain Avenue in La Crescenta and you will see a puzzling sight — or, more specifically, a puzzling site — a remodeled Barbie Grand Hotel that has been converted into a jigsaw puzzle trading post.

“The Puzzle Palace” is a stand that invites passersby to browse free puzzles, take one and return it later or donate their own jigsaws.

It is the brainchild of Jessica and Luke Cheney, who began puzzling a few years back as a way to spend quality time together while doing something more constructive than simply watching Netflix at home.

Puzzles in a homemade puzzle trading post, "The Puzzle Palace" built by Culver City residents Luke and Jessica Cheney and installed on La Crescenta's Mountain Avenue is a hit with residents of all ages.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

“We started getting puzzles our first year of dating,” said Luke Cheney, 34. “It was a conversation starter.”

Later, when Jessica Cheney’s job as a corporate event planner got too stressful, she found puzzles helped her relax and focus on something other than work.

“I was a little stressed and overwhelmed by the workload. It was hard for me to connect and be present,” the 30-year-old recalled of her introduction to puzzle therapy. “It’s a way for me to escape work and concentrate on something else, and that allows me to go back to work the next day.”

Solving puzzles soon became a bit of an obsession. Jessica Cheney set a goal to do one puzzle a month and cranked out more than 40 in one year.

Luke and Jessica Cheney read notes from a comment book they've left inside their new jigsaw puzzle trading post on Mountain Avenue in La Crescenta. So far, The Puzzle Palace is popular with children and adults.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

Luke Cheney said as his wife burned through 500-piece jigsaws, the boxes of solved and dismantled puzzles began piling up in the closet. He’d donate them to Goodwill in batches but soon began thinking there had to be a better solution.

The Culver City couple was familiar with Little Free Libraries — small structures that let neighbors take unwanted books and leave their own for future visitors— and soon thought, why not do the same thing for puzzles?

“I’ve always liked those little libraries as an idea and one day it just clicked — let’s put puzzles in ours,” Luke Cheney said.

Puzzles in a homemade puzzle trading post, opened on Jan. 26, were placed there by owners Luke and Jessica Cheney and also by neighbors who've left their own donations.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

On a recent day, they officially launched “The Puzzle Palace” at the Mountain Avenue home of Jessica Cheney’s parents, Karen and Rod Longpre. The location made more sense than their own Culver City apartment, and they thought it would attract people coming to and from nearby Mountain Avenue Elementary School.

Boy, did it ever.

“They can’t walk by it without opening it,” Karen Longpre said of the children and adults who chance upon the structure. “The first couple of nights we kept replenishing and replenishing it, then someone would come and fill it back up.”

Today, the Puzzle Palace contains an eclectic mix of jigsaws — from small children’s puzzles to 1,000-piece sets for adults. Hoping to start a new trend, the Cheneys have created an Instagram account @thepuzzlerepublic and leave little labels inside the puzzles they lend.

Stickers inside puzzles found inside a homemade puzzle trading post created by Luke and Jessica Cheney point fans to an Instagram account the couple hopes could start a movement of similar puzzle-sharing sites.
(Tim Berger/La Cañada Valley Sun)

They’ve also left a small notebook for people to leave feedback. According to the testimonies there, the Puzzle Palace is a perfect fit for the neighborhood.

“Just this morning my fiancé and I were discussing buying a new puzzle, because I recently became obsessed with puzzles,” one reads. “We’re excited to build the one we’ve borrowed and to bring one back to share — thank you for such a lovely addition to the community!”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.