Celebrating 50 Years of Beautifully Redecorated Estates

By Noel Jeffrey 04/30/2014

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Today’s Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts started life as the Pasadena Junior Philharmonic Committee in 1948. In 1965, under the leadership of Joan Stewart Anawalt, the Junior Phils abandoned their traditional casino night fundraisers for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra 

in favor of a new concept. They invited designer members of the American Institute of Interior Designers (AID), now known as the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), to redo a mansion in San Marino, and then they opened it to the public for a fee for two weeks. It was wildly successful and raised some $10,000. 
The Showcase House was exactly that — a showcase for good design, unusual decorating ideas and new products in home furnishings. Property surrounding the homes became a showcase for the latest in landscape design. In addition, it became a showcase of community effort and cooperation — between designers, dealers and manufacturers, landscape architects and the able members of an active service group.

In 1980, 16 years into Showcase Houses, Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Smith wrote, “As a believer in serendipity… I think the money they raise for the orchestra is not as important as the side effects. They have reminded us that we have an honorable architectural tradition here, despite the notion so cherished by Eastern journalists that Los Angeles, including Pasadena, is the capital of kitsch… they show us each year, that Los Angeles and especially Pasadena, have probably produced the best architecture in America.”

Outstanding interior design was a hallmark of the project from day one. In 1970 the Dunn-Edwards company began donating all of the paint used for the house. Today, a sample card in the program enables visitors to order those same colors from the company. Other current features that make Showcase an event — garden tours, the Restaurant at Showcase and the Shops at Showcase — took decades to evolve. Early efforts were very much a hands-on affair.

For the first few years, at the end of the racing season, members themselves dug up the flowers at the Santa Anita Race Track, principally cyclamen and pansies, and replanted them around the Showcase. The owners of a local nursery also contributed to the landscaping. By the end of the 1970s, several nurseries and landscape architects were taking responsibility for exterior areas. Exterior workdays, which included husbands digging ditches, however, went on for years.
At first, food was not sold, though complimentary coffee, doughnuts and cookies were included in the ticket price and tea was served in the afternoons from 2 to 4 p.m.

Later, members themselves made lunches to sell.

Art sales, which eventually mushroomed into the Marketplace and then Shops at Showcase, was conceived early and by the end of these decades had added crafts to the art displayed for sale.

After the second year, Junior Phil members realized that pre-selling tickets was essential to the project’s success, so members began selling tickets themselves, and a committee mailed out pre-purchased tickets. By the end of the ’70s, the project had grown large enough for the group to employ an accounting firm.

The Music Mobile for area schoolchildren was launched in the early ’70s as the first effort to benefit local music programs as well as the orchestra.

By 1980, Showcase had become a place to “do lunch.” Recognizing the opportunity for growth, the committee hired a caterer to supply lunches and light refreshments in an alfresco setting. A wine bar was opened. Junior Phils continued to bus tables. Today, an alfresco restaurant serves light breakfast, lunch and dinner from 9 a.m. until Showcase closes for the day. A full bar and soft drinks are also available. The caterer provides the staff.

By 1984, the event enjoyed such overwhelming popularity that the public had become accustomed to waiting in long lines — two hours or more on weekends — to enter the house. In order to eliminate that problem the committee began issuing various colored cards with entry times. Today members can sell tickets, but most guests purchase tickets by ordering online, calling and through the mail. These functions are now handled by a professional ticketing service.

Another important milestone in 1984 was the launch of the Pasadena Junior Philharmonic Instrumental Competition, a professionally judged annual competition awarding cash prizes for young musicians from the local area. To further promote local involvement, in 1989, the Junior Phils launched Community Gifts and Grants with $25,000 in honor of the 25th anniversary Showcase. Group members have always staffed the rooms and outdoor areas to welcome the public, answer questions and discuss the décor. As the project grew, other affiliated groups and community organizations provided the majority of staffing help in the house, while members still staffed the outdoor areas.

Showcase fans are typically curious about how a house is chosen each year. The hunt starts early. A search book is presented to the incoming benefit chair at a luncheon prior to the opening of the current house. It contains information on potential houses whose owners are interested in having their homes become a Showcase. The search begins in earnest that summer. For example, in July 2014, the benefit chair will be looking for the 2015 house. Owners, neighbors and Realtors facilitate the process.

The following criteria are used in selection of the house:
• Minimum 6,000 square feet
• Two stairways
• Good through flow
• Grounds spacious enough for Shops at Showcase and restaurant
• Willing and flexible owners
• General condition of the property and grounds

There are also criteria for choosing designers:
• Past and potential designers are invited to a Designer Walk Thru. At that time, they must submit choices and plans. New designers also submit their portfolios.
• Work with chosen color palette
• The PSHA president, benefit chair and interior and exterior chairs together choose the designers who will participate.

As the group became more involved with the local community, members voted to enlarge its focus and dedicate more of its funds to local arts and music programs and to support the orchestra as well. In 2000, the group chose Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts as its name to reflect that focus.

At age 50, Showcase continues to evolve as a benefit to provide advantages, assistance, promotion and profit to everyone involved. To date, over $19 million dollars in gifts and grants has been awarded to support the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Hollywood Bowl, the Instrumental Competition, Music Mobile and Youth Concert and over 60 schools and other nonprofit organizations for symphonic, cultural and educational programs.  

Reprinted with permission from 50 Years of Pasadena Showcase Design Houses: 
Supporting the Arts Through Design ($59.95), written by Noel Jeffrey, edited by Fran Biles, available at Showcase House, all Snyder Diamond locations, Julienne’s in San Marino and online at


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