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Close-Up : Echoes of Earlier Era Fill Couple's L.B. Penthouse

March 28, 1985|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — When a friend told Jean and Joseph Krause that a grand ballroom was up for sale on the top floor of a downtown Long Beach high-rise, they decided almost on a whim to take a look.

At the time, the Krauses were happily ensconced in their home in the secluded Mount Washington section of Los Angeles. Joseph, 62, commuted to work each day at Cal State Long Beach, where he is an art history professor. Jean worked out of their home as a free-lance advertising design artist.

"We were very content there," recalls Jean, 61. "We raised our two daughters there."

But the Krauses were taken aback when they got a glimpse of the old ballroom's maple floors, ornate pilasters and vaulted ceilings.

"It took us about 10 minutes and we decided we wanted to move," Jean said.

Converted to Home

That was five years ago. Today, the Krauses live in the 11th-floor ballroom, which they purchased and converted into a home.

And what a home it is. Atop the Lafayette Building, a late-1920s apartment complex that became a Hilton Hotel in the 1950s and since has been converted into condominiums, the penthouse has a 270-degree view of downtown Long Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The building is on Linden Avenue, south of Broadway.

"It's really quite spectacular at night," Jean said, pointing out a window. "You have the city lights spread out all before you. When it's crystal clear, you can see the whole cityscape of Los Angeles."

The couple spent $250,000 reconverting the 3,000-square-foot ballroom, which was once a stage for some of the greats of the mid-1940s Big Band era. Curved wall sections form the various rooms, which include a living room, the bedroom, kitchen and pantry, a studio, loft and two bathrooms. Modern lighting fixtures hang from the ceiling bays, giving the place a feel of the new mingling with the old.

Antique Furnishings

Oriental rugs cover the three-quarter-inch-thick wood floor, which once felt the tap of dancing feet. A circular fireplace sits against one wall. Palms and ferns fill various corners and crannies. A white and blue china chandelier made in Italy hangs over a dining room table. Antique chairs and couches fill the room and an L-shaped display case with fluorescent lights lines two edges of the living room.

"It's delightful," Jean said while showing a visitor the home. "We both truly love all the space, we love being so close to the city, we love being able to walk to so many places."

For the Krauses, it seemed a natural move. The couple had grown fond of urban life during visits to major U.S. cities and while traveling in Europe.

"We just like a city atmosphere," Jean said. "When we were in Rome, Florence, even in San Francisco, we liked being in the city. The transfer from the house to here was really very easy, although for the first week I had the feeling of being in an old hotel."

The couple hired two different contractors to do the renovation work, which was overseen by Elisha Dubin, a Los Angeles architect who is a long-time friend of the Krauses. It took nine months. Most evenings, the couple would take the minute-long elevator ride up to the ballroom so they could inspect the work.

"It was quite a project," Jean said, explaining how workers purposely let water drip onto the hard-rock wallboards, which make up the rooms, so they could be bent into seamless, curved sections.

The only people who seemed surprised by the Krauses' abrupt decision to sell their house and move into a ballroom were their daughters.

'You're Doing What?'

"We told them we were buying a ballroom," Jean recalls. "They said, 'You're doing what?' They wanted to know why we would sell the family home."

Nonetheless, the Krauses seem content with the move. But there have been trade-offs.

"At our old home we had to deal with gophers in the backyard and being on a septic tank," Jean said. "Here, we have to worry about the elevator not working or the cat getting out onto the deck."

Jean has put out planter boxes on the 2,000-square-foot concrete deck, but concedes it lacks some of the rural appeal of the old home.

"It's not quite the same as being under the deodars," she said. Instead of battling gophers, Jean fights the effects of raw winds on her flowers and plants.

Used for Fund-Raisers

The Krauses entertain often, and have used their home for various fund-raisers for the Long Beach Symphony and the city's art museum.

"It accommodates people well, especially during the spring and summer months when we can put the cat in the pantry, open the doors and let the crowd spill out onto the deck," Jean said.

Theirs is a home with history. Jean Krause said three married couples have told her they met while dancing at the old ballroom and fell in love.

"Ah yes," says Jean, "we've heard quite a few romantic stories."

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