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From Disorder to Design for the Junior Philharmonic

March 23, 1992|JACK SMITH

As I do every year, I went out the other day to see the Pasadena Showcase House of Design at the height of its remodeling for the public opening April 19.

It was chaos. The circle drive was torn up. A dozen men were replacing the roof tiles. The lawn had died. A movable scaffold stood in the living room. Fresh paint signs were everywhere. Hammers sounded. Saws whined.

For a man who had recently survived an eight-month remodeling of his own house, it was trauma revisited.

Four or five members of the Junior Philharmonic Committee appeared to show me through. The Junior Phils are the young women who stage this event, which in 27 years has raised $4.9 million for the Philharmonic Orchestra. I will quote them indiscriminately, without attribution. (Fresh recruits kept replacing them.)

We stood in the cluttered entry hall. "This is the powder room," one said. opening a door and exposing the legs of a young workman who was kneeling on the vanity. Obviously, the room was not yet functional.

In the library, workers were putting the finishing touches on a monstrous, scowling sculpted head over the fireplace. The designer said it was a copy of one in a 17th-Century Italian house.

"This is the mother-in-law's suite," one said as we moved on. It occurred to me that the monster might be more suitable in here.

An organ sat in a corner of the enormous living room. "No one in the Bourne family could play the organ, so it was mechanical." Only the rich, I thought, could afford a player organ. (Later we saw its forest of pipes through an upstairs door.)

Arthur K. Bourne, heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, had had the house designed by a famous architect (and heir to the Rand McNally fortune), Wallace Neff. The 12,000-square-foot Mediterranean mansion was built in 1925 on 4 1/2 acres near the Huntington Library in San Marino. The Bournes moved in that year with their two young daughters; a son was born a year later.

Over the next six decades the house was to have eight owners, including one who bought it twice. In the 1950s it was bought by a widowed doctor with six children; he soon married a widow with five children of her own and they soon produced a 12th.

Bourne and his wife lived in the style his money made possible. He was an avid golfer and playboy. Though he was a devout Christian Scientist, he dealt with Prohibition by installing an underground wine cellar with a capacity of 3,000 bottles. It is still there.

Though Marcia Kreditor does not mention it in her excellent history, authoritative gossip has it that Bourne took up with the nanny, and his wife took up with the chauffeur. In any case, they were divorced.

Surveying the pervasive disorder, I said I didn't think they'd make it by April 19. "We're going to make it," said one, "or I'm going to Hawaii." They pointed out that for the past several years I had predicted that they wouldn't make it, but they always had.

We trod through the music room over paper and into the entertainment room, looking out on what is said to be one of the largest private pools in Southern California. The entertainment room had contained a billiard table, Ping-Pong table and shuffleboard court, plus a long bar above that hidden wine cellar. One owner is said to have entertained the entire Notre Dame football team in this room.

The master bedroom was nearly finished. It was covered by a dome ceiling painted like a lightly clouded blue sky. Nine satin pillows lay at the head of a turned-down bed.

Four fake Greek columns stood against a wall of the young man's suite, which had a bedroom, study and bath. "That's the way we all grew up," said one, ironically.

The young lady's room had a balcony above the pool. Tucked away somewhere were a card room, an upstairs family room (evidently so the family could escape its guests) and other assorted accommodations.

The two baths and dressing rooms of the pool house (with a sauna between them) had been done in what was said to be Moroccan and Pompeian styles. The Phils said they used to be his and her bathrooms, but in keeping with unisex trends, they were no longer to be marked. One would simply take one's turn.

A two-story guest house stood beyond the tennis court, which had been installed by a later owner over what was said to be a beautiful tiled exercise pool. Nearby stood a tower once occupied by a security guard who watched over the children. The gardens, alas, were in disarray, but I knew they would soon be glorious.

The house will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, April 19-May 12. For information, call (818) 792-4661.

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