Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Preservationist Portia Lee Remembered By Friends and Family

Author, historian and preservationist Portia Lee passed away January 23, 2022.


Friends and family gathered on Tuesday evening at the Windsor Square home of Caroline Labiner Moser to celebrate the life of Portia Lee, a woman of many talents and professions including author, educator, architectural historian, and preservationist. Lee passed away in January, but due to the pandemic, family and friends postponed the memorial.

Moser and Lee served together on the board of The Ebell of Los Angeles, establishing the foundational work for The Ebell’s current Master Planning Project. Lee was also a member of the Ebell Chorale for many years. We also  had the opportunity serve with Lee at The Ebell and deeply appreciate her quiet manner and thoughtful contribution to the architectural preservation of this neighborhood treasure. Lee’s legacy can be seen in the work of numerous organizations where she served as a volunteer leader, as well as her professional efforts through her firm California Archives to document Los Angeles’s Historic Cultural Monuments securing their preservation for future generations.

The following obituary was published by Los Angeles Times on Jan. 23, 2022.


August 18, 1930 – January 14, 2022 Portia Lee passed away on January 14th at the age of 91, attended by loving family. Born in Monte Vista Colorado, she moved to Los Angeles as a young girl and found the place where she would feel most at home for much of her life. An advocate of rights and opportunities for women, and the importance of education, Portia received her bachelor’s degree from Dominican College in San Rafael, California, and a Ph.D. degree from George Washington University in Washington D.C. Her dissertation, “Victorious Spirit: Regional Influences in the Architecture, Landscaping and Murals of the Panama Pacific International Exposition,” focused on the influence of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco on the Aesthetic Movement in California architecture. It set the foundation for her later work as an historical preservationist.

Shortly after completing high school, Portia met Gordon Wade Pusser, who would become her husband and partner in raising their three sons, Kevin, Brian and Craig. Portia was a loving and devoted mother, patient, supportive and quick to laugh with delight at the antics of three rambunctious boys. Portia and Gordon settled the family in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she began to develop her interest in California architectural history, with particular attention to the work of Julia Morgan, one of the first prominent female architects in the United States. One of her favorite pastimes was taking her children to visit buildings designed by Morgan, from houses in the hills of Berkeley to the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, where she would point out various details and design features that distinguished particular
architectural styles and movements.

Portia was first and foremost interested in seeking knowledge and sharing it with others. She taught at various levels of the school system, with a particular love of Greek and Latin, and classical literature. Once her children were independent, she taught school in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and then moved to the east coast, where she worked for the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. and began her doctoral program. Upon completing her doctorate, she returned to the west coast, first to Santa Barbara, and then to Los Angeles, where she taught for many years in a program designed to help those seeking to demonstrate high-school equivalency through completing the General Educational Development sequence. In that role she served as both mentor and tutor to a diverse array of students in search of educational advancement.

Later in life, Portia found a new passion as an historical preservationist, applying her research training and love of antiquity to the protection of a range of historically significant edifices and sites: houses, buildings, bridges, schools and in one case, an aqueduct. She became a Registered Professional Historian and founded a successful consulting firm, California Archives. Along with the technical and bureaucratic demands of consulting for historical preservation, she published articles, and co-authored a book with Jeffrey Samudio on historically significant buildings in the city she loved, titled Los Angeles, California, which remains in print from Arcadia Publishing. Her contributions to the preservation of the built environment constitute a significant legacy for the city and for Portia.

Portia is survived by her sons, Kevin Pusser, Craig Pusser and Brian Pusser; daughters-in-law, Dana London, Amy Huey Pusser and Rebecca Foster; her grandchildren, Jordan, Jasmine, Alison, and Andrew. She was preceded in death by her mother, Roma Hawkins, her father, Eldon Cassius Graves, her sister, Patricia Ann Sarvis, her brother-in-law, George Saris and the father of her sons, Gordon Pusser. She was a beloved mother and grandmother who lived a life of service to others, loved to laugh and sing with the Ebell Club chorale, relished a good meal, especially dessert, treasured the novels of Virginia Woolf, and enjoyed nothing more in life than the company of her family and friends. She will be missed, and lives on in the hearts of all who knew her.


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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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