Originally published February 11, 2014 at The Los Angeles Beat
Los Angeles, land of make believe; a town that weaves the magical into the fabric of the commonplace. In our multi-faceted city dreamers may be a dime a dozen, but the dreams they emanate linger on as an invisible mist. Take a deep breath and you can sometimes taste both the sweetness and the heartache of dreams past, present and future. Collectors may be some of the most proactive dreamers to walk among us. They actively gather the thing that excites their passion and vicariously fulfill their dreams by hunting their acquisitions.
Angel’s Attic is an enchanting dollhouse and miniatures museum in Santa Monica. Located in a grand and stately Victorian era home, built in 1895, its seven gallery rooms are filled with over 70 fully furnished dollhouses. Each house is so magical that it takes self-restraint to keep from reaching in a hand and joining in the play. The collection was originally started by Carlee McLaughlin, a grandmother who began collecting dolls for her granddaughter, Lauren, born with autism. Perhaps it was a way to take some kind of control in the face of an impossible disorder, but amassing miniatures gave Carlee’s life meaning.
“She bought what she liked and what she loved. It didn’t matter to her if it was horribly expensive or inexpensive. It all comes together beautifully.” – Charles Phillips, Director of Angel’s Attic
The museum itself was started in 1984 in the Victorian house, which had been moved from Wilshire and 4th Streets in 1924. Once at its present location it functioned as a boarding house for many years, most likely housing workers of the oil rigs that proliferated on the nearby beach. It has been painstakingly restored to its original splendor and today is one of the last two Victorians to remain in Santa Monica.
Inside is a Lilliputian wonderland full of houses, dolls and furniture mostly spanning from the late 18th century to the early 20th century, just before WWI. There are modern artisan made pieces mixed in to be certain, but the majority of the collection focuses on antiques, some of them more than 200 years old. It is with pure, childish delight to behold a specially commissioned shoe-shaped dollhouse based on the nursery rhyme The Little Old Woman Who Lived in the Shoe. Built over five years during the 1970s it stands next to one of the oldest houses in the collection, a stately English doll-mansion, built around 1750.
Charming and beguiling as this museum is, there is a certain amount of surreality involved in walking through it and peering into windows and open house sides, like the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk. Some may label the larger dolls found here creepy and feel that they are being watched by inanimate, but intelligent eyes. It takes a certain type of appreciation of history and the eclectic to fully see the beauty in the more eerie dolls in the collection.
True appreciators can spend hours playing Peeping Tom, gazing with fascination into the unique doll habitats. Others might take a more cursory look and feel content merely skimming the interesting collection. It is surely worth a visit, even more so knowing that admission fees go to benefit a charity for autistic children. Explore this special and unusual museum as soon as you get the chance.
Angel’s Attic: 516 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 394-8331; Open Thurs-Sat 12-4pm.