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Let Them See, Admire --but Not Eat--Cake

Exhibits: Frances Kuyper's cake museum in Pasadena attracts visitors from around the world.

December 01, 1996|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PASADENA — In a world where esoterica is exhibited as well as exalted, Frances Kuyper takes the cake.

And she keeps it, too, in the world's only cake museum.

Kuyper is cake curator at her Pasadena museum, which is layered with creations for weddings and birthdays and for the oddball occasion that calls for a chocolate Chihuahua or an edible Eiffel Tower.

Glass cases display about 150 cakes--some up to 65 years old.

No, Kuyper does not have a mouse, ant or cockroach problem.

"I had the place fogged with bug bombs before I opened," said Kuyper, 78. "I have a termite guy come every month. I've tried to think of everything."

Kuyper said the idea for a cake museum came to her as a sweet dream.

"I had a vision in 1977--I saw materials in my head, right down to the fabric on the window curtains in the front," she said.

Launching it wasn't easy.

She and her husband, retired mailman Frankie Kuyper, had two houses on their North Lola Avenue property. They moved into the rear home on the lot and spent their $40,000 savings converting the front dwelling into an exhibition area.

More than a few people warned her that a cake collection seemed like a half-baked idea.

"When I opened 2 1/2 years ago, everybody said it wouldn't work, that nobody would come," she said. "But it has worked."

These days, the exhibit is open by appointment. More than 1,000 have made pilgrimages to it.

Fans are downright sugary in their praise too.

"It's just perfect. The displays are gorgeous," said Akiko Miyake of Pasadena, who came looking for cake decorating ideas.

"Even for guys it's interesting," said Helen Cheng, a Covina homemaker who took her three young children along.

Like most museums, Kuyper's has rules: No touching. No tasting, either.

The decorative frosting on most display cakes is real. But it has hardened over the years. And beneath the icing is a base made of plastic, not flour.

Because her museum is in a residential area, Kuyper cannot charge admission. So she conducts cake-decorating classes to help cover operating costs.

One of her decorating techniques is to use an airbrush to paint surprisingly lifelike portraits traced onto icing from a photo projector.

"People tell me they'd never want to slice into one of these," Kuyper said, holding up a sweetly smiling Oprah Winfrey cake. "I tell them it's a legitimate way to cut somebody's throat without hurting anybody."

Expert cake decorators from several countries have visited the museum for lectures and demonstrations. They stay in an upstairs bedroom next to the cake reference library--which contains 1,000 cake-decorating books and 90 how-to videos.

Mail addressed to "The Cake Lady," as the 46-year decorating veteran calls herself, comes to a plaster-of-Paris cake mailbox out front that earns a chuckle from letter carrier Jun Kang each afternoon.

The cake mail drop is one of 80 featured in a new book, "Mailbox, U.S.A." Author Rachel Epstein of Mill Valley, Calif., said Kuyper contributed the "recipe" for the plaster cake to the book.

As for Kuyper, she has even bigger cake plans in the oven. She is trying to build a museum in Springfield, Mo., that would be far grander than a new cake museum going up in London.

"There's lots of vacant property there, and it's only 50 miles from Branson, Mo. Over 55 million people go to Branson every year," she said.

But she acknowledged that it will take more than baker's dough to pull it off. "What I need is a sugar daddy," she laughed.

Ending her career with a larger museum, Kuyper said wistfully, would really be the icing on the cake.

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