Eleanor LaVove dies at 94; co-founder of dollhouse museum

Eleanor LaVove, a former fashion editor who co-founded Angels Attic, a museum devoted to antique and contemporary dollhouses, toys and miniatures, died Aug. 24 at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica. She was 94.

The cause was ovarian cancer, said her son Timothy.

LaVove and longtime friend Jackie McMahan joined forces in 1974 to mount an exhibit of dolls and miniatures as a fundraiser for a school serving autistic children. The show was so popular, it outgrew McMahan's Brentwood backyard and within a few years moved to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, where 10,000 people viewed the exhibits over two days.

That response convinced the two women to find a permanent home for their collections. In 1984, after a painstaking, yearlong restoration, they opened Angels Attic in a Queen Anne-style Victorian on Colorado Avenue near 5th Street in Santa Monica.

Visitors from around the world travel to the unusual museum, where the main attractions are the dollhouses and their miniature furnishings, including a replica of Versailles with marble and parquet floors, painted ceilings and gilded interior.

"They tell us the history of the world as it's lived in," LaVove told The Times in 1986. "We learn about social history, architectural history and interior design. We can see how things have progressed and changed."

LaVove's interest in fashion, dollhouses and miniatures began when she was growing up in New York, where she was born Eleanor Helen Pitts on April 27, 1918.

In 1941, after attending Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and Traphagen School of Fashion in New York, she was hired as an assistant to the fashion editor of the Los Angeles Times. She rose to fashion editor before leaving the newspaper in 1943 to work for Columbia Pictures as a fashion publicist for stars such as Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

In 1949 she married Arthur LaVove, a former commercial airline pilot who later did public relations work for United Airlines. He died in 1993.

LaVove, who lived in Westwood, helped oversee the museum until shortly before her death; it will remain open under director Charles Phillips.

In addition to her son Timothy of Los Angeles, she is survived by his twin, Michael LaVove, of Belmont, Calif.; a stepdaughter, Susan Curley of Washington, D.C.; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

LaVove considered the dollhouses and miniatures she collected an art form to which she sometimes added personal touches. One of her dollhouses — an 1864 miniature English country house in the museum's permanent collection — has lace drapes made from a piece of her mother's wedding dress.

elaine.woo@latimes.com