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Paul Dean

Pleasures of Christmases Past Revisited

December 05, 1987|Paul Dean

The ghost of Christmas past, the gentle one, the old man who believes in handmade gifts and hot cider and trees cut over the hill, has many homes in California.

And in our era of precious little peace on Earth and no excess of good will toward men, it's a seasonal blessing to be invited back to his time and places. If just for a moment, just for the memories.

At the Banning Residence, Sunday and next Sunday, the return will be to Victorian years, right down to the cut of Santa's suit and the spice of plum puddings baking in a Garland wood stove.

Carolers will roam the rooms. There will be wax candles in a pine tree. As it was when Phineas Banning, railroad owner, state senator, raised this Wilmington mansion in 1864.

"There's nothing like the olfactory sense to trigger good memories," museum docent Sharon Spurlock said. "When visitors come into the kitchen, they say things like 'I remember Aunt Minnie's kitchen and her Garland stove' and 'those oatmeal cookies smell just like grandma's.'

"We connect the past with the present and at Christmas that is particularly important."

At the 1905 Fenyes Mansion, now cosseted by the Pasadena Historical Society, the Christmas remembrances will be musical, by piano, recorder and hand-bell choir, each Sunday throughout the month.

"I relate to the smell of greenery and the garlands of fir and spruce that drape the staircase," museum spokesperson Brooke Larsen Garlock said. "My mother used to do that in our home near here on South Orange Grove. She's not living anymore, the home has gone and there's an apartment building there now."

Therein, Garlock believes, is the magic of Christmas at the Fenyes Mansion. "There's no doubt it refers to the child in me," she said.

The time machine will stop on Christmas, 1928, at the Workman and Temple Homestead in the City of Industry. From next Saturday through Twelfth Night there will be holiday tours (reservations required) tailored to Christmas customs of the '20s that in Southern California didn't roar quite so lustily.

Actors will be at the homestead on Dec. 13 to play out past holidays as seen by typical guests of the time--Bernie, an aspiring silent movie actress; Aunt Ella, a former suffragette, and friend Winnie, visiting from Scripps College.

"They like to listen to old carols, talk about who is giving what Christmas present to whom and open up the family home to friends and relatives," explained Jean Farnsworth, an official of the homestead. "They are evoking the same spirit and feelings of Christmas that we enjoy today . . . except commercialism then wasn't so pervasive as it is today.

"To see Christmas at the homestead is to remember when it (commercialism) wasn't so . . . and to escape for a moment," she said.

North of Santa Barbara where Los Carneros Road leaves U.S. 101 at Goleta, there is Stow House, once the seat of a lemon ranch. Now it is home to the Goleta Valley Historical Society, the members of which have fully restored the home and Christmas celebrations that probably are cozier than the originals.

They start Sunday and repeat each weekend through Dec. 20.

Wherever there are fireplaces there are pine-log fires and wherever there's a living room there is a Christmas tree decorated with the handmade. Gingerbread hearts. Cookies. Peanuts made into reindeer.

Everything is present--piles of packages in the kids' rooms, lime pickles in the kitchen--except the original residents.

This year, Dennyson Treloar, immediate past president of the Goleta Valley Historical Society, will once more watch youngsters come and parents go as an old house fulfills a vital function.

It sets up the fine mood of Christmas, he said, "then sends everyone home to better enjoy theirs."

For times and admission prices call: Banning Residence, 401 E. M St., Wilmington; (213) 548-7777. Fenyes Mansion, 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena; (818) 577-1660. Workman and Temple Homestead, 15415 E. Don Julian Road, City of Industry; (818) 968-8492. Stow House, Goleta; (805) 964-4407.

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