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How Heritage Square has kept L.A.'s vanishing Victorian-era history alive

Heritage Square Museum
Photograph: Michael Juliano

“This is the house that everyone says is the most haunted,” says Kori Capaldi as we walk into the elaborately adorned Hale House. “But I don’t know, I haven’t experienced anything.”

Though its finials and chimneys do conjure up images of a haunted house—and a hair wreath of the home’s now-deceased inhabitants is certainly creepy—the only thing this astounding Queen Anne–style Victorian mansion is possessed with is a sense of history.

Photograph: Michael Juliano

 

The house is one of more than a half-dozen late-19th-century structures at Heritage Square Museum. Established in 1969, the open-air Montecito Heights site has served as the final resting place for L.A.’s vanishing Victorian past. Churches, train depots and houses that would have otherwise met the bulldozer were painstakingly transported to the 10-acre plot along the Arroyo Seco.

Since taking over as Heritage Square’s executive director in the spring, Capaldi has sought to expand the ways in which the institution engages the public, with blacksmithing workshops, film screenings and a planned upstairs-downstairs tour of some of the houses.

“[The museum] introduces people to what life was like then—what our ancestors went through to get here, to have a life that they thought was fulfilling,” says Capaldi.

As in modern-day L.A., homeowners in the 19th century flaunted their success, whether actual or perceived. The 1876 Perry House was once the largest in the city, and its owner’s fabulous wealth is apparent in its Grecian columns and ballroomlike living spaces.

Photograph: Michael Juliano

 

But the Hale House next door was designed to make its inhabitants look wealthier than they were; leatherlike wall carvings are actually made of pressed paper, while some technological touches are less than ideal. “[The lights] were electric and gas,” says Capaldi. “So they had to turn off the electricity to light the gas. I don’t know how they didn’t all blow up.”

Photograph: Michael Juliano

 

If you’re planning a visit this fall, Heritage Square revives bygone holiday rituals with these two long-running traditions.

Halloween & Mourning Tours

This 14th annual event resurrects the mourning etiquette of the Victorian era. Saturday’s programming is decidedly adult-oriented, with a reenactment of a Civil War burial, a visit to a séance room and a trip to the undertaker.“I think people look at death now as being very antiseptic, sterile, clean,” says Capaldi. “Well,the Victorian era was more ritualistic. People really wanted to assist their loved ones to go to the next plane.” On Sunday you can bring the kids along for spooky stories and trick-or-treating.

Oct 28, 29 noon–4pm; adults $20, seniors $15, children ages 6–12 $8.

Holiday Lamplight Celebration

You physically move through the performance during these house-to-house vignettes of celebration, heartache and all things Christmas. The 23rd annual nighttime tour traces the story of a single person’s life. “It’s a drama from beginning to end, and you follow that story all the way through,” says Capaldi.

Dec 2, 3 at 4pm; adults $30, children ages 6–12 $15.

Visit Heritage Square Museum (3800 Homer St; 323-225-2700, heritagesquare.org) Friday through Sunday from 11:30am to 4:30pm. Admission costs $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children ages 6–12.

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