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The Lonely Mansion

Saying 'no thanks' to taking up residence in the Getty House--the official home of the L.A. mayor--has developed into something of a mayoral tradition.


It is not the fanciest house on the block, nor is it on the fanciest block in the city. A three-story, two-bedroom mock English Tudor situated just above Wilshire in Windsor Square, the official residence of the mayor of Los Angeles has no outstanding characteristics--no flags flying, no impressive security fence. It differs from its neighbors in only two noticeable ways: There is a blue-painted handicap zone on the curb in front of the driveway, and no one lives there. And for at least four more years, no one will.

Declining the 605 S. Irving address, once fashionable enough for the likes of John Barrymore and Lee Strasberg, has become a new mayoral tradition. Citing the needs of their young children, Mayor Jim Hahn and his wife, Ramona, have decided to remain residents of San Pedro. And, presumably, the Harbor Freeway.

Not that they don't intend to use Getty House. Their own house, ensconced on a semi-Spielbergian street within walking distance of their elementary school and a very nice park, is lovely in a suburban kind of way, but it's hard to imagine the mayoral staff, much less visiting dignitaries, schlepping down the 110 while Mrs. Hahn hurriedly sweeps the Legos and the Razor scooters into the nearest closet.

Los Angeles Times Thursday August 2, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name--A story on the mayor's mansion in Monday's Southern California Living misstated the name of Mayor James K. Hahn's wife. It is Monica, not Ramona, which is his mother's name.

So just last week, Hahn held his first staff meeting at the mayoral mansion. In the way of such things, housekeeper Mercedes Demonteverde hadn't been at the house 10 minutes before she discovered a flooded basement. A typical pre-fete disaster, with a less-than-typical solution--city workers were there in less than 20 minutes.

By 9:30, Demonteverde was dividing her time between the supervision of table linens and a small cadre of city workers tromping up and down the basement stairs. But if the back and bottom of the house were roiling with activity, the rest of house lay in a well-polished silence. A faint smell of lemon and wax hung expectantly above the Italian painted console in the vestibule, the striking secretary bookcase and the pillows perfectly arranged on the velveteen sofa in the living room. There is no sign of actual life, of course--no half-read newspapers, no coffee cups, no--heaven forbid--overflowing ashtrays. Nothing, not a book, not a figurine, not a vase was out of place; even the morning sunlight shone through the multi-paned windows in an orderly way.

Los Angeles is one of a handful of cities with such houses--New York has Gracie Mansion and Detroit Manoogian Mansion, Denver's mayor will soon occupy the to-be-renamed Cableland Estate and in the nation's capitol, a move is afoot to build Casey Mansion on the recently razed Brady Estate.

But Los Angeles stands alone in having an official residence in which no official resides.

Considering the "Love, American Style"-type antics that have been rustling down the halls and slamming the bedroom doors in Gracie Mansion, this may not be such a bad thing. Still, in a city where a house is not just a cigar but both personal status symbol and economic bellwether, there is something poignant about any uninhabited mock Tudor, even one that is possibly a bit too close to Wilshire.

Issues of Desirability Rather Than Politics

Historically, officials have occasionally declined to live in government-appointed residences--California Gov. Jerry Brown pointedly passed on inhabiting the lavish gubernatorial mansion vacated by Ronald Reagan, and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams is notably unenthusiastic about the possibility of a new address--but Getty House seems to have issues of desirability rather than politics.

Donated to the city by Getty Oil in 1975, Getty House, as such, has had only had one resident. Mayor Tom Bradley and his wife, Ethel, lived there from 1977 until 1993. But when Mayor-elect Richard Riordan announced he would stay in his own home, no one was very surprised. Brentwood to Windsor Square is not exactly ZIP Code inflation, and free rent is not a huge draw for a millionaire. Getty House was neither large nor luxurious, and it needed a lot of work. Mrs. Bradley had begun packing long before Riordan took office--although she felt she had done wonders with the garden, she had never liked the house. She could not wait, she said at the time, to get out.

Still, it wouldn't do to let the mayoral mansion turn into 1313 Mockingbird Lane. So Riordan quickly created the Getty House Restoration Foundation and appointed Nancy Daly, who would later become Nancy Daly Riordan, to oversee the remodeling.

"Soon Gracie Mansion will be known as Getty House East," Riordan joked a year and a half later during the housewarming festivities. A few folks made snarky Sun King-type remarks, questioning the need for a lavish mayoral residence in a town with a notable homelessness problem--the $25,000 French chandelier in the dining room seemed to stick in more than a few craws.

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