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La Canada Plans for City Hall : Officials Will Study Conversion of Lanterman Home

January 08, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

With city patriarch Lloyd Lanterman in failing health, La Canada Flintridge officials are moving forward with an ambitious plan to convert his ancestral home to a city hall and community center.

Lanterman, who never married, willed his home several years ago to the city on the condition that he be allowed to live there until his death. Late last month, the 89-year-old Lanterman suffered a stroke and was moved to Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale. A nursing supervisor said Wednesday that Lanterman's "general overall condition is poor."

In view of that, the city decided it was time to commission a study, although no action will be taken until after Lanterman's death. The 10-year-old city has never had its own city hall.

On Monday, the City Council voted unanimously to appoint a Pasadena architectural firm to study restoration of the 12,000-square-foot Lanterman home and gardens on 1.2 acres and evaluate whether it is large enough for city facilities.

"Lloyd Lanterman is in seriously failing health. . . . We really have to decide now what we want to do, how much it's going to cost and what the residents want," said Mayor O. Warren Hillgren.

Lanterman's attorney, Harcourt Hervey, said he did not consider the city's action premature. "Lloyd had great ties to the city. . . . He'd be pleased to have progress being made," Hervey said.

The 72-year-old estate is located in a residential neighborhood at 4420 Encinas Drive. In the past, some residents voiced concern that moving to a residential neighborhood would draw traffic and noise.

La Canada Flintridge now rents two offices in a Foothill Boulevard office building and the council meets in a conference room at Descanso Gardens. Monday, council members said that the city will hold public hearings to learn residents' wishes before making any final decision to move the city offices.

However, City Councilwoman Joan Feehan joked that "the city's not a bad neighbor to have--we're not here on weekends or at night."

In a written proposal to the city, James G. Spencer of Spencer & Aroyan Associates of Pasadena said his firm expects to evaluate the structural design of the house and look at plumbing, fire-sprinkler and electrical wiring needs. Other modifications needed for public use include installing fire exits and access for the disabled, said City Manager Don Otterman. The $25,000 evaluation is expected to take six months.

Lanterman's home, built of hand-mixed gravel scooped from the nearby hills, is an example of California Craftsman architecture with classical elements such as the columns that line the front entry, according to the La Canada Historical Society.

It contains much of the original furnishings, including a rare, 34-ton 1929 Wurlitzer organ, which city officials said might be used for musical performances.

Upstairs Ballroom

A 30-foot by 75-foot upstairs ballroom might be suitable as City Council chambers, Spencer said. That ballroom is about four times as large as City Council's existing meeting hall.

Outside, a botanical garden is planted with imported trees and bushes. Several croquet courts used in the heyday of the Lanterman dynasty still stand.

The Lanterman family history is closely tied to that of the community. In 1876, Dr. Jacob L. Lanterman, Lloyd's grandfather, and a business partner bought the 6,000-acre eastern part of Rancho La Canada.

Jacob Lanterman helped organized the La Canada elementary school district and, with his wife Amoretta, built the community's first church.

In 1910, the family drilled a well and formed the Valley Water Co., which brought water to the community.

Another Lanterman, Frank D. (Jacob's grandson and Lloyd's brother), was a state assemblyman who authored or co-authored more than 400 bills that became law, including the Municipal Water District Act, which enabled La Canada, La Crescenta and Altadena to share in the water supplied by the Metropolitan Water District. In 1968, Frank Lanterman also helped write a pioneering bill on mental-health reform that became known as the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act. Like his brother, Frank Lanterman never married. He died in 1981.

Work on Steam-Driven Autos

Lloyd Lanterman was a mechanical engineer who experimented with steam-driven autos. He also was historian at La Canada Flintridge's Church of the Lighted Window, where his parents were charter members.

Each brother owned a half interest in the La Canada Flintridge home, and they originally planned to leave most of the home to their alma mater, USC, and donate the rest to the Church of the Lighted Window on Foothill Boulevard.

But, after Frank Lanterman died, his brother had second thoughts and, fearing that the house would be torn down, changed his will in a complicated series of transactions that took three years.

Under the new will, Lanterman deeded the house to the city on the condition that they preserve it. Terms allowed Lanterman to continue living in the house until his death.

For the city's study, Spencer & Aroyan Associates was chosen from among three companies that submitted bids. "They are sensitive to the type of thing we're trying to do, and they've done very nice work in the past," Councilman John Hastings said.

Previous Restorations

The company previously restored a home and a thrift shop for the La Canada Flintridge Assistance League. It also converted an Altadena mansion into a private school, restored a historic Lake Arrowhead lodge as a UCLA conference center and designed and built Duarte's City Hall, according to Spencer, one of the firm's owners.

Spencer called the Lanterman home "a very fascinating old building owned by two very eccentric and different brothers."

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