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Park recreates Boddy's summer fêtes

Descanso Gardens follows a Labor Day tradition started by its founder.

September 02, 2011|By Katie Bain

E. Manchester Boddy, owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News, was a legend not only for his sharp editorials and shrewd business skills, but for the fantastic parties he threw in his backyard.

Of course, it wasn’t just any backyard. In 1937, Boddy purchased 125 acres of land in La Cañada and commissioned famed “architect to the stars” James Dolena to build a home for his family, which included his wife Berenice and the couple’s two sons, Bob and Calvin. Dolena constructed a 12,000-square-foot, 22-room home on hillside with sweeping views of the valley. Completed in 1938, the house incorporated some of the most advanced architectural technology of the era, including steel framing, a built-in music system and a sophisticated heating and cooling system. The family named their dwelling Rancho del Descanso, or “restful place.”

A restful place is exactly what Rancho del Descanso proved to be for the guests who came to the property for the summer gatherings that Boddy (pronounced “Boady”) hosted. Guests often included Hollywood stars, political dignitaries and neighborhood friends.

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The dress code at Boddy’s gatherings was casual, with women often wearing pants and many guests donning hats and aprons when they helped out with the cooking. The parties were such large affairs that actress Janet Gaynor gave the family an oversized cooking pan so they could accommodate their ever-growing guest list with enough food.

Guests were welcome to fish in Rancho del Descanso’s lake, but reports say that there were never enough fish caught to feed the crowd, and thus barbecued meat usually was the meal of choice.

In the mid-1950s, Boddy retired and sold the land, which was converted into the beautiful public venue Descanso Gardens. On Monday, as the nation celebrates Labor Day, Descanso will honor Boddy by recreating one of his summer fêtes, and this time around, everyone is invited.

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