PUBLISHED: October 23, 2017 at 8:32 am | UPDATED: October 23, 2017 at 8:47 am
What is the magic inside this fine silk handmade wedding dress?
They tell the story among the Morenos, the Priettos, the O’Haras, the Salinases and the newlywed Kassoufs – all branches on the same mostly Mexican family tree. For almost 100 years, the women in their family have passed the dress along, added beads, a little lace, gussets and trimmed the train. For decades, the dress sat wrinkled in a box, as if waiting for someone to bring it to life.
CAPTION: Pilar O’Hara Kassouf and Marta Prietto O’Hara with the dress that ties them together. Four generations of the same family have worn the same wedding dress since 1932. Los Angeles, CA 10/11/2017 (Photo by John McCoy, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
It has been stolen. Twice. And returned each time with an apology. Since it was first worn in Los Angeles on June 18, 1932, it has hugged and danced and swayed and toasted and been carefully removed, only to be put back in the box to wait.
The dress is white, but the descendants of Maria Teresa Moreno, who they called “Grande,” swear they see colors sparkling in the dress.
They feel Grande’s presence.
And if she could be here today to see all the women who have worn her handiwork, Grande would tell them two things about the dress.
First, no one who has ever worn that dress has been divorced.
And second, the power of the dress isn’t the dress at all. The strength in that dress is family.
Maria and Manuel
She wasn’t yet Grande when she came to Los Angeles from Mexico in 1926. But she was a bit scandalous.
She was Maria, one of six siblings. Her family had lived through the Mexican Revolution. When they came north, Maria’s father stayed behind in Guaymas, the family’s hometown.
Maria got a job sewing coats in a factory in Los Angeles. She was a whiz with a needle and thread.
The scandalous part occurred when Maria fell in love with an older man. Too old, too idle, too rich, her mother said. Maria was sent away to Mazatlan to keep her away from the idle rich guy.
While in Mazatlan, she got letters from another guy, a younger guy named Manuel Moreno.
When Maria came back to Los Angeles, Manuel was waiting for her. He was a cartoonist, who had learned his craft through mail-order courses.
And he was good. Really good.
He got a job working for Universal Pictures when the studio began producing short films featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who had been created by Walt Disney. Manuel was an animator on 96 short films and television shows including “The Woody Woodpecker Show,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and dozens with Oswald.
Manuel Moreno’s animation work is now archived at Stanford University.
“As a grandfather, he was a clown in a good way,” said Marta Prietto O’Hara. “He was silly and creative. With my grandmother, he was a very serious man.”
In 1932, Maria, who was 22, saw a wedding dress in a department store window. She went home and re-created that dress by hand. She wanted to make a dress that looked like it could be worn by a movie star.
Maria made the dress with thick silk (“It felt like butter,” Marta said) with a 10-foot train.
After Manuel and Maria were married in 1932, the dress sat in a cardboard box for 25 years.
They had four children – two boys and two girls.
Their daughter Anita tried on the dress before her wedding. She chose not to wear it when she married Pablo Prietto in 1957.
“It swam on me,” Anita said.
So she put the dress back in the box, and back in the closet. Maria, ever the seamstress, made Anita another wedding dress. Anita was so proud of that second dress that she kept it in a special container, like an heirloom.
In 1964, Anita and Pablo, who was an orthopedic surgeon, moved to Tustin. They had seven children. Anita became the keeper of her mother’s spectacular dresses, although, as time would tell, she didn’t always do a great job at keeping them.
In 1966, Anita suspected her housekeeper of stealing baby clothes from her house. She snooped through the housekeeper’s bags and found the baby clothes.
And Grande’s dress.
Anita fired her immediately.
In 1970, it happened again. Some money turned up missing from the Prietto house. When Anita went through the new housekeeper’s belongings, she found the money.
And Grande’s dress.
“Somebody else would have called the police,” Anita said.
She just wanted that dress back.
Marta and Kevin
Marta had met Kevin O’Hara when they were in the fourth grade at St. Cecilia in Tustin. They didn’t date until they were both at Mater Dei High School. It was 1977.
“I had been waiting for him to ask me out,” Marta said. “So I asked him out.”
She said he was quiet and bright. He would later become an attorney, while Marta became a social worker and later a Spanish teacher.
They were at a wedding in 1980 when Kevin said, as if he was commenting on the weather, “We should get married.”
That was all she needed to hear.
In the planning stages of Marta’s wedding, Anita took out the dress she wore in 1957. They discovered Anita’s dress, even though it had been so carefully stored, had been stained and ruined.
That’s when Marta learned there was another dress, Grande’s dress.
“I had never seen this dress before,” Marta said. “I was obsessed with this dress. It’s me. It’s colorful without being obnoxious. You can’t take your eyes off the dress.”
On May 14, 1983, at St. Cecilia Church in Tustin, Marta wore Grande’s dress, which hadn’t been to a wedding in 51 years. She added a few beads and some lace. She cut 4 feet off the train.
The next morning, Anita showed up at the Saddleback Hotel, where Marta and Kevin had spent their wedding night, to collect the dress.
“I didn’t want anything to happen to it,” Anita said. “It just sat there, wrinkled.”
Elena and Ric
Marta’s younger sister, Elena decided to get married after a long, long courtship.
She had fallen in love with a comedian/actor named Ric Salinas. He later appeared in the movies “Larry Crowne” with Tom Hanks and “Encino Man” with Brendan Fraser.
Grande didn’t like him because he hadn’t asked Elena to marry him.
Marta recalled the time Grande confronted Ric. “If you don’t want to marry her, leave her alone,” Grande said.
“He’s the greatest guy,” Marta said.
On Nov. 1, 1997, Elena and Ric were finally married at St. Teresa of Avila Church in Silverlake.
Elena wore a headpiece she found in a vintage store. But more important, she wore Grande’s dress.
Then Anita collected it and put it back in the closet.
Marta remembers her grandmother’s last days.
“I told her she would soon be with my grandfather,” Marta said.
“I don’t know why I’m still here,” Grande said.
“Because we still need you,” Marta said.
Grande died in 2009 at the age of 98.
Pilar and Nick
The dress reappeared 20 years after Elena’s wedding.
Marta’s daughter, Pilar had been a waitress at The Fish House Market & Grill in Orange. Nick Kassouf, part owner of TruBru, an organic coffee house next door, came into the restaurant and a courtship began.
When he decided to propose, he took her to Seattle. He was going to pop the question on the ferry, but they missed the ferry. Then he planned to ask her in the Space Needle, but they didn’t have a reservation. So he took her to a park, but the park was crowded with high school kids taking prom pictures.
Finally, Nick proposed to Pilar at the Waterfront Grill in Seattle.
After that long day, “It was the perfect romantic dinner,” Pilar said.
The wedding was set for September of 2017.
“I knew we had a family dress,” Pilar said. “We opened the box and it felt so luscious. I tried it on, and it felt like it was meant to be. Once I tried it on, I knew I was going to wear it.”
She had the buttons replaced with rhinestones. She noticed stains under the arms, so she had gussets added.
On Sept. 23, Pilar and Nick were married at St. John Maron Church in Orange.
The next day, Anita picked up the dress and put it in storage. She said she is afraid to dry clean it.
So the dress waits.
It might be another decade before Grande’s dress is back in a church.
Daisy and Lola Salinas, Elena’s daughters, have both put claims in to wear it for their weddings.
They are 15 and 16 years old.