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JACK SMITH

If These Walls Could Talk, What Tales They'd Tell

March 20, 1990|JACK SMITH

Pasadena's Showcase Houses of Design are usually mansions that date from Pasadena's early 20th-Century age of elegance and were purchased with transplanted Midwestern wealth. For the showcase historians, the walls talk, sometimes revealing scandals, sometimes soap operas; and sometimes the various owners seem to have lived lives as blameless and all-American as Andy Hardy's family in that popular movie series of the '30s and '40s.

The current showcase house is 9,000 square feet of French chateau (with a Federal interior) on the east bank of the Arroyo Seco. The worst one can say about its history is that some of it seems to have been a bit of a soap opera. I am indebted for the following historical revelations to Linda Cantwell, this year's showcase historian, who has listened to its walls.

The house was built in 1916 for Julius Clark Daniels and Gertrude Potter Daniels of Chicago. Daniels was a semi-invalid, from a stroke in 1912, and apparently was estranged from his wife, though they lived in the house from 1916 to 1922. Their two sons served in World War I with valor. According to a grandson, Donald Potter Daniels Jr., Daniels moved to Hawaii with his nurse and made a "remarkable recovery."

Mrs. Daniels remained in Pasadena, living in the fashionable Vista del Arroyo and devoting her considerable energies to art and culture. Cantwell has dug up an old Chicago newspaper clipping that describes the 18-year-old Gertrude Potter, in the breathless style of that day's society pages, as "at once a faithful devotee to the arduous social duties which her parents' position force upon her, and an even more arduous devotee of the art (music and the theater) which she pursues for the love of art. . . . She acts with spirit and intelligence a wide range of parts."

In 1923 the house was bought by David Blankenhorn, who had just sold Santa Catalina Island to William Wrigley Jr. and could afford it. Blankenhorn and his wife, Emma, lived in the house with their two sons, a chauffeur, two gardeners, a butler, a cook, several maids and a children's nanny. They were deeply involved in Pasadena society and culture as members of the Valley Hunt Club and founders of the Pasadena Playhouse.

Blankenhorn's son John said his father met screen siren Irene Rich at a parents' meeting at Glendora Foothill School, where John's older brother and Irene's daughter were classmates. John Blankenhorn said his father and the movie star, who usually played mature women of the world, became enamored of each another. The Blankenhorns were divorced, causing a shock in proper Pasadena society.

Blankenhorn married Miss Rich in 1926. The first Mrs. Blankenhorn was summering in Pebble Beach when Blankenhorn called his son and said he and Miss Rich planned to honeymoon there. John said it might not be a good idea, since his mother was in residence. Blankenhorn and his bride came anyway.

The newlyweds built a home on Windsor Boulevard in Los Angeles and a summer home at Hope Ranch.

Blankenhorn and some friends built the Santa Barbara Biltmore, and he and Miss Rich invested heavily in California real estate. They were hurt by the stock market crash of 1929 and divorced in the mid-1930s. (Miss Rich died in 1988 at the age of 96; she had been married four times.)

In the late 1940s John and Betty Callaghan bought the house and added a pool. They reared four children in the house. Betty Callaghan had been a social secretary in the White House during Franklin D. Roosevelt's residence there and had a flair for entertaining; the James Roosevelts were frequent guests.

The house was designed by Allison & Allison, who designed seven of UCLA's original buildings, including Royce Hall and Kerckhoff Hall.

The original landscaping was done by Paul J. Thiene, who had laid out the grounds for the San Diego Exposition in Balboa Park.

The house will be open to the public April 22 through May 20, Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday.

Visitors may reserve times and make payment ($10 in advance, $15 at the door) by writing LAPA--PJPC Showcase, P.O. Box 1951, Los Angeles, Calif. 90078, or by calling Ticketmaster.

Free parking and shuttle from the Rose Bowl parking lot at Seco Street and Arroyo Boulevard.

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