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Eccentricities of an Escondido Anglophile

January 16, 2010 | 10:00 am

Dennis When I was getting ready for a trip to London last fall, a Los Angeles friend told me to be sure to see the Dennis Severs House. Then a relative in Virginia mentioned the house to me. When a third unrelated friend uttered the words “Dennis Severs,” I felt that, at the very least, fate wanted me to look up the house via the intertubes.

First astonishing fact: Severs began showing his house – a fiercely imaginative reconstruction of life in the 18th and 19th centuries – in the early 1980s. I’ve been to London at least a dozen times since he started and had never heard of it before. Second astonishing fact: Severs died in 1999, and yet this one-of-a-kind attraction was not only going strong, it had only just passed some kind of cultural barrier where a person in Los Angeles hears about it from everyone she knows. Third astonishing fact: Severs, a noted Anglophile, had been born and raised in Escondido, Calif. – not a breeding ground for Anglophilia.

Of course I visited the house, and I loved it. It was like secretly poking about an elaborate stage set while the actors were on break. The scribbles from Dennis on various pieces of paper strewn about – “Pay attention!” “You are here-ish.” “Is there no fiction free from fact?” – made the experience feel like both a treasure hunt and a funny critique of conventional museum-going.

I became curious about the man who created the house. The great thing about being a journalist is that I can then just phone up the people who knew Dennis and they are happy to tell me all they remember about the man, who eventually took shape in my mind as one of the great eccentrics to emerge from Southern California (you’re welcome, world!)

To read more about the Dennis Severs hours, click here for my Sunday Arts & Books story.

 -- Laurie Winer

Photo: The elaborate dining room of the Severs museum. Credit: Dennis Severs House