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Time to celebrate

The granddaughter of legendary L.A. architect Paul Williams wrote the book on how to welcome guests. Then she gave a party in the very house her grandfather built and lived in.

May 01, 2003|Mimi Avins | Times Staff Writer

Those WHO DON'T KNOW LOS ANGELES WELL rant about this young city's lack of tradition or wax philosophical about it as the last frontier, the place where wannabes reinvent themselves. Yet there is another L.A., where continuity is treasured, manners and roots respected. That's where Karen Hudson lives, in a 1950s house in Lafayette Square, a block away from the one where she was raised.

This is not just any 1950s house, it's Paul Williams' own house, one he designed and lived in. Hudson is the granddaughter of the renowned architect whose 3,000 public and residential buildings shaped the look of Los Angeles in the first half of the 20th century. She is the keeper not only of his house, but also of the gracious customs valued by her grandparents and her parents.

As twilight fell one day last week, a steady column of guests approached the deep-green front door, their way lighted by tiny bulbs bordering the long stone walkway. Inside, amid voluptuous displays of food, flowers and heirlooms large and small, they could see her favorite needlepoint pillow, one bearing the legend, "The Most Valuable Antiques Are Old Friends."

"The book is done and I'm ready to party!" their invitations read. "Please join me for dinner." The book in question, to be published by Simon & Schuster next year, is, fittingly, a guide to entertaining, and it consumed Hudson's attention for the last few years. "I decided to have a party to thank my friends and family who put up with my driving them crazy while I was writing," Hudson said. "I feel like I've been underground, and now that I'm finished, I want to celebrate."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 14, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Party services -- In a May 1 Home section article about a party thrown by Karen Hudson at her Los Angeles home, L.A. Party Rents was incorrectly identified as L.A. Partyworks, and Beverly Blossoms was incorrectly identified as Beverly Blooms.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 15, 2003 Home Edition Home Part F Page 2 Features Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Party services -- In a May 1 Home section story about a party thrown by Karen Hudson at her Los Angeles home, L.A. Party Rents was incorrectly identified as L.A. Partyworks, and Beverly Blossoms was incorrectly identified as Beverly Blooms.

Standing in the foyer wearing a chartreuse Chinese silk jacket over a black shell and slacks, Hudson didn't look like a woman who'd been hibernating.

"My grandmother's motto was, 'A little powder, a little paint, make you look like what you ain't," she said. Maybe it was following her grandmother's counsel that gave Hudson her glow, but more likely it was the pleasure she derived from bringing friends together.

For many in the group, being there awakened memories of parties past, when Hudson's grandparents were the hosts. The interior, which Hudson describes as "I Love Lucy goes to Hollywood," is virtually unchanged since her mother and aunt were children there. The dining room is an intact museum of Paul Williams furniture and, except for two armchairs, so is the living room. It is possible to imagine him walking through the door and pouring his wife, Della, a glass of sherry.

On one side of the circular foyer, three golden metal gazelles gambol up the lyrical stairway railing he designed, and it was here, unexpectedly, where Hudson placed a small table laden with desserts; she wanted her guests to see what they had to look forward to as soon as they entered. Their expectations would have been high even without the sweets in view.

"At Karen's parties, the food is always off the chart," said her brother, Paul Claude Hudson, president and chief executive of the family-owned Broadway Federal Bank, "and the details are always perfect."

And the guests are on time. The party was called for 7, and by a quarter after the hour, the living room was packed, the pleasant din of voices overwhelming the sound of Motown oldies. The conversation couldn't have been more spirited if there was a sign hung on the door warning, "No wallflowers allowed." The sparsely furnished living room, with soft green carpeting, fireplace of light green flagstone and a curved seating unit hugging the rounded wall, is where Williams celebrated family Christmases. Hudson's plan was for the cocktail hour, or 45 minutes to be precise, to be contained there. Glass doors to the lanai, where four tables for eight had been set with dishes, silver and glassware from her grandmother's collections, remained closed until dinner was announced.

Hudson's parties are a blend of the ceremonious and the informal. Guests drank apple martinis or champagne and nibbled seared ahi tuna on wontons, brie canapes with toasted pecans and crab salad wrapped in endive. But despite the fact that a few of the six helpers from Robin's Nest Catering manned the bar and passed the hors d'oeuvres, television director Oz Scott felt at home enough to pick up a tray and urge actress Denise Nicholas to have a taste. "Karen makes everyone feel special, and comfortable," said Gayle Harvey Beavers, a cousin. "She's relaxed when her guests arrive. You can relax because she isn't running around."

Any party performance anxiety Hudson feels is dispensed with early in an elaborate planning stage. She's highly organized, relying on a battery of lists. Lists on index cards. Lists in notebooks. "My lists have lists," she said. "The hard part is decision-making -- figuring out the menu and deciding how many people to invite." Yet every decision is governed by the same criterion. "When I plan a party, I think about what would make me happy. I figure if I'm happy, my guests will be happy."

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