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The Eye

Knocking on the mayor's door

Is Antonio Villaraigosa really a swag curtain kind of guy?

October 13, 2005|Barbara King

DOES he or doesn't he live here? I searched in vain for some sign of human occupation in the library, living room, game room, garden room, powder room, dining room, breakfast room and courtyard terrace, and all I came up with was a framed photo on an antique secretary of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa flashing his radiant white smile.

For several encouraging seconds, I was sure I'd found one more piece of evidence: two dozen or so very plump, very yellow lemons set out in a wooden bowl on the kitchen countertop, looking ripe to be paired with a nice, thick meringue. How homey. I picked one up and sniffed. Not a hint of an aroma. I squeezed. Not a hint of give. Ah, I get it: lemon decoys. Like the lovely little decoy books so artfully stacked and angled on a side table, all written in Danish.

To be fair, I was allowed access to only the downstairs spaces of Getty House -- the official L.A. mayor's residence -- and not to the upstairs bedrooms and sitting room. Still, that's a lot of square footage even in a 10,000-square-foot house for revealing nothing more than the combined efforts of 17 interior decorators recruited by Nancy Daly Riordan 10 years ago to refurbish all 14 rooms and seven baths.

I can't say that I blame former Mayors Richard Riordan and James K. Hahn for never moving in. And I wouldn't have blamed Mayor Villaraigosa if he'd mostly stayed put in his Mount Washington home, as he vowed to do after his election in May because his two youngest children liked their neighborhood. Soon after his inauguration, however, he had a change of mind. He, his wife Corina, their 16-year-old son Antonio Jr. and 12-year-old daughter Natalia would reside full time in Getty House after all. The children saw it, liked it, and wanted those bigger bedrooms that would be theirs, according to a spokesperson in his press office.

Whatever the reason, the populist in me thought it a worthy and gracious decision. The Villaraigosas are the first family of Los Angeles and as such were showing true public-servant spirit by assuming the role wholeheartedly, becoming residents of the rent-free dwelling provided by the citizens of the city.

The cinema-swayed dreamer in me loved the Horatio Alger ending: poor Eastside boy makes good, then makes grand. Antonio Villaraigosa, who once stuffed his shoes with cardboard, lands in a majestic mansion with a one-acre garden and tennis court, on a palm-lined boulevard of Windsor Square -- a neighborhood with a pedigree as thoroughbred as it gets in L.A. This was straight out of a Frank Capra or Preston Sturges movie.

Why, then, did I feel vaguely disquieted in the house, similar to the way I feel when trying to read a surgically altered, fat-injected face relieved of its emotional history and range of movement? Are you sad, mad, glad? Please tell me which.

It was all so tidy and hushed: from room to room, a monochromatic harmony of wall and ceiling colors in ivory, taupe, champagne, cream, including on oak paneling. The apparent theme was to create a light, airy California version of an English Tudor -- no small feat. Tudors do not readily lend themselves to lightness or airiness or California-zation without taking on a certain synthetic quality, especially when mixed with swag curtains, gilded mirrors, a grandfather clock and 18th century reproduction furniture. And without a hint of actual habitation, the downstairs had the inanimate, stylized air of an Architectural Digest spread, the equivalent of a blank stare. There was no individual imprint anywhere, none of the sweet mess of everyday life.

The main rooms seemed conceived more for public show than personal comfort -- much in the spirit of an opulent designer showcase, and no doubt just as it should be for entertaining dignitaries. A handful of foreign presidents and prime ministers have dined there in the past, and so have a couple of princes -- Charles being one of them.

The Getty House Foundation describes it this way: "Getty House as the Official Residence of the Mayor of Los Angeles is the stately symbol of Los Angeles civic life. It is a prestigious venue used by the Mayor to welcome world leaders and heads of state and for official city functions that enhance the image, economy and future of Los Angeles."

All well and good -- in fact, the house works brilliantly in that respect -- but that doesn't describe a home. This is more like a fine hotel minus the 24-hour room service. Whose taste is it, anyway? Whose life will the Villaraigosas be living?

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