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Time, Lost and Found : Fred Carspecken watched a lifetime of memories go up in smoke in the Laguna fire, but perseverance helped him regain a piece of the past.

November 08, 1995|TAMMY LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA BEACH — Fred Carspecken is like clockwork. He visits the canyon fire road that runs off Laguna's Moulton Meadows Park between Arch Beach Heights and Top of the World at the same time every day.

But today he is late.

"I was thrown off my routine," he says, arriving for his daily walk with his dog, Otis, a Rhodesian ridgeback.

A very precise and particular fellow, Carspecken would tell you himself that he is completely a creature of habit. His appearance at the park is as predictable as the surrounding canyon flora changing colors with the season.

With more than 80 years of memories and experiences, he has tales to share with those who join him and Otis on their afternoon walk.

Tales of growing up in West Virginia, where his father was a pioneer tycoon at the turn of the century; about the winter he lived in a small Italian mountain village; about the years he spent studying at Princeton and Harvard and later teaching at Yale.

But during the past two years, Carspecken's most visited topic of conversation has been the home he lost in the Laguna Beach fire.

He and Otis barely escaped the blaze that destroyed a large portion of his Mystic Hills neighborhood Oct. 27, 1993. When he returned to his home several days later, he found nothing but an iron fireplace grate resting on a cement foundation.

In the months immediately following the fire, Carspecken spoke with great remorse of his heirlooms and antiques lost in the blaze.

There were days when he would say that he simply did not want to go on with the trials and tribulations of recreating his life, piece by piece, all over again.

But there were better days too. The days he noted that he "had more than most people ever had" and was fortunate for the many years life afforded him to enjoy it all. Days when he would exclaim that the plans for his new house were marvelous; or that he and his best friend, Ted Mowery, an Arch Beach Heights resident, had great success over the weekend finding replacements for his rare books, Oriental rugs, china, chandeliers.

*

On the day of Carspecken's tardy arrival on the trail, he was not distraught--rather, very excited.

"I have some news," he said, launching into his story:

"There was a clock my parents selected in 1912 with great consideration. Now this wasn't a grandfather's clock but a hall clock. And very unique in that it performs three functions with just two weights--you see, most have three weights.

"I remember the sound of this clock distinctly. All throughout my childhood I would lie in bed at night and hear the clock go to quarter past, half past, three-quarters past and finally strike the hour. To me it wasn't a clock . . . it was my friend; and it didn't tell time . . . it spoke to me.

"My mother always said that if a fire ever came, she'd be out the door with the grand piano under one arm and the hall clock under the other. And it was so absolutely devastating to me that both things were eventually lost to fire.

"Ted and I went all over, called all over, all over the country . . . asking do you know this clock. And people would send pictures, but no, it was never the clock.

"But just the other day, the man who always cared for my clock, Dean Armentrout from Kubisak's Antiques in Laguna Canyon, called to say that they found the clock through a dealer in Long Beach.

"Ted and I went to see it, and it is exactly, exactly like the other one but a foot taller. However, we had to hear it. And when we did, Ted looked at me and said, 'It's magic.' We've been back to see it three times since. . . . When the house is ready, I will place it the hallway to face the front door."

*

Three months would pass before Carspecken could enjoy his newfound hall clock in his rebuilt home. Construction, already subjected to numerous complications and delays, was promised to be finished in June, then July, and finally completed in late August.

Meanwhile, the hall clock underwent massive mechanical overhaul by Dean Armentrout and George Kubisak, co-owners of Kubisak's Antiques. Though the clock's mahogany cabinet was in excellent condition, the movement was not operational.

Armentrout spent 80 hours restoring the clock dial alone. He replaced beveled glass in the top window and performed the equivalent of rebuilding a car engine.

"Fred and I began discussing replacing his clock immediately after the fire roared through," Armentrout says. "The task would have been easier had he been willing to compromise the uniqueness of a movement that does three things with two weights--tells time, chimes every 15 minutes and strikes the hour. This movement is what makes the clock so special."

Carspecken had turned his hopes for finding another clock over to two premier antique treasure hunters. Armentrout and Kubisak regularly travel to France and search the countryside for antiques. Some of what they find is broken and dilapidated, but after shipping the goods back to Laguna Beach, the craftsmen work together restore each piece to mint condition.

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