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Jack Smith

A house full of the treasures that people collect over the years and don't know what to do with

May 02, 1985|JACK SMITH

I stopped by the Pasadena Art Alliance Treasure House the other day to see how they were doing.

It was several days before the annual sale Saturday (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Sunday (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) and, as usual, it was chaos.

As it has the last two or three years, the sale will take place in an old two-story house lent to the Alliance by Caltech at 1227 Arden Road, just half a block south of the institute.

When I walked in, it was full of women, furniture, objets d'art, china, bric-a-brac, appliances and undescribables--the sort of things that people collect over the years and don't know what to do with, like antlers.

"And furs," one of the women said, throwing on a gray fox stole. "There are furs all over the house."

"That one has sort of a hooker look," observed another.

Every year the women gather this stuff and sell it at the Treasure House; so far they have taken in about $1 million for the various art projects they support, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Center College of Design, Kidspace, Pasadena Art Shops and the County Museum of Art.

We had lunch in the living room, which wasn't quite finished. It would be hard to say what period it was going to be in. One piece that caught my eye was a nine-foot sofa with an elegant fruitwood back.

"What would you call that?" I asked.

"I think it's 18th Century," a woman said. "You could say Italianate. That's a good big word."

Nothing else was Italianate. Across from the fireplace three panels of a Chinese screen, inlaid with jade and soapstone, had been hung on the wall. Another stood in a corner.

Above the Italianate sofa hung a still life of several salmon in a dish on a red tablecloth. (It wasn't bad, but you would have to like salmon.) Most of the furniture was overstuffed and modern.

The dining room was crammed with china and silver services. One table was covered with 92 pieces of Haviland china from Limoges, France. Who had parted with that? Does anyone entertain that thoroughly anymore?

In a cabinet there was a shelf of Bavarian glass in a cranberry color--finger bowls and plates and sherbet glasses. A silver coffee and tea service was marked at $450. A silver champagne bucket stood on a silver stand.

I always enjoy the library most. The women seem to use the library to display the sort of things that men keep, for mysterious reasons, until they die; and then their wives throw them out.

There was a fish in a glass box with a label reporting that it weighed 1 pound 13 ounces, and had been caught by A. E. Stamford on July 21, 1931, at Paxton. For more than 50 years it had sustained some exultant memory; and now it was discarded.

I thumbed leather-bound books containing the works of Wordsworth, Whitman and Meredith, and the love letters of Balzac. With TV to watch, who reads the love letters of Balzac anymore--or Wordsworth either, for that matter?

The 1953 edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica awaited a new owner, and a large couch of leather patchwork--a very masculine piece.

E. K. McLaughlin had at last given up his little claim to glory in World War II. There was his Merchant Marine Pacific War Zone Bar and Atlantic War Zone Bar, and his Merchant Marine Combat Bar, "confirming active service with the U.S. Merchant Marine in a ship which was engaged in direct enemy action."

The three faded ribbons were arrayed in a little box under glass. Was McLaughlin gone at last? Did his medals inspire no pride in his descendants?

Near the door, in a fine frame, was an excellent engraving of the interior of Chartres cathedral, showing the Rose Window, by J. Alphege Brewer.

There weren't many hard-cover books this year. The best of the lot seemed to be Leslie's "Photographic Review of the Great War" (that would be World War I, of course), and "The Young Reader of the School and Family Series" by Marcius Willson. It had been published in 1860, and was obviously meant to tutor the whole family in the expanding West, where the frontier was moving ahead of the schools.

Outdoors I saw a 16-foot bar given by a Pasadena restaurateur, and more furniture resting under a pavilion of white tenting. In the garage, over dozens of skis and a clutter of sports and electronic equipment, hung four sets of antlers. "We always seem to get antlers, don't we," said one of the women.

A woman was walking toward the garage with a bongo drum. Evidently it was something she had wanted to get rid of for a long time. "It was just sitting there, not doing anything," she said.

Upstairs in one of the bedrooms a couple of dozen wide neckties were hung on a chair. They were all from the '50s evidently, that age of extravagant automobile fins and wide lapels. It was a room full of old wedding gifts. Candy dishes, rosebud vases, intaglios, cigarette boxes, candlesticks, ring boxes--cloisonne, lacquerware, porcelain, china. The woman in charge of the room had left a note attached to the overhead light: "Don't panic. Don't rip it off. I'll be back."

I didn't panic. I knew that somehow the Alliance women would have everything in order by Friday night, for their preview party.

They had become experts in sorting out and recycling the castoffs of people's lives.

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