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The grand mansion on Millionaire's Row is still rich in memories

October 16, 1986|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

When it was built 81 years ago, the Fenyes house was one of the grandest mansions along Pasadena's "Millionaires Row," where it perched at one end like a huge, indestructible wedding cake.

Last Sunday the public got a taste of how it was back then.

The Fenyes mansion is one of only a handful that survived the progress and economics that caused the obliteration of dozens of elegant homes that once lined Orange Grove Boulevard. Today it is headquarters and a museum for the Pasadena Historical Society, which on Sunday turned back the calendar to recapture the flavor of Pasadena's early days with a party to mark the city's centennial.

"It was a rousing success," said Roger Gilson, party chairman, beaming at more than 300 guests who had the run of the place. "I'd like to do it again next year."

All of the entertainment and most of the refreshments replicated what might have been at the turn of the century. There was oom-pah music played by a calliope and the San Marino Dads Band, a 1905 Stevens Duryea automobile, and ice cream made just as it was 100 years ago.

The party had a somewhat nautical flavor in tribute to the museum's large collection of silver service that once was used on the U.S. light cruiser Pasadena that served during World War II. Gilson wore an old British naval costume and several volunteers wore uniforms of the U.S. Navy.

There were displays of early Pasadena photographs and records, some old velocipedes with huge front wheels, and jugglers, magicians and clowns among all the people who tried to dress and act as they would have when the house and century were young.

But the house stole the show.

The Fenyes mansion has several distinctions besides its ability to endure. It was passed down through three generations of Fenyes heirs. It has all the original family furniture, including rare European antiques and some early American paintings of inestimable value. The last family member to live there turned it over to the Pasadena Historical Society in 1970, with dishes still in the cupboards, linens in the closets and plants in the solarium.

Bradley B. Williams, executive director of the Pasadena Historical Society, said that of the 10,000 artifacts in the museum's permanent collection, about half were given by the family.

The house even has some surprising elements--a staircase and balcony that lead to nowhere and a trapdoor that opens to an office below.

Eva Scott Fenyes, a Scott Publishing Co. heiress, built the mansion in 1905 to satisfy her taste for grandeur and her liking for art. Its 18 rooms include a studio where musicians played and artists painted and where theatrical groups used the otherwise useless balcony and trapdoor for dramatic entrances and exits.

Eva Fenyes had one daughter, Leonora Curtin, and one granddaughter, also named Leonora. The latter Leonora dramatically changed the character and destiny of the family home with her marriage in 1946 to a Finn, Y. A. Paloheimo.

Shortly thereafter, when Paloheimo became Finland's consul to Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, the house became the first Finnish consulate in the area. Paloheimo's office remains almost exactly as it was during the 20 years he worked there.

A major attraction on the estate is the Finnish Folk Art Museum, which is a replica of a 19th-Century farmhouse in Finland, completely furnished as if a family lived there. It is reputed to be the only one of its kind outside of Finland.

The Paloheimos retired to their home in Santa Fe, N.M., in the 1960s and gave their Pasadena home to the Historical Society in 1970. Its basement archives now house about 27,000 documents, including 15,000 historic photographs.

Paloheimo died in May and his widow still lives in Santa Fe.

Orange Grove Boulevard is still home to the prosperous, but they live in the condos and apartments that have replaced the old mansions. Now the Fenyes mansion is bordered by a large housing complex, a freeway intersection and corporate headquarters for Avery International.

From any angle, all anyone can see of the grand old property is the trees and shrubbery that have grown up around it and a driveway at 470 W. Walnut Street, where a small sign identifies the Historical Society.

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