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Greene & Greene lantern pulled due to provenance concern

Our friend Ted Wells of Living Simple passed this note on to us a few weeks ago. This particular item was taken from the White Sisters' (Martha, Violet and Jane) House at 370 Arroyo Terrace [map / photo / Zillow] in Pasadena, a very attractive Greene & Greene home from 1903; Larry Wilson writes a bit more about this in today's paper, and argues for an inventory of Greene objects in private hands, as the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has attempted and had good success with.

Of course, this isn't the first time that the provenance or sale of a Greene & Greene lantern has stirred up controversy...

PASADENA - A porch lantern that experts believe was bought and illegally removed from a Greene and Greene house on Arroyo Terrace at a garage sale has been withdrawn from a Sotheby's auction set for Friday in New York City.

The lantern, with an auction estimate of $30,000 to $50,000, was taken out of the American Renaissance sale Tuesday on the advice of Sotheby's lawyers "pending further research," spokeswoman Lauren Gioia said.

The decision came in response to a letter sent to Sotheby's by the Pasadena city attorney's office on Dec. 5; it asks that the lantern "be returned immediately" to Pasadena since the sale of any interior or exterior fixture removed from a Greene brothers' house is forbidden by a city law enacted in 1986.

Reached by telephone, Naomi Ritz said she put the lantern, listed as "from the Estate of the Ritz Brothers," up for auction, but declined to give any details about its acquisition.

The lantern is believed to have once hung on the porch at 370 Arroyo Terrace, known as the White Sisters' House. The 1903 Craftsman-style home was built by Charles Greene for his sisters-in-law, Martha, Violet and Jane, next door to his own 1901 house at 368 Arroyo.

The lantern's journey to New York started at a garage sale at 370 Arroyo Terrace, according to the city attorney's office. The private, word-of-mouth sale was held earlier this year when the home's long-time owner, Ann Duffy, was moving out.

The Duffy Trust sold the house for $1.4 million to Timothy J. Toohey and David Liu in May; it is undergoing restoration. Toohey, 57, bought the Charles Greene house next door in September 2005 for $2.475 million.

Local preservationists first got wind of the lantern's impending sale when contacted by Ted Wells of Guardian Stewardship, the Greene and Greene watchdog group, and when the buyers began toting it around town for expert opinions on its authenticity.

Backed by an anonymous private collector, Guardian Stewardship bought all but a few of the 49 items put under the hammer by former Gamble House curator Randell Makinson at Sotheby's in December 2004. The collection raised almost $2.9 million - about three times the estimated value. Some of it is on show at the Huntington Library and the Long Beach Museum of Art.

Wells said a dealer in Chicago, who knew the group had bought the Makinson collection, had offered to sell the lantern.

"I questioned if it was something that could be legally sold, and if there were ethical issues, we would not be interested," Wells said. "The dealer in Chicago agreed ... but I see it reached Sotheby's."

It's believed the lantern was stored for years in a box in the White Sisters' House basement, but it's almost certainly original to the house, said Ted Bosley, curator of the Gamble House and a Greene and Greene expert.

"It's a very lovely piece, an early Greene and Greene lantern," Bosley said. The buyers, he said, showed him photographs of the lamp, described in the Sotheby's catalogue as zinc-plated steel and opalescent glass with lead strips, circa 1903.

"They thought it might be important, and I confirmed it to the best of my knowledge," Bosley said. "I suggested they take it back to the house and make sure it was protected. They didn't follow my advice."
Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, said Ritz's husband Clyde Munsell - whom Ritz identified as her attorney to this newspaper - offered the lantern to the preservation group.

"Based on a phone conversation, I thought he was willing to donate it, get a tax deduction and we would return it to the house," Mossman said. "He said, `We're not donating, we'll sell it to you.' But we don't have these resources."

Mossman said that everywhere the sellers went they were advised to return the lantern to the house, and that the house's owners would reimburse them.