Heritage Square off of the Avenue 43 exit of the Pasadena Freeway in Highland Park is the scene of a children's Halloween gala this afternoon. I can't think of a more appropriate setting for such a party.
A sentimental cemetery of sorts of Victorian-period landmarks saved from the wrecker's ball and conscientiously restored, the square and its silhouette of towers, turrets, pinnacles, dormers and high chimneys can be spooky.
Certainly there are spirits in those towers with the conical roofs, behind those tall, stained-glass windows, in the recesses of the wraparound porches and up the center hall stairways with their hand-carved railings that distinguish the picturesque style.
The most exuberant spirits appear to reside in the Hale House, the second house south from the entry to the square on North Homer Street. A three-story extravaganza painted in authentic shades of bright greens and reds, it is said to have been designed in 1887 by Joseph Cather Newsom, a leading architect of the period. It is rich in detail and a delight to tour.
Among the details of note are the ornate brick pattern in the chimneys, the fleur-de-lis finials of the corner turret, as well as the exterior wood carvings and the stained-glass windows. This is a combination of the Queen Anne and Eastlake styles, which fall under the broader definition of Victorian.
Also take a look at the shield high on the front gable with the initials C. M. carved into it, apparently for a Charles Morgan. According to histories, Morgan was the original owner of the house, not James and Bessie Hale, for whom it is named. It is the stuff to stir ghosts.
Calmer in spirit are Mt. Pleasant House, to the north of the Hale House, and the Valley Knudsen and Beaudry Street houses to the south.
The two-story Mt. Pleasant House is an excellent example of the Italianate Villa style, as distinguished by its tall thin windows, arched double-door front entry and richly detailed eaves. The design, attributed to Ezra Kysor in 1876, is further distinguished by a low-pitched roof supported by paired brackets, hinting at the pediment shape of a classical temple.
The Valley Knudsen House is a rare surviving example of the French Second Empire style, replete with a distinguishing high mansard roof and oversize dormers, topped by a dome and a touch of cast iron. A veranda-like porch welcomes visitors to the 1877 house, which serves as the offices of the square's sponsor, the Cultural Heritage Foundation.
Dated 1887, the Beaudry Street House, a mix of Italianate, Eastlake and Queen Anne styles, features some exquisite hand-carved exterior and interior detailing. The carvings were done by the first owner of the house, John Ford, whose work also decorates the Capitol in Sacramento and Hawaii's Iolani Palace.
Also on view in the Square are: an 1885 railroad depot that used to serve the Westside community of Palms, a marvelous Carpenter Gothic-style church (dated 1897) from Pasadena and a Victorian cottage-style barn, 1897. All would have been destroyed if it had not been for the efforts of the foundation and its many friends.
As for the children's party today, it will run from noon to 5 p.m. and will feature entertainment, apple dunking, refreshments and prizes for costumes. Children must be accompanied by an adult; admission is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and 7- to 17-year-old juniors, and free for children younger than 7.
Next weekend the square begins its winter hours and will be open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Union Brass Band will be featured Nov. 7 at noon and 2 p.m. in marches and songs from the Civil War. For more information, call (818) 449-0193. Of course, the houses can also be seen anytime from the gate.