No expense was spared for Andrew McNally’s three-story Altadena mansion. The great map maker used his expansive estate as his own personal calling card for those shivering in the Midwest or along the eastern seaboard, beckoning them to the luxe life available only in Southern California. His home embodied the bounty of the San Gabriel Mountains, palm trees and deodar cedars, citrus and olive trees, broad green lawns and sunshine. Even a large aviary for exotic birds to match the colorful arrays of flowers McNally planted throughout the then twelve-acre estate. While there is less land today, the distinctive blue-shingled estate still presides over the valley below, with views out to Catalina Island.
Adjectives to describe McNally’s nearly seven thousand square-foot house are not those we might use for contemporary architecture. Modesty doesn’t work here either. Rather, words such as grand, exotic, eccentric, fit like a glove. Every element of this twenty-two room, nine-bedroom, seven-fireplace, and five-bathroom estate is yet another example of rich original detail. Nearly all of its nineteenth-century features remain intact, from the carved woodwork and paneling of clear heart vertical grain Douglas fir to the jeweled stained glass windows; from the 24 gas lamps—including two chandeliers and several wall sconces—to the ornate steam radiators.
The McNally House exemplifies a simplified Queen Anne-style, in which strongly articulated shapes and volumes, such as the tall, round turret anchoring the southwest corner, are integrated with a broader, more relaxed horizontality, so quite different to more vertical Victorians of the day. And unlike its contemporaries that often exhibited fussy ornamented surfaces, a taut “skin” of wood shingles and clapboard unifies the entire house, much like the Shingle-style houses designed by McKim, Mead and White of New York and Newport, Rhode Island fame. Thus, McNally’s home was not the overly pretentious estate that the wealthy so often commissioned in the fin de siècle. In fact, his selection of the young master architect Roehrig was a fait accompli which showed the designer’s artistic prowess while displaying the cartographer’s unprecedented success without the ostentatiousness of their respective peers (at least on the exterior.)
Inside, the home is spacious in a way that is unheard of today. On the ground floor, large public rooms with generous windows in which tall and taller ceilings flow out from the open foyer with its pocket doors of wood-and-leaded glass that lead to the dining room, while a grand wooden staircase (whose startling detailing anticipates the work of Viennese Modernist Otto Wagner) rises to the second floor. A two-sided double fireplace separates the living room from an intimate hideaway of sitting room/library/family room; both rooms feature ornate floral stenciling on the coved ceilings. The dining room is beamed and paneled with its own fireplace capped with an articulated crown of dentil molding and a built-in sideboard. An additional servant’s wing and the legendary Turkish Room were added in 1897. The handsome carriage house/garage east of the house, based on an 1885 illustration, was constructed in 1971 to replace the original that had been destroyed by fire in 1926.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, the McNally Estate is for sale for the first time in 65 years, and the first time in 100 years that it is publicly on the market. There is nothing else like it in Southern California.
No public open houses. Shown by appointment only.