I did this four-part sketch as a “draw everyday” urban sketchers suggestion last April. It was a lovely afternoon, much like today, and I decided to head for the Gamble House in Pasadena. The house and bookstore were closed, but I wandered about—sitting in a variety of benches until I had captured some of the many specific and charming elements of the house. (I should note that the bird bath/butterfly garden I have shown here is new to the Gamble House and was not part of the original design.)
I have been on a number of tours of the interior of the house, at different times of the year, and if you are ever in the area and have the least bit of interest in Craftsman’s architecture, it should not be missed. The Gamble House was completed in 1908 and was built by the Craftsman dream team of Charles Greene and his brother Henry. Structures built by them are considered architecturally significant and are identified as a “Greene and Greene” by those who love this kind of architecture. These amazing architects worked primarily in California in the early part of the 20th century and are synonymous with the American Arts and Crafts Movement.
Love of friends and CA architecture?
So, are you interested in the American Arts and Crafts Movement? What about California architecture? I hadn’t a clue about any kind of architecture, specific to California or otherwise, until I met two lifelong friends more than 30 years ago. They were definitely interested in the Arts and Crafts Movement buildings, furniture and design details. A series of fortunate adventures brought us together as my treasured friends of today. I don’t know if they knew back then how unenchanted or uninspired I was about the Arts and Crafts Movement. But I went along as they shared their love and knowledge of architecture that swept me up into this world of effortless and functional style, beauty, simplicity and detail. In fact, my two wonderful and beloved friends are remodeling the kitchen of a 1920s Spanish revival style home as we speak. Even now they are committed to the preservation and enjoyment of such classic style.
I think I remember the first time we went looking at that old stuff in the late 80s. They invited me to join them on a tour of some architecturally significant structures. (I didn’t even know what that really meant until they took me on the Rose Walk in the Berkeley Hills.) The paths, buildings, and details (It’s all about the details folks!) in this area are credited to Julia Morgan (of Hearst Castle fame), John Galen Howard and Bernard Maybeck. To see some of the architecture and design details, Google Rose Walk, Berkeley. I can’t even describe how enchanted I was walking around this lovely area all those years ago. I can only hope you are fortunate enough to have such dear friends to share amazing time, space and memories.
Later that same day, my friends took me to another architecturally significant house that had been designed and built by Greene and Greene (of Gamble House fame). As was typical back in the day, such houses were usually named after the family that had commissioned and paid for the house. I was very excited to see my next amazing piece of California architecture. I had not yet seen the Gamble House, so this would be my first Greene and Greene. But for this one we headed for frat row almost on the Berkeley campus. I had been past this house many times (as I had previously gone to Cal Berkeley), but had never really stopped to look at the Sigma Phi frat house. This Greene and Greene had been built for the Thorsen family in 1909 and today is known as the Thorsen house. All I had previously remembered as I walked past the house was a shabby garden and lots of old cars parked out front. So, we pulled up to the house, walked past the dead and dying shrubs and rang the bell—hoping to get a tour of the interior. It was then I noticed the beautiful stained glass windows and the lovely wooden front door. My friends seemed a little concerned about the disrepair they were seeing at first glance. Well, a young man answered the door and agreed to give us a tour of a couple rooms of the downstairs as the upstairs rooms had Sigma Phi frat brothers apparently still asleep (after 2 on a Saturday). Based on the frat crap that was all around the living room, I don’t think any of us wanted to go upstairs anyway. Both of my friends definitely seemed alarmed when they saw the light streaming through these amazing stained glass windows onto broken down couches, clothes and books everywhere. I thought the guy giving us the tour must have realized how appalling this all was, but he obviously didn’t because he showed us the kitchen. It looked like a food bomb had gone off in there—food, pizza boxes, cans and dishes everywhere…you get the picture. Finally, I think the young man giving us the tour woke up and apologized for the mess. By this time one of my friends said he wished he’d had a whistle because he would have blown it to let everyone in the house (including everyone who was upstairs) that they had 15 minutes to leave and never come back. Now, I had only been a true architecture believer for a few hours, but even I knew this mess was just wrong. We talked about that quite a bit as we hastily finished our tour and walked out the front door. (I just texted one of those wonderful friend’s a minute ago to ask him the name of the architect of that house. He reminded me that it was a Greene and Greene and said that the Thorsen House is now being properly cared for and preserved. Thank God for that…)
So fast forward a few years and these same treasured friends now owned a Greene and Greene of their own. And this one was on West California Boulevard in Pasadena. There were so many rooms and details that told of a lifestyle and time gone by. Just below the entrance and foyer were the maid’s quarters, complete with a still functioning “summoning” bell. And one of the doors on the street side of the house was specifically made for tradesmen to come in, with even a special window for the delivery of ice for the icebox. When my son was young he loved it when we visited. I don’t think he noticed all the beautiful materials and details that had been used to make this charming house. What he loved about their Greene and Greene was their amazing Japanese garden in the back and that the rotted bamboo poles laying around seemed to be perfect “ready made” fishing poles. My son was always trying to catch a koi or two that were swimming around the lowest pool at the bottom of the garden. Thankfully those fish were too crafty for him because as much as my friends loved me, and now my treasured young son, I am certain they wouldn’t have loved him pulling one of their treasured fish from the pond. When I was pregnant, after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, my friends had taken me on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House before it was restored. Even though he had participated, in utero, in a wonderful afternoon of architecture, he had clearly not gotten the message.
In between the Greene and Greene and the house they are in now, my friends lived in a mid-century modern house that is known as the Rodriguez House. It was designed and built for Mr. Rodriguez in 1942 in Glendale. That was a very cool house I must say. And when they lived there it was used as the location for the movie “Pineapple Express.” Hard to top that and so “California” I think.
So, now my introductory, and very brief, history of California architecture has come to an end. And I am forever indebted to my friends for sharing their love of the Arts and Crafts Movement and some of the architecturally significant houses here in California. You know, the value of the truly amazing friendship we have shared over the years definitely eclipses the value of any house, new or old. But it’s funny, there have been many truly amazing times we have shared in their various houses. So many years of stories, both funny and sad, that are remembered and marked by the time spent in a particular house at a particular time. There are too many stories to tell in “One California Girl’s” blog. Here’s hoping there are so many more stories we will share together in the future, when we are next-door neighbors in a lovely assisted living structure. I can’t imagine that it will matter whether or not it is architecturally significant, but just that we are close by so we can tell the stories again and again—in case one of us keeps forgetting and needs to be reminded. Such is the love of true friends and California architecture.
Note about the Gamble House, March 2018
My son was just visiting for spring break and I asked him if he would like to go the Gamble House, as he has never seen the interior of the house. As luck would have it, they were about to give the last tour of the day and there would be no room for us. Oh well. So, he seemed fine with walking around the exterior of the house. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the beautiful day and the lovely house before us. I pointed out the significance of all of the details of the house that I have shown here in my sketch. There is a small pool, with fish, connected to an outdoor back patio that we looked at for a few moments. I didn’t remind him of a previous time he had seen a pond of fish at the back of a Greene and Greene. Thank God there wasn’t any bamboo nearby!