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Downsizing with Mrs. Fenyes

Jan 27, 2013
001 300x224 Downsizing with Mrs. Fenyes PMH pasadena museum of history Leonora Muse julie stires Fenyes Mansion Beaux Art architect Robert Farquhar Adalbert Fenyes  photo

East facing facade of the first Fenyes mansion, 251 S. Orange Grove; courtesy of Pasadena History Museum, PHS1-1

The newly renovated and recently reopened Fenyes Mansion at the corner of Walnut St. and North Orange Grove Blvd. was not Eva Scott Fenyes’s (1849-1930) first Pasadena project.

Before this Beaux Arts mansion, Eva lived with her second husband Adalbert Fenyes (1863-1937) and her daughter Leonora Muse (1879-1972) in an Algerian-styled masterpiece she had built in 1897 soon after moving to Pasadena. It was situated on the northwest corner of Ellis Street and South Orange Grove, which was touted in the Los Angeles Times as, “…one of the most desirable corners…[where] the purchaser will improve the property almost immediately by the erection of a handsome residence in keeping with the other houses on the avenue.”[1]

Young Leonora soon entered the whirlwind of Pasadena society involving, of course, Eva and Adalbert. Unfortunately, Eva’s health suffered a decline and by 1903, when Leonora was quietly married in a small ceremony in the family’s beautiful home, Eva had grown restless with the large house.

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The entrance hall in the first Fenyes mansion, 251 S. Orange Grove; courtesy of Pasadena History Museum, PHS1-21

Hoping to simplify her life, Eva decided to sell her Moorish mansion with its more than thirty fabulously decorated rooms and their exotic furnishings. [2] She wrote with wistful ambivalence to Leonora who had moved to Colorado Springs as a new bride, “I am sorry to leave our pretty home, but am very glad to have the big house off my hands.  Shall put up an artistic but compact and sensible house – not an expensive one but comfortable and practical.”[3]

Eva had already purchased the old Channing property at Walnut and North Orange Grove in 1901, but it was not until January 1906 that she sketched her vision for her new, “sensible” mansion of fewer than twenty rooms.  Still ill, yet highly motivated, Eva hired architect Robert Farquhar who sent preliminary plans to her Arrowhead Springs health retreat along with the missive, “We have taken the greatest pains to give a careful and complete specification so that no points shall be left in doubt, as far as we can foresee…”[4]

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Eva Fenyes’s east view sketch of the 170 N. Orange Grove mansion, sent with a letter to Leonora Muse Curtin, Jan. 1906; courtesy of Acequia Madre House, Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Curtin-Paloheimo Collection”

The Fenyes Mansion was built that year, in 1906, under Eva’s artistic yet practical eye—as well as under her critical eye. She followed developments closely, scrutinizing the progress, assessing and questioning the work, and writing many letters to Farquhar demanding he attend to overlooked details and issues of a larger magnitude. Unfortunately, her 1897 Algerian mansion burned to the ground in 1915, but it is because of Eva Scott Fenyes’s fine instincts and thoughtful persistence that today we can enjoy at least one of her contributions to Pasadena’s architectural heritage, the Fenyes Mansion.

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Photo by Thomas Holaday

Public tours of the 1906 Beaux Arts Fenyes Mansion are offered Fridays, Saturdays, & Sundays at 12:15 p.m.

LAHerald Downsizing with Mrs. Fenyes PMH pasadena museum of history Leonora Muse julie stires Fenyes Mansion Beaux Art architect Robert Farquhar Adalbert Fenyes  photo


[1] Southern California News, Los Angeles Times, 5 February 1897.

[2] On 2 February 1905, the Los Angeles Times reported that the 251 South Orange Grove house sold for a little less than $10,000.

[3] Eva Scott Fenyes to Leonora Scott Muse Curtin, Curtin-Paloheimo Papers, 1903-1913, Acequia Madre House Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

[4] Robert Farquhar to Eva Scott Fenyes, 26 March 1906, Fenyes-Curtin-Paloheimo Papers, Box 15 Folder 3, Research Library and Archives, Pasadena Museum of History.

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Eva Scott Muse Fenyes; image by L. M. Clancy




4 Responses for “Downsizing with Mrs. Fenyes”

  1. John says:

    So sad the Algerian style mansion burned to the ground. What inspired her to design such a unique mansion?

  2. Laura says:

    Great article and what a lost treasure of Pasadena! Do you know who the architects of the Algerian style mansion were, and do other buildings by them survive?

  3. Julie Stires says:

    Eva Fenyes’ interest in art and architecture can be seen in her watercolor sketches. She traveled in Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa with her parents from 1867-1871 studying music, language, literature and art. Many of her drawings during this period reflect her appreciation of North African culture. She renewed this interest when she lived in Algeria and Egypt at various times during the 1890s and just before settling down in Pasadena.
    A small one story wing of her Algerian mansion survived the fire and is now a private residence.

  4. Julie Stires says:

    Oliver Perry Dennis and Lyman Farwell were the architects who designed the Fenyes’ Algerian mansion. According to David Gebhard and Robert Winter in their book An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, Dennis and Farwell were the architects for a 1903 Queen Anne known as the Janes House. It is located at 6541 Hollywood Blvd.

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