June 14, 2015

Photo Essay: The Time Capsule That Is Lanterman House (Updated for 2018)

[Last updated 12/21/18 2;39 PM PT, new photos added]

The Lanterman family never intended to throw anything away.

Nowadays, we call people like that "pack racks" or "hoarders," but the hoarder keeps those things, just in case somebody might want them. They might be important someday.

And you know what? Sometimes they are.

In the case of the Lanterman House in La Cañada Flintridge, the cache of materials saved over the years has been turned into a valuable historic archive and history center.

The Lantermans first arrived in the Crescenta Valley from Michigan in the 1870s...

circa 2018

...founded the Church of the Lighted Windows...

...and left a legacy of three generations behind, ending with the death of grandson Lloyd Lanterman in 1987.

A lifelong bachelor, Lloyd lived in "El Retiro" (now known as the Lanterman House) with his brother Frank, also a bachelor.

The genetic legacy of the Lantermans ended with Lloyd and Frank, but they left behind plenty of items – from recipes to documents and even sheet music – to give a unique look not only into their lives...

...but also into several decades of the 20th century.

The house itself is unique, built in 1915 as a fireproof Craftsman-style bungalow made of reinforced concrete, to the specifications of Roy, a second generation Lanterman who inherited the plot of land from his parents.

The house's architecture is also unique because the adjoining bedrooms were built railroad-style: to get from the first one to the last one, you could walk straight through. But because walking through someone else's bedroom would be an improper intrusion, the U-shaped house was built around a central courtyard, allowing you to simply go outside through one of the 32 pairs of French doors if you wanted to get from one interior room to another.

Usually a house museum like this has few original furniture pieces, and instead has been furnished with reproductions, or era-appropriate pieces that were never actually used there.

At Lanterman House, now celebrating its centennial...

circa 2018

...everything is original and personal... the family bible from 1886 that was passed down from Frank's granny, Amoretta.

Lloyd and Frank Lanterman didn't get rid of anything...

...not even the well-worn furniture in the front parlor.

And to my delight, no one has decided to repair them, instead keeping them in a state of arrested decay.

The Lantermans weren't particularly wealthy, though they had a lot of stuff.

In fact, they were relatively cost-conscious, having built a dining room floor of marble only where it would be visible. Under the rug, the floor is concrete.

Even bottles of spirits stand stoic on the bar, their contents untouched and unimbibable for decades.

circa 2018

In the billiard room...

circa 2018

...nobody's sunk an 8-ball with the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company set in quite some time.

The kitchen is outfitted with the normal mid-century accoutrements....

...of a mother who did her own cooking.

Stove... box...

circa 2018

...with a Kelvinator refrigerator motor replacing ice...


...and cleaners.

This was distinctly the space of Emily Lanterman—mother of Lloyd and Frank, wife of Roy—and has her written all over it, though reportedly the socialite was never really happy at El Retiro.

Despite the fact that the house was inhabited well into the 1980s...

...the house was barely renovated or modernized, from the breakfast room to the sleeping porch.

circa 2018

But in the bathrooms... still find clippers and razors...

circa 2018

...blade sharpeners...

...tonics, powders, lipsticks...

...and salves.

And in the master bedroom—left vacant when Frank and Lloyd's parents died—a vanity set of brushes and perfume bottles.

Lloyd's old bedroom now serves as a timeline for the preservation of the house...

circa 2018

....which had suffered a lot of water damage and was in relatively rough shape, even while they were still living there.

circa 2018

On display in Frank's former bedroom are artifacts from his career as a state assemblyman in the 1950s-70s (including furniture relocated from his Sacramento office and gifts from his constituents)...

...and as a theater organist in the 1920s and 30s...

...including a significant sheet music collection.

Volunteers have curated special themed collections into some of the rooms... being used for something other than their original purpose, like the "music room"...

...which contains various games and musical instruments.

Since Frank was an organist, while he and his bachelor brother Lloyd had control of the house, they actually enclosed the central courtyard to convert it into a recital hall. When the City of La Cañada Flintridge approved the proposal to turn the house into a museum, the organ was meant to be kept for public recitals.

But the music hall that they built wasn't acoustically soundproof enough to appease complaining neighbors, so the organ was sold off to the City of Glendale, which intended it for the Alex Theatre (where Frank played on opening night), but then kept it in storage for years. The rare and valuable Mighty Wurlitzer (originally from the San Francisco Fox Theatre) now entertains audiences in pre-show performances at the 1926 Sid Grauman movie palace, El Capitan. And the courtyard has been restored to its original condition.

The Lantermans were big entertainers – so much so that they devoted nearly the entire second floor of their house to a ballroom for parties.

As with many restored landmarks, a small section was left untouched to show the rough condition it was in when Lloyd died and left the home to the City of La Cañada.

Not to be forgotten in the Lantermans is the patriarch who commissioned the house to be built: Dr. Roy Lanterman, son of Jacob and Amoretta, father of Frank and Lloyd.

His doctor's office has also been preserved, with various texts and medical records...

...and instruments.

Now the Lanterman Archives have become a repository of historic sheet music, taking donations from other organizations who don't know what to do with theirs.

Lanterman also has an extensive collection of past issues of the La Cañada Valley Sun, a local weekly, which has been painstakingly catalogued and sorted into archival storage boxes.

So much guesswork usually goes into history, and recreating historic habitats like this, so it's a treat to see a place like this frozen in time. It's not an archaeological site, nor a domicile from another planet. It's recent enough so that everything in there is pretty obvious. You don't have to wonder what life was like inside there; you just have to spend a little bit of time there to understand.

So for that, thank goodness they saved everything, because that "someday" is now.

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Photo Essay: Lanterman Developmental Center, Pomona, Haunted & Closing
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Photo Essay: The Museum of Misfit Houses
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