L.A. at Home

Design, Architecture, Gardens,
Southern California Living

Category: Lost L.A.

Lost L.A.: Inspired by Egypt, constructed in California


Sam Watters' latest "Lost L.A." column reveals the story behind map mogul Andrew McNally's Egyptian room, pictured here in a photo that dates to 1898. Writes Watters of the octagonal room:

Pierced screens and ogee arches along the walls glowed in shades of tangerine, gold and azure blue. Colored glass in a brass lantern shimmered, illuminating decorations essential to every fashionable Oriental parlor: a hookah pipe, inlaid ivory tables, stools and a recessed, embroidered banquette.

Watters' look at historical design through the lens of contemporary culture appears on the first Saturday of every month in the L.A. Times.

Photo credit: Archives of the Pasadena Museum of History


A fork in the road for the city tree

Wright's Millard House

Utopia in Hollywood

Lost L.A.: When the tree, not the car, ruled the road


In this photo from more than a century ago, could that tree really be rising from the middle of Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena? And whatever happened to that ancient oak?

In his latest Lost L.A. column, Sam Watters answers those questions and spins a tale that will sound awfully familiar to anyone reading headlines today.

Photo credit: UCLA Library Department of Special Collections


The Christmas tree nailed to the wall

The bachelor pad for swinging -- and survival

Jennifer Jones' tea party as spin control

A Frank Lloyd Wright house on the move?

Lost L.A.: The Christmas tree nailed to the wall

Lost-la-christmas-tree Your eyes do not deceive. That is, indeed, an off-the-wall Christmas tree. Our Lost L.A. columnist Sam Watters tells the story behind the world's thinnest spruce:

"Curtis picked up branches in backyards and along back roads in L.A. At their modest ranch house, paneled with patriotic knotty pine, he and his wife attached a board to the living room wall. They nailed boughs to the plank, long branches at the bottom, short at the top. A string of lights, some colored balls and metal tinsel, easily stored in the attic closet, completed the half-a-tree vignette."

You can read the rest of the tale in Watters' latest column.


'The Bachelor' meets 'Survivor'

Jennifer Jones' tea party

Frank Lloyd Wright's La Miniatura


Lost L.A.: A bachelor pad for swinging, and survival


Our latest Lost L.A. column: Sam Watters on Hal B. Hayes' 1950s bachelor pad, built not only for swinging but also for survival in the event of A-bomb attack. Writes Watters:

The ne plus ultra of nuke chic was an indoor-outdoor pool, winding from a tropical lanai through entertainment rooms. At one end was an underwater tunnel leading to a sealed, underground cave aerated with oxygen tanks. ...  At a housewarming party in May 1953, the groomed, silver-haired builder and swimsuited socialite/starlet Kay Spreckels watched actress Roxanne Arlen take a radiation-free dip in the pool, churned by a 40-foot waterfall.

Read the full column or see other glimpses of homes and garden past.


Tea time with Jennifer Jones

Frank Lloyd Wright's Millard House

Gutzon Borglum and the Western landscape



Lost L.A.: Tea party as spin control


The year: 1946. The place: the living room of Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Jones. Behind the lens: legendary photography Maynard Parker, shooting for Architectural Digest. And carefully laid out on the table: a proper setting of tea, of course. For an actress trying to defend her image, it made complete sense. As Sam Watters writes in his latest "Lost L.A." column:

In movies, brews served in the shade of old oak trees and by the glow of winter fires brought lovers and old friends together. On- and off-screen, tea parties stood for civility, respect, manners and refinement. They mended fences and built bridges between men and women, old and young, rich and poor, the baker and the mayor, the seamstress and the mistress.

How times have changed. Pour yourself some organic oolong and read Watters' take on the tea party.

-- Craig Nakano

Photo credit: Maynard L. Parker Collection / Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens


Frank Lloyd Wright's La Miniatura

El Reposo Ranch, Sierra Madre

Guardian Service cookware

Altadena's Christmas Tree Lane

William Randolph Hearst's Mount Vernon West

Huntington Hartford's lost artists colony in the Palisades

Lost L.A. archive

Lost L.A.: A Frank Lloyd Wright house on the move?

Frank-Lloyd-Wright-MinaturaThe photo, circa 1923, shows the Frank Lloyd Wright house known as La Miniatura in Pasadena, before the guest house was added, and long before the talk of an owner potentially moving the landmark to Japan.

In his latest Lost L.A. column, Sam Watters discusses how the site is essential to the architecture. "Wright set La Miniatura into its ridge and terraced down to a ravine below the living and dining rooms," Watters says. "He organically bonded the house to its site by mixing sand from the hill into the construction concrete, creating a permanent structural flaw undermining the house's long-term stability. The outcome, however, was a bold interpretation of SoCal's indoor-outdoor lifestyle mantra."

-- Craig Nakano

Photo from the collection of Sam Watters


Leland Means artwork lost

Why the Century Plaza Hotel matters

Marion Davies' Santa Monica beach house


Lost L.A.: Rancho Los Alamitos, before the oil wells


When an air photographer snapped his shutter in a fly-over of Fred and Florence Bixby’s Long Beach ranch in 1936, time seemed to have stood still. Groomed fields surrounded their home, nestled in a shady grove of pepper trees around a patio designed by local plantsman Paul Howard. What the photographer framed out of his pastoral vista was nearby Signal Hill. Car travel was pushing oil exploration, and the lessee of Signal Hill, Shell Oil, struck black gold in 1921 at derrick Alamitos No. 1. Thousands of gallons a day from that well and the dozens that followed on Signal Hill and at nearby Seal Beach transformed a Spanish rancho into a supplier to global petroleum markets. Read about what was gained and what was forever lost in our Lost L.A. column on Rancho Los Alamitos

-- Sam Watters

Photo credit: Rancho Los Alamitos Foundation


El Molino Viejo, the Old Mill in San Marino

The artwork in old Home Savings banks

A Utopian community in the Hollywood Hills

Lost L.A.: El Molino Viejo in San Marino, portrait of another era


The year is 1887. The place, El Molino Viejo (the Old Mill) in what is now San Marino. The woman painting is Elizabeth Putnam, an art teacher from Los Angeles. At this time, art is among a few genteel pastimes that men permit women to pursue, as Sam Watters writes in his latest Lost L.A. column, and painting outdoors is the style of the time. Looming over Putnam's shoulder is her husband-to-be, Gutzon Borglum. He went on to carve Mt. Rushmore.

For all their progress, Watters wrote, women of this era still lived in a man's world. From this one photo, we learn volumes about the times -- and a closer look reveals that not all is as it may seem.

-- Craig Nakano

Photo: Sierra Madre Historical Preservation Society


Horses that lived in fine style

Krotona, a vision of Utopia in the Hollywood Hills

Hearst's beach house in Santa Monica

Lost L.A.: For these horses, a room with a view


At a time when cars were replacing horses and Southern California's stables were being converted to garages, Capt. William Sanford Banning never lost his love for his four-hoofed friends. As Sam Watters writes in his latest Lost. L.A. column:

Middle-class horses bunked in barns, but Banning mounts lived in a manor ... a veritable Monticello, a shingle-roofed, vine-covered stable with column and pediment windows.

Find out the fate of Banning's stables by reading Watters' column. And for more Lost L.A., a look at Southern California social history as told through a home, garden or decor that is no more, click to our Lost L.A. archive.

-- Craig Nakano

Photo credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

Lost L.A.: Bungalow heaven in Sierra Madre? In an era past, you would have found it at El Reposo Ranch


They were homes away from home, available for rent by the day or the month to relax or recover. The collection of rustic bungalows in Sierra Madre was called El Reposo Ranch, and as our Lost L.A. columnist Sam Watters explains, the bungalows' design is evidence of  how Californians have been refining the idea of indoor-outdoor living for more than a century:

Measuring from 9 by 12 feet to 20 by 32, the box bungalow had wood floors, frames and doors. Canvas panels formed walls that tilted open for air. A shower bath served two rooms furnished with bentwood chairs, a chest of drawers and metal beds. Luxury models had a fireplace, wood walls and glass windows. All had the good-living essential: the shaded porch. In hot or rainy weather, it was the ultimate indoor-outdoor room that preceded by decades the Spanish Revival patio and '50s lanai.

To read more about the bungalows' origins, their symbolism and their ultimate fate, read Watters monthly column.

-- Craig Nakano

Photo credit: Sierra Madre Archives

RELATED: Our Lost L.A. archive


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