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‘Architecture of Health’ talk to describe impact of illness on early 20th-century home design

Sleeping porch on the second story of the Lanterman House, circa 1920. (Courtesy of the Lanterman H
A sleeping porch at La Cañada’s Lanterman House museum, seen here circa 1920, allowed residents to enjoy warm, arid nights, which were purported to have curative effects for people with tuberculosis and respiratory issues. A talk is planned for Feb. 2 at the LCF Public Library.
(Courtesy of Lanterman House)

Many can look at a historic home and note how an individual architect, or the style of a certain school of design, guided the structure’s lines and overall appearance.

But in Southern California, even in La Cañada Flintridge, some homes show a decidedly different influence on form and function — the influence of illness. A Feb. 2 talk at the La Cañada public library intends to explore that topic in more depth.

In “Architecture of Health: An Architectural Response to an Epidemic,” historian Ann Scheid will speak on how the 19th-century tuberculosis outbreak cases inspired droves of ailing Americans to migrate to Southern California for the purported health benefits of warm, dry air. Her talk is sponsored by Lanterman House.

At its peak, tuberculosis killed one in five adults, causing many to seek preventive and curative measures, Scheid said. Early 20th-century homes often reflected their owners’ desire to let the outdoors in through a number of architectural features, including sleeping porches and French doors.

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“Opening the windows and the French doors would create a really efficient ventilation system throughout the house,” Scheid said in an interview. “Terraces that let you step out to floor level provided another place people could be outdoors.”

Historian Ann Scheid. (Courtesy of the Lanterman House Archives)
Historian Ann Scheid, who oversees the Huntington Library’s Greene and Greene archives and works at Pasadena’s Gamble House, will speak in a lecture, “Architecture of Health,” at the La Cañada Flintridge Public Library on Feb. 2.
(Courtesy of Lanterman House)

Scheid, who oversees the Huntington Library’s Greene and Greene archives and works at Pasadena’s Gamble House, said the home’s many French doors, which seemed to evoke warm summer nights, seemed odd given the estate was the family’s winter retreat.

Research revealed the movement of people, particularly from the Midwest, to warm, sunny and dry spots in Arizona, New Mexico and high-altitude destinations like Colorado Springs, Colo. Some built healthy homes, while others sought respite in sanitariums and respiratory hospitals.

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In 2014, Scheid presented a paper before the Society of Architectural Historians, parts of which she’ll share at the Feb. 2 lecture.

Lanterman House Executive Director Laura Verlaque said the event will also feature a portable display created for the museum years earlier by then-La Cañada Girl Scout Sofia Portantino called “Seeking the California Cure: The Real Gold in our Valley” as part of a Gold Award project.

Historic photos aside, Lanterman House itself serves as a prime example of the architectural features people with poor health sought out — the structure boasts 32 sets of French doors and sleeping porches that accommodated several beds.

“Jacob Lanterman and his partner, Adolphus Williams, both suffered from lung trouble, so they wanted to come out to California,” Verlaque said. “The whole house is built around the idea of fresh air and taking advantage of the climate.”

The free lecture “Architecture of Health” takes place Feb. 2 at 2 p.m. at La Cañada Flintridge Library, 4545 Oakwood Ave. La Cañada. For more, visit lantermanfoundation.org or call (818) 790-1421.

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine


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