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How Pasadena's Wrigley Mansion Became Tournament House

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Photos of Tournament House by Hadley Meares.
Photos of Tournament House by Hadley Meares.

In 1921, William Wrigley Jr., Midwestern chewing gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs and Catalina Island, gave an interview in his lovely winter mansion at 391 South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena. "Coming to Southern California is like taking up golf," he explained to a reporter from the LA Times, "once you start, you can never give it up." The Wrigley mansion, called "the Shadows" because of the shaded patterns that played on the tree-covered lawn, was designed by noted SoCal architect G. Lawrence Stimson. It was built on Pasadena's Millionaire's Row, famed as the street where "every house is a mansion and every resident a millionaire." Here, Eastern and Midwestern industrial barons, including the Gambles, Busches, Huntingtons, and Bissells, relaxed and entertained in garden-like, temperate Pasadena. Wrigley's retreat is seen by Americans across the country every New Year's Day in its role as Tournament House, the official headquarters of the Tournament of Roses, started by early Pasadena's pioneering boosters in 1890 to "tell the world about our paradise."

Pasadena was founded in 1874 by a small group of settlers from Indiana, who came in search of warm winters and a fresh start. It soon became known for its orange and olive groves, and as a bucolic retreat for the infirm and elderly. From the start, it was a Wild West town with Midwestern values—it is said that Pasadena's official incorporation in 1886 occurred primarily to force out the town's only saloon. The arrival of the railroads in the late 1880s brought in more visitors from America's colder climes and ushered in an age of grand winter resorts, like the Green, Raymond, Huntington, Maryland, and Vista Del Arroyo hotels.

Wealthy part-time residents began to build mansions up and down Orange Grove Avenue (now Boulevard) and adjacent streets. They employed countless inventive architects, including Frederick L. Roehrig (Mayfair Mansion and "Ivy Wall," the Busch home) and William F. Thompson (Merritt Mansion). The firm of Greene and Greene, undoubtedly the most famous of these architects, perfected the "ultimate bungalow" type of Craftsman house using natural materials and integrated design. Gamble House, their masterpiece, was built at 4 Westmoreland Place, a stone's throw from Orange Grove Avenue. "Their homes, like Pasadena, were metaphors of an America brought to liberality, simplicity and taste," wrote historian Kevin Starr. "For architects and clients alike, Pasadena was a liberal, Protestant, upper-middle-class daydream."

Two men who played a big part in Pasadena's transformation from farming community to "daydream" were developer George W. Stimson and his son, architect G. Lawrence Stimson. Over the course of their careers, they built more than 1,000 custom and speculative homes in the LA area. In 1906, George commissioned his son, G. Lawrence, to design a large concrete and steel mansion specifically for his family at 391 South Orange Grove Avenue. Due in part to the shortage of materials and tradesmen resulting from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the 18,500-square-foot Italian Revival mansion was not completed until 1914. G. Lawrence was a versatile architect, familiar with many popular architectural styles. His houses were known for their ornate plaster ceilings and large second-floor hallways, ideal for the loading and unloading of seasonal residents' belongings. A number of palms, a Stimson favorite, were planted on the spacious lawn.

The living room of the Wrigley house. Photo via the official Tournament of Roses site.

By 1914, the Stimsons' children had moved away, and George W. and his wife only furnished four rooms in their now too-large mansion. In 1914, they sold the house to Wrigley for $170,000 in cash and moved to a smaller residence. No doubt Wrigley and his wife Ada, who already owned homes in Chicago, Philadelphia, Lake Geneva (Wisconsin), and Phoenix, were impressed with what they saw. The Stimson house was remarkably well built, with materials sourced from all over the world. The front door was four-inch-thick Honduran mahogany, the paneling in the dining room was crotch mahogany, and the dining room chandelier was made in Czechoslovakia. The living room boasted walnut woodwork and a Florentine marble fireplace. The main marble staircase featured a mahogany banister and bronze railing. The master bathroom contained a 300-pound porcelain tub. Poor planning meant that a window had to be broken so that a crane could hoist the tub into the room.

The Wrigleys soon added their own touches. The home quickly became Ada's favorite residence. It is said that she loved watching the Rose Parade (which started feet away from her home) every New Year's Day from the comfort of her front porch or front lawn. The Wrigleys, their children, and their grandchildren often used the deep front porch and sleeping porch. A large Aeolian-Skinner player organ was installed in the downstairs hallway. Its 1,500 pipes were hidden under the grand staircase. In 1915, Wrigley bought an adjacent lot for $25,000. He tore down the house on the property and planted a beautiful garden in its place.

Foyer of the Wrigley mansion. Photo via the official Tournament of Roses site.

One can sense the relief Wrigley felt every winter when he came to Southern California: "Before we left Chicago last Tuesday, we were obliged to keep five men busy digging out our roadways so we could run our cars to the station," he told a reporter. "The same was true all over the city and in many places they were practically blockaded." He described how all his employees in Chicago had "got the Southern California bee so bad it is hard to keep anyone on the job there. They all want to come out here." And why wouldn't they? A late winter day of "gay fetes" in Pasadena was described like something out of a Wharton novel:

Society made its way untrammeled to the great open air. The greens were dotted with golfers, the courts with tennis lovers and the grand stands with spectators of polo.

After Wrigley bought Catalina Island in 1919, he spent less time at his Pasadena retreat and more time entertaining friends and family at his home on the Island (now the Mt. Ada Inn). But when he died in Arizona in 1932, his body was brought to Pasadena. His simple funeral was conducted in his home on Orange Grove Avenue on January 28, 1932. "Ave Maria" was played on the organ and truckloads of flowers "filled the great drawing room bank on bank, overflowed into other rooms, up the stairway to the second floor and out on the spacious front porch," while hundreds of mourners lined Orange Grove Avenue. The house remained Ada Wrigley's favorite home. She entertained frequently, setting the handcrafted table in the grand dining room with her best Lalique glassware. During the 1930s, the Wrigley mansion remained beautiful even as some mansions on Millionaire's Row slowly slipped into disrepair, their owners unable to keep up with the costs of property taxes, servants, caretakers, and maintenance.

The 1940s saw the beginning of a years-long struggle over the fate of Orange Grove Avenue. In 1947, Ada suffered a massive stroke while in residence in Pasadena. Until her death in 1958, she lay in a coma in a dark bedroom, unaware of the massive changes going on around her. Orange Grove Avenue was rezoned for high-end multiple occupancy dwellings in the late '40s, and many of the great mansions were razed. By 1952, the LA Times reported that "yesteryear's rambling, many gabled mansions are being replaced by … multiple apartment units, housing three, six and even a dozen families on the same ground space." The Wigmore mansion was reduced to a creaky wooden gate, and only foundation ruins remained of the Busch mansion. But the Wrigley mansion, with its velvety lawn and palm trees, remained frozen in past splendor.

The rezoning of Orange Grove Avenue breathed new life into the old stately neighborhood. The apartments and condos built were elegant and expensive and credited in later years with keeping the street from turning into a slum. After their mother's death, the Wrigley family decided to donate the mansion and its four-and-a-half-acre yard to the Tournament of Roses Association, to honor the city their parents loved so much. In a letter, Phillip K. Wrigley explained: "The birth of the world famous Tournament of Roses took place across the street from this property more than 70 years ago. The donors believe it is in the public interest to provide a home for said association that will be a credit to the city of Pasadena in the years to come." This donation surely saved the mansion from demolition. Other families soon followed suit. The Gamble family donated their Arts and Crafts masterpiece to the city of Pasadena and the University of Southern California School of Architecture. Several mansions, including Merritt Mansion, became part of Ambassador College; Merritt is now part of a large-scale special events venue. The Craven home (designed by Lewis P. Hobart) became the headquarters of the Pasadena Red Cross.

The Tournament of Roses quickly moved into the 22-room Wrigley mansion, which became a "bustling hive" of tournament activity. Offices and conference rooms, where the parade and bowl game were planned, were installed on the ground floor. The upstairs bedrooms were turned into theme rooms, such as "the queen's room" that featured past queens' crowns. Appropriately, a public rose garden installed adjacent to the house featured more than 1,500 varieties of roses, camellias, and a famed Moreton Bay fig tree. Grand Marshals of the parade were entertained at glittering cocktail parties. In 1964, Grand Marshal Dwight Eisenhower became trapped behind a sliding door in the bathroom. No one heard him pounding on the door and he was not found until concerned aides began searching for him. This bathroom is now cheekily known as the "Eisenhower bathroom."

In 2000, the association began a massive two-year renovation of the Tournament House. Seventeen members of the Pasadena chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers were asked to redecorate a specific room in the house, using historic photos of the rooms for inspiration. The house's original hardwood floors were restored, and a hidden bathroom was discovered. An open garden balcony off the library was enclosed and turned into a solarium featuring a private bar. "The goal was to bring it back as it was at the turn of the last century," explained Association Vice-president Libby Evans Wright. "It had kind of lost it."

Today, the Tournament House is open for weekly tours from February through August. And every New Year's Day, thousands still line Orange Grove Boulevard, enraptured by the floral floats that still promote the "paradise" Pasadena's Midwestern pioneers came there to celebrate.

Further reading:
· Pasadena : resort hotels and paradise by Thomas D. Carpenter
· Tournament of Roses : the first 100 years by Joe Hendrickson
· When old town was young : the early decades of old Pasadena by Kirk Myers
· William Wrigley Jr. : Wrigley's Chewing Gum founder by Joanne Mattern

· Curbed Features [Curbed LA]

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