Thursday, May 23, 2013

Seriously Brown

Here are the brothers Charles (1868-1957) and Henry (1870-1954) Greene, partners in the famous California architectural firm of Greene and Greene. These guys were - and still are - golden boys of the American Arts and Crafts movement, a philosophy, really, that informed cutting edge American aesthetics between about 1890 and 1930. Arts and Crafts (or Craftsman) houses are like Indian food; either you like them or you don't. Even if you don't, their remarkable level of craftsmanship, at least in prime examples, is indisputable.

The Greenes did dozens of houses in, among other places, the Arroyo Terrace district of Pasadena, CA. This still gorgeous quarter lies between the Arroyo Seco Park on one side and Pasadena society's once favorite thoroughfare, Orange Grove Avenue, on the other. The gate below was the original entrance to a one-block enclave in the neighborhood called Westmoreland Place. It runs parallel to, and about 20 feet from, Orange Grove Avenue (now Boulevard) in the midst of a positive thicket of Arts and Crafts houses. On this street in 1907 David Gamble (1848-1923) and his wife Mary (died 1929) of Cincinnati, OH, bought property for a winter house. The Greenes were busy with a project on a next door lot, and the physical proximity of Greenes and Gambles, according to some sources, is what led to construction of Pasadena's iconic Gamble House.

The American Arts and Crafts movement came with substantial philosophical baggage. Its original English proponents decried, with justification, the soullessnes of the Industrial Revolution, the degradation of human labor, the flaccid elaboration of Victorian arts and, well, you get the picture. Our English cousin, William Morris, went so far as to proclaim machinery to be "altogether an evil." Craftsman houses, in theory anyway, spurned elitism and ennobled the modest homes of working people. In reality, pure Craftsman construction was so expensive that its best examples were usually commissioned by rich people. A case in point is David and Mary Gamble's Greene and Greene house at 4 Westmoreland Place, completed, including architect-designed furnishings, in 1910.

Not for nothing is this house called "America's Arts and Crafts Masterpiece." The Greenes ticked off pretty much every Craftsman box on the list - natural materials, an earthy palette, a vaguely Japanesey mood, exposed structural elements, extreme attention to detail and a purposeful "handmade" look. Total cost for house, garage, landscaping, and furniture: seventy-nine thousand pre-World War One dollars.

Let's return to the front door where my host, Ted Bosley, is waiting.

Thank you Photoshop for lightening this place up. Beautiful as the woodwork in the main hall is, you practically need a miner's helmet to see your way around. A dark and moody palette is integral to the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, not specific to this house.

On its own terms, of course, it's quite gorgeous in here. The stained glass panels in the front door, depending on the source one consults, depict either a gnarled California live oak from the Arroyo Seco, or a Japanese black pine. Not in dispute is the amount of daylight that penetrates indoors; this is what it really looks like in here. Left of the main entrance in the image below, hidden in typical shadow, is the door to a small study.

The floor plan of the Gamble House is neither innovative nor original, but its woodwork - in cedar, oak, fir, ash, maple and teak - is bravura. All the furniture in the study, and indeed in every room of the house, is either Greene and Greene or Gustav Stickley. The door to the left of the study desk leads back out to the main hall, where we'll take a right and head for the living room.

The fireplace inglenook in the living room, a cliche in most Victorian architecture, has been raised here to the level of art.

This corner of the living room, with its various woods, natural colors and articulated structural elements, is a short summary of Craftsman design. The frieze under the cornice strikes a Japanese note, California redwood carved in patterns suggested by the grain.

In 1907, Charles Green said, "I have not found the man or woman who would choose to live in the architectural junk of ages gone." A risky statement, I'd say, and not one calculated to enchant the author of "Big Old Houses." Returning to the concept of irony, save for the furniture quality woodwork, there is nothing ground breaking about the design of this dining room. Which is not to say it isn't appealing.

The Arts and Crafts serving pantry, however, is my cuppa java.

Nor will regular readers of "Big Old Houses" be surprised to learn my favorite room in the house is the kitchen, gussied up in attractive Craftsman style.

Adjacent to the kitchen is a back stair to the servants' quarters. We've still got one main floor room to see before going to the second foor.

The guest room - there is only one - is located across the main hall from the study. Its mushroom and moss color scheme is about as lively as it gets in this place. Light fixtures and incised designs on the metal bed frames speak to an almost obsessive attention to detail. Save for the Craftsman mirror surround, the bathroom could be in any old house from the period.

Upstairs are 4 family bedrooms, 2 with bath en suite, a family bath in the hall, and a servants corridor that leads to a pair of maids' rooms sharing a maids' bath.

The master bedroom is directly above the drawing room - sorry, living room. It has less woodwork but is informed by same aesthetic.

The Gambles' Pasadena household consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Gamble, Mary Gamble's unmarried sister Julia Huggins, and two of the Gambles' 3 sons. In the image below, Aunt Julia's door is open on the right; the short corridor beside it leads to the servants' quarters; and the door on the left goes to the hall bath, a two-room affair with tub and sink behind one door and commode behind another out of sight on the left.

Julia Huggins' room has barely changed since 1910.

The linen room is directly across from her bedroom, making me wonder if she co-directed household duties.

The hall bath appears to have been shared by Ms. Huggins and one of her nephews.

Two Scholars in Residence from USC's architectural school occupy maids' rooms on this corridor. The stair on the right goes down to the kitchen.

This room housed a Gamble son in considerable Craftsman style, but with shaving sink only.

And this one housed the other son, with private bath and large porch.

The third floor was intended as a billiard room but, beautiful as it is, the Gambles used it for attic storage. In an era before air-conditioning, opening the windows up here sucked hot air from the floors below and created a cooling breeze.

I think we've seen it. Time to head down.

David Gamble died in 1923 at the age of 75. His wife survived him for another six years, after which her sister Julia lived on in the house until her own death in 1943. One of the Gamble sons, Cecil, and his wife Louise, moved here in 1946 and stayed for 20 years. Towards the end, we are told, they were all set to sell, until they overheard a buyer's plans to paint the whole place white. Instead, in 1966, they donated house and furnishings to the City of Pasadena and the University of Southern California's School of Architecture. The Gamble House became a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and is today visited by 30,000 people a year from all over the world.

So where, you may be asking yourself, did the money come from? David Gamble was one of the ten sons and daughters of an Irish immigrant named James Gamble (1803-1891), founder in 1837, with his wife's brother-in-law William Procter, of Procter and Gamble. Still headquartered in Cincinatti, P & G has been an innovative cash cow for 176 years, raking in over $83 billion in sales in 2012 alone. Let me close with an entertaining, if slightly disheartening, footnote. For most of its history, as many readers may recall, P & G's logo was a rather elegant man-in-the-moon gazing upon a star-filled sky. That is, until the 1980s, when some wingnut started a rumor that the firm's venerable logo was actually a satanic symbol. Believe it or not - and, sadly, it is all too believable - the rumor gained traction, ultimately causing P & G to ditch the logo in 1985. Much of this ridiculousness was generated by certain individual Amway distributors, whom P & G managed at last to successfully sue in 2011.


  1. Beautiful photographs as always. The level of craftsmanship in this house is remarkable even if the style is not my cup of tea (you can keep all those boatloads of dreary, stiff "Mission" furniture, too). It's a marvel that it was saved and remains so well-preserved.

    The Greene brothers supposedly worked in a neo-Georgian style before they caught the Arts & Crafts fever but I've never seen any examples of their work in that vein.

    1. Much of the early Greene & Greene work was in an odd Late Victorian/Mission style. One of the few surviving examples is the Longley house in Pasadena:
      The only Colonial Revival house in the G&G oevre is the Senator Barker estate:

  2. Extremely beautiful, loved the stained glass windows, kitchen etc. Did you find out why the Aunt's fire place is tiled up? Patio just needed a porch swing to relax or read or daydream the day away. Reminds me of home....

    1. Hi. It is tiled up because she moved from the east and was insistent on bringing her potbelly stove with her instead of having a fireplace, she was just sure that it would not be warm enough in the house for her. Once she got here to CA she realized she didn't need it.

  3. Magnificent house. Thank you for showing it to us. The kitchen is my favorite room of all. My one gripe with the main rooms is that the Persian style carpets look busy and dull, and oddly unsuitable; the plain carpets in the bedrooms or the plain wood floor work better, IMO.

    Also, Amway/DeVos should gaze long and hard in a good, clear mirror. Parvenus.

  4. Thanks for showing us another fantastic home, I live for Thursdays! Being a Cincinnati native its great to see how some of our prominent families lived, and I absolutely loved the kitchen!

    Anonymous, the fireplace is actually a firewall that was designed to accommodate aunt Julia’s Franklin stove, but was never installed in the house.

  5. I lived in Pasadena for 15 years and toured this home many times with out of town visitors. Not to be missed! Thanks for the great story!

  6. Great article! And another great picture of you!

  7. A Great House Preserved! I lived in Altadena for a number of years and often saw the exteriors of many Craftsman houses in this area, but the Gamble house was the only one open to view.
    There were a number of 'airplane' houses around too, with second story 'wings' that overshot the ground floor at right angles. Before air conditioning, sleeping porches were sometimes a necessity in southern California, if one didn't want to sweatily toss and turn all night...

    Jim of Olym (now in the rainy PNW)

  8. It is rewarding to see one Gamble house so lovingly preserved. Cincinnati recently lost its own Gamble house - torn down by Greenacres Foundation - the (Gamble)/ Nippert family foundation,despite the pleas of the neighborhood and city. To learn more about Cincinnati's lost treasure, visit!/SaveTheHistoricGambleHouse?fref=ts

  9. My favorite home in this country. You did an excellent job with the pics. Many I have not seen in books. The joinery is magnificent.

  10. As usual, another fabulous trip through time. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I normally read your articles in NY Social Diary and look forward to it every week. It's the best part of my day.

  11. Wasn't this Doc Brown's house in the film "Back to the Future"?

  12. Replies
    1. The interior was a set - but the 1950's exteriors were the real thing. The modern exterior was not. The Gamble garage is still on it's sylvan glade at 4 Westmoreland Place, so the modern exterior was - again - a set.

  13. Thanks for reminding that some of L.A.'s real gems lie in Pasadena.

  14. Actually, the two Gamble boys shared the small upstairs bedroom with the porch. Family legend has it that they never actually slept in the bedroom - but always on the adjacent sleeping porch. The large upstairs bedroom was for family guests; the downstairs bedroom was for non-family guests. I took a paid tour through the Gamble House when I still lived in the area (I am a native - and grew up in a big, old Craftsman house), and I was the only one on the tour. It turns out I knew a lot more about the house than the docent did. I showed and told her things she never knew, and what was supposed to be an 45-minute tour became a 2 hour extravaganza, where I even got to see the basement. Such a factoid: what appear to be drawers under Mrs. Gambles closets are actually foot stools that pulled out and allowed the diminutive Mrs. G. to reach her garments hanging on the rod.

    1. Why the Greenes didn't simply design a closet with her size in mind escapes my imagination, but you can see (barely) the long pulls of the drawers at the bottom of the closets on the left hand side of the last photo you posted of the master bedroom as you're walking out the door into the hall. My info comes from the first book by Randell Makinson about Greene & Greene, who devoted an entire chapter to the Gamble House, given it's significance. Another tidbit: the small stained-glass windows (open in your pic) over the built-in settee in the master bedroom allowed air circulation during warm Pasadena evenings. And further evidence that the small bedroom belonged to the Gamble boys: it had a dedicated bathroom. Guest bedrooms (and poor Aunt Julia) only had access to partial / broken-up bathrooms by means of semi-public hallways, which required decorum. Given the size of the servant bedrooms, and there were only two, and they are both the size of a slice of toast, I might agree with your assessment that Aunt Julia might have been considered more a component of the house, and less a component of the family; she had a grand bedroom, but she had to share a toilet. The Grand Craftsman hulk that I grew up in (1909 by A.S.Barnes) had but one bathroom and many small dressing rooms, which were quickly converted into bathrooms - one for each bedroom,in fact. It wasn't so grand as most of the houses you feature here, but when my parents first bought it, when I was just 12, I got lost in the service area of the house and was scared.

  15. Excellent detail shots. I used to live in the Robert R. Blacker House and so miss the details nobody bothers to document. Thank you -- especially for the cabinet details of the kitchen/pantry.

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  17. Amazing place. Paint it all white? There is a special place in hell for those who paint beautiful woodwork. Glad it never went that way.

  18. Interesting you compared the arts and crafts to Indian food. the bungalow as a typology comes from India, the large porch designed to capture the breeze

  19. Thanks for your interesting ideas.the information's in this blog is very much useful for me to improve my knowledge.

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