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Lanterman Mansion to Be La Canada City Hall : Home Again Becomes Community Focus

January 31, 1985|THERESA WALKER | Times Staff Writer

There was a time, particularly in the heady days of the 1920s, when the home of Dr. Roy S. Lanterman and family was the social spot of the growing community of La Canada.

Guests would come to the spacious grounds at 4420 Encinas Drive to stroll among the imported trees and bushes in the botanical garden, tap out a friendly game of croquet on one of several courts at the estate or spend the evening dancing in the ballroom that occupied the entire second floor of the house.

Those times are still a topic of conversation for Lloyd Lanterman, who at 88 is the last descendant of the community's founding family, and the few friends who visit the old gentleman at the Lanterman home. But these days the future of the estate is as much discussed as its past, now that the City of La Canada Flintridge stands to inherit the home upon the death of Lanterman.

With tentative plans to renovate the property into a combination city hall and community center, the Lanterman home may once again become a hub of activity in La Canada Flintridge. The house, built of concrete, is expected to make a more comfortable home for city offices than the two rented suites at the Villa Real professional building on Foothill Boulevard where the city conducts its business.

"We could have a city five times as large as we are now and still have adequate room for city offices," said Councilman Ed Krause, sizing up the space available at the home.

The city this month signed the final papers to close a deal that took three years to conclude and involved negotiations among city officials, USC (also an heir to the Lanterman property) and Lanterman's representatives. City officials are aware that the significance of acquiring the Lanterman home goes beyond the monetary value of the 1.2-acre estate, whose land alone is estimated to be worth more than $1.2 million.

'A Special Place'

"The Lanterman estate is the single most historic site in our community," said Mayor Thomas Curtis at last week's City Council meeting, when the city officially accepted the deed to the property. "It occupies a special place in the heart of La Canada Flintridge."

"Going through the doors of that home," said Councilwoman Barbara Pieper, "is like stepping into another era of life in Southern California."

It was Lanterman's desire to see the home remembered for what it once was that led him to make changes in an estate planning package set up by his brother, Frank D. Lanterman, the former state assemblyman who died in 1981. The two brothers each owned a half interest in the Lanterman property, but, those close to Lloyd Lanterman, say it was Frank Lanterman who largely determined who the heirs would be. Neither had any other close surviving relatives.

Under the original terms of trusts that were established in 1969, the lion's share of the sizable estate, which includes other land holdings besides the Encinas Drive property, was to go to the brothers' alma mater, USC, said Harcourt Hervey, the attorney representing Lloyd Lanterman. The remainder of the property, Hervey said, was willed to the Church of the Lighted Window, a United Church of Christ congregation where Lloyd Lanterman still attends Sunday services.

At the time the trusts were established, nothing had been left to the City of La Canada Flintridge.

Not long after his brother died, Lloyd Lanterman began to have second thoughts about the intended property distribution, particularly regarding the house.

"Lloyd just got to wondering what would happen to the house," explained Eugene Burrows, the trustee of Lloyd Lanterman's estate and his friend. "I said, 'If it doesn't go to someone in particular, it will likely be destroyed.' He almost came unglued at that."

Burrows said there was also a concern that Lanterman would not be able to continue living in the house once his brother's half interest passed to USC. "It was a risky thing. There was nothing to say that he could or couldn't. It wasn't arranged for in the will that either one could remain there" after the other's death, Burrows said.

Lloyd Lanterman's decision to rearrange the distribution of the property marked one of the few times he did not carry out his younger brother's wishes, said both Hervey and Burrows.

Apparently the persuasiveness of the strong-willed Frank Lanterman, who authored 400 bills that became law and was called "Uncle Frank" by his fellow legislators, was as effective in his private life as in his public life.

Brother Called Domineering

"Frank was a very domineering person, as anybody in the state Legislature will verify," Burrows said. "Lloyd let him run things and then administrated Frank's wishes to a great extent."

But that changed when his brother died at age 79, leaving Lloyd Lanterman, who resides in the home with a live-in aide, to make his own decisions.

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