Historic Hale House a Staple of Los Angeles Architecture

Written by Troy Anderson
Updated June 15, 2021
exterior paint
The Hale House is one of the most photographed homes in Los Angeles. (Photo by Troy Anderson)

The historic Hale House, a Queen Anne-style mansion in Los Angeles, continues to impress residents and visitors with it's stunning architecture and paint job.

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One of the most elaborately and colorfully decorated Victorian homes in Los Angeles is just a blur to those speeding by along the Arroyo Seco Parkway – the first freeway in California.

But for those who take the time to visit the historic Hale House, an enchanting – if not otherworldly – adventure into a bygone era awaits.

Located off State Route 110 between Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles, the Queen Anne/Eastlake-style mansion offers visitors a chance to experience what high society life was like at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

George W. Morgan, a land speculator and real estate developer, built the house in 1887. In 1906, the house was purchased by James G. Hale, a railroad motorman, and his wife Bessie Hale. They separated a few years after purchasing the home, and James died of a heart attack in 1921.  However, Bessie retained title to the mansion, living in it and using it as a boarding home until the mid-1960s. She died in a rest home in 1967, and the house was left to her niece, Odeanna Johnson, who donated the structure to the Cultural Heritage Foundation of Southern California in 1970.

Today, the pink and teal mansion – “the most photographed house in the entire city” – is considered an impeccable example of Victorian craftsmanship – featuring a “picturesque eclectic” exterior, stained-glass windows and a “‘corner turret’ crowned with a giant copper fleur-de-lis.”

“It’s a unique design in that it’s the only one that looks quite like this,” says Charles Fisher, an architectural historian in Highland Park. “There are a lot of historic homes in Los Angeles that have similar issues as far as the design. But it’s a Queen Anne on a grand scale. It was probably one of the most ambitious designs of that era.”

The 2,700 square-foot Victorian home is one of eight historically significant structures, along with a nostalgic Colonial Drugstore, located at the Heritage Square Museum – a “living history museum” featuring an assortment of architectural gems characterized by gabled roofs, windowed turrets and intricately detailed woodwork.

History preserved

The historic buildings from California’s first 100 years of statehood were saved from demolition over the years and relocated to the 8-acre park located at 3800 N. Homer St. in Montecito Heights.

Today, the museum offers guided tours by docents dressed in 19th century costumes on Fridays and weekends, along with living history performances, educational programs and special events such as the Victorian Magic Show, the Vintage Fashion Show and Tea, Vintage Automobile and Classic Car Show, Silent and Classic Movie Nights and the Holiday Lamplight Celebration with the docents starring in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. For Halloween, visitors can experience the Halloween and Mourning Tours.

“Our Halloween event is our second biggest one and all our docents dress up in late 19th century funeral garb,” says John Kearns, the development director at the museum. “We put a coffin right in front of the bay window. We line up the chairs. They’re all mourning. We go out the front door with the coffin, take it down to the church where we have a fake, dug-up grave and a mock ceremony with a reverend.”

A tour of the Hale House

During a typical tour, though, guests go through the front doors into the foyer where they would greet their guests.

“In the Victorian era, privacy was a big thing for them,” Kearns says. “So, if guests came through the front door, they would have to wait until somebody would come and escort into the parlor room. Appearances were a very big deal.”

One of the foyer’s most remarkable features is a hybrid chandelier. In the 1880s, electricity wasn’t reliable, so the well-to-do purchased chandeliers that ran on both natural gas and electricity.

“They lost electricity quite a bit so they would go over there, move that nozzle and they had gas to keep the house illuminated,” Kearns says.

Throughout the house, nature plays a significant role – including floral arrangements and wildlife images embedded in the fireplace tiles, walls and other parts of the home.

Beyond the foyer is the parlor where the couple did most of their entertaining. The furniture in the room – the tables, light fixtures and even the Asian motif behind the piano – is original.

Next, past the dummy doors, is the family room.

“Each room has dummy doors for privacy,” Kearns says. “The family room was used for family and close friends. This is where they did their entertaining for small groups. That’s why we have the gaming table with cards, the graphophone and a small organ. This is the fun room.”

For lunch or dinner, the Hales and their guests would gather in the dining room, which features period wallpaper and stuffed ducks on the mantle. 

“Another popular thing during this era was peacock feathers,” Kearns says. “That’s why we have those in the vase. It was also very popular for women to display them on their clothing – dresses and hats.”

Next is the kitchen – featuring the original cabinetry, pantry, light fixtures and even an early 20th century toaster.

“During that time, there would only be one light fixture in each room,” Kearns explained. “In the kitchen, they would remove the light bulb, take an extension cord, plug it in here and plug it there, make the toast – and once they were done they would unplug it and put the light bulb back.”

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