The Arutunian Family continues a Halloween tradition in Playa del Rey
By Gary Walker
Every tradition starts with a story. How the Halloween Mini-Mansion in Playa del Rey became a 50-year destination in the season of witches and goblins begins in 1965 with Harold Arutunian.
The Delgany Avenue homeowner loved Halloween but wanted to do something for neighborhood children other than pass out candy like everyone else.
At the suggestion of his wife Vreni, Arutunian — who owned a food distribution company — decided to offer french fries and hot dogs, which proved to be a big hit with the trick-or-treaters who came to his door.
The experiment worked so well, in fact, that the hot dogs and french fries became a local tradition. Over the years, Arutunian’s house on the 8300 block of Delgany became the destination for kids and families to grab dinner before heading off into the night.
“I can remember coming here in my stroller with my parents. When I got older we’d come here for dinner first and then go out trick or treating,” Jenny Levine said during this year’s 50th Mini-Mansion celebration on Halloween night. “Sometimes I’d be really hungry and my mom would always say, ‘Just wait. You’re going to get a hot dog and french fries soon.’”
Charles Anthony “Tony” Guerra, who now lives in Playa Vista, remembers coming to the very first Halloween Mini-Mansion party when his family lived in Playa del Rey, and he’s returned every year.
What keeps Guerra and many others coming back is that it’s become a sort of reunion for those who grew up in Playa del Rey.
“It’s been the meeting place for families in Playa del Rey. I’ve brought my kids over the years, and I would see people who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Anyone who grew up on Delgany and nearby streets comes here,” said Guerra, whose childhood home was one block west on Zitola Terrace.
Felicia Cuneo, the Arutunians’ daughter, says her mother was an equal partner in the event and worked in the family’s kitchen cooking and making sure the operation ran smoothly.
“After everything was done, she would serve pumpkin pie, coffee and tea to everyone who helped,” said Cuneo, who lives in the family home after purchasing it from her parents 20 years ago.
The only year the Halloween Mini-Mansion party didn’t happen was 1970, when Mr. Arutunian had back surgery.
Before passing away in July, Arutunian had decreed that this 50th outing would be his last. But Cuneo never considered ending the tradition, she said.
This year’s Mini-Mansion party was a festive occasion, with crowds hanging out in front of the house, where orange and black streamers dangled from trees. Childhood memories of trick-or-treating came flooding back as I saw groups of children — ghosts, superheroes, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — scamper from house to house with their parents trailing closely behind.
Cuneo greeted me warmly upon my arrival and quickly offered me a hot dog and french fries, which were delicious. She introduced me to her husband Mark, brother Todd Arutunian and aunt Harriet Kevorkian, her father’s sister.
Various family members worked the food line in an orderly and organized fashion reminiscent of the precision of an assembly line.
Cuneo said her family gave out 624 hot dogs and served 28 gallons of lemonade between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., when the announcement came that they’d run out
In those three hours, they also prepared more than seven cases of french fries with two industrial deep fryers.
“My dad told me that eight cases of french fries are equivalent to five 100-pound sacks of potatoes,” Cuneo said proudly.
She was pleased with the turnout. Just seeing the happy crowds, she said, makes keeping the tradition her parents began worthwhile.
“It was one of the bigger ones that we’ve had,” Cuneo said. “It’s a lot of work when we’re in the middle of it, but it’s so rewarding.”
Guerra was happy he could make it.
“I’m so grateful to see that the tradition is still being carried on, because that’s what this is: a great Halloween tradition,” he said.
One woman who came to the Halloween Mini-Mansion party for the first time summed up the evening after taking a turn and surveying the crowd eating and enjoying each other’s company.
“How cool is this?” she exclaimed.