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It's Amazing What a Pricey Face Lift Gets You


Gone is the thick coat of avocado green on the entry walls. Gone, too, is the satellite dish that sat in the garden. Gone is the creaky kitchen.

The Getty House, the official residence of the mayor, a place that once seemed more suited to the Addams Family than to the city's first family, has gone glamorous. Think crystal chandeliers, burnished antiques, draperies made of $100-a-yard French fabric.

An age-defying face lift was all the committee had in mind when it undertook restoration of the 74-year-old Hancock Park house two years ago. But it soon became obvious, says Polly Williams Kroeger, executive director of the restoration, that "major reconstructive surgery" was in order.

The house, at 605 S. Irving Blvd., may have been long on history--it was once leased to John Barrymore and Dolores Costello, and those who have crossed its portals include Prince Charles and the prime minister of Japan--but it was woefully short on amenities.

A gift to the city from the Getty Foundation in 1976, it has been occupied by only one mayor, Tom Bradley, and his wife, Ethel. Preparing to move out in 1993, after 16 years in the house, Ethel Bradley told The Times: "The sooner the better."

To her, the house was not a home--not with its cavernous living room, the gloomy on-loan portraits on the walls, the rusty pipes, and the soot that shot out of floor heating vents and smudged the carpet.

When Richard Riordan became mayor in 1993, he said thanks, but no thanks, and stayed put in his large Westside home. But he envisioned a spiffed-up Getty House as a place to entertain foreign dignitaries and those who make commerce flow along the Pacific Rim. So he created the private Getty House Restoration Foundation and named as its chairwoman Nancy Daly, an activist and civic volunteer who also happens to be Riordan's significant other.

Just as things were about to get nicely under way, the Northridge earthquake hit, toppling the chimney, damaging the carriage house and putting the project on hold for a month. The committee began to rethink things. Perhaps it was time for a major overhaul of the 6,300-square-foot, 19-room, three-story English Tudor mansion, which was quite a showplace when it was built in 1921 for $83,000.

This promised to be a daunting task. Inappropriate modernization over the decades had compromised architectural integrity. The furnishings were largely a collection of mismatched donations. The vintage of the baths was once removed from the ark.

"As we started to look at the wiring and the basement floor [which was badly warped from flooding], we realized we'd bitten off more than we'd intended," Daly says. But she preferred to see the obstacles as "challenges."

"There was no point where we said, 'My God, we should burn it to the ground.' "

The big challenge was raising money. A series of fund-raisers, including an auction, a preview party at the house and two Mayor's Cup celebrity golf tournaments, not only brought out the big spenders but served to spread the word: Offers of free goods and services began coming in.

All told, the committee raised about $1.2 million, and, Daly estimates, at least as much came in donated goods and services. One donor gave a $25,000 French chandelier for the dining room. Others gave a pillow or two. Labor unions donated more than 2,000 hours.

The volunteer committee, which swelled to 300, sought out interior designers who were not only willing to work pro bono, but would agree to bring in--free--the furnishings required to make their designs become reality. There was a competition, with 19 designers chosen on the basis of their proposals and assigned specific rooms.

Each understood two things: They were to work within the color palette chosen by the committee--primarily green, claret and cream--and there were to be no battles of competing egos and nothing that was, well, too much of a statement.

"It's a traditional house," says Adele Yellin, chairwoman of the designer liaison committee. "We wanted a comfortable home, and we wanted this house to withstand a great deal of use." At the same time, it had to have a certain sophistication.

The Getty House, Daly emphasizes, is not one of those designer showcases where, when the last ticket-holder leaves, "somebody pulls it all away." It is the city's official guest house and may be home to future mayors. (Phase 2 of the restoration will be to work out protocol for the house's use and how it could, or should be, staffed.)

"They wanted to make sure things didn't get too theatrical," says designer Suzanne Rheinstein, who did the guest bedroom suite. To give its sitting room that lived-in look, she scattered dominoes on a desktop where she strategically placed two glasses with plastic ice cubes. A sniff reveals that the dark stuff in those glasses is indeed rum, but Rheinstein plans either to substitute fake rum or to anchor the glasses with quake wax before Getty House is opened for public tours Oct. 26.

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