History of Mason Monterey at the Oregon Caves NM

MPF Conservation conserved and/or restored two dozen pieces of Mason Monterey furniture from the Chateau at the Oregon Caves National Monument (NPS); this page gives an overview of Mason Monterey furniture’s history.

The furniture in the Chateau was designed and built by Frank Mason, who founded the Mason Manufacturing Company of Los Angeles in 1919. When founded, it was a lamp manufacturing company. “Monterey” furniture was born in the 1920’s, evolving out of the Hollywood design studios depicting the film industry’s version of ranch furniture.

Note: Mason Monterey mirror and desk, left, are not connected but dispirit pieces shown together. Below right, a desk in the Chateau Lobby that was not chosen for restoration.

The style is derived from Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Pennsylvania Dutch, California Mission architecture. It features cowboy accoutrements such as might be found in a barn (lariats and branding irons), and was meant to reflect simple ranch furnishings. Folklore says Mason used Oregon alder in the construction, however, we have found many different woods used in the original line, including birch, sycamore, mahogany and western maple.

Most Mason Monterey furniture was stamped with a burned in horseshoe and the name, “Monterey”, shown left, but not all, so it is conceivable someone could have authentic Mason Monterey with no stamp. From time to time the inversion layers in downtown Los Angeles would be overwhelming, holding a dense layer of smog close to the ground, and they would stop using the branding irons for the day.

Originally the line was marketed by the Barker Brothers, but eventually the line was also marketed by various departments stores across the country. The Chateau purchased their collection in the 1920’s through Meier & Frank in Portland, just a stones throw from the historic carriage building which houses our studio.

Some publications suggest the Mason company used a half dozen colors in their finishes, but our research shows they were inventive and experimental and the line of colors was, in fact, much larger, and variations existed from batch to batch.

An example of this is the green color shown below in an A-Frame chair, which we are calling “Chateau Green” because we’ve never seen it anywhere else. It is a variation on Spanish Green, which is also seen in the Chateau, shown on the Spanish Green Woven Leather Ladderback, right. The base color of the Chateau Green is much lighter and quite blue compared to the Spanish Green, so it presents itself as a minty green, as opposed to the olive tones of Spanish Green.

Above, the reproduced version of “Chateau Green” next to the historic Chateau Green A-Frame. Notice how minty it is compared to the Spanish Green Woven Leather Ladderback above right.

Many of the Monterey pieces were damaged in the flood of 1964, when a warm rain melted the ice pack and water poured through the Chateau, sending the A-Frames (right) and many other pieces through the windows and into the gulley below, breaking some to pieces, and stripping them of their finish.

Some of these pieces were salvaged and repaired by workmen at the NPS, example shown left, with varying degrees of success. Now MPFC has restored them properly using a combination of restorative efforts and conservation principles, to be used again on the Chateau floor and become part of the Chateau Collection. The only Intact A-Frame, the historic Chateau Green A-Frame shown above right, is housed in the Museum Collection.

All unusual pieces with original finish and/or original upholstery were conserved using strict museum protocol, and were sent to the Monument’s Museum Collection.