THE GAMBLE house in Pasadena was conceived under that same aesthetic wind that at the turn of the century blew from Japan to Great Britain, up to Finland, down to Italy, across to Belgium and France and over the Atlantic to the United States.
The force blew down the old excesses of Victorian architecture, the pretentious eclecticism that looked to the past for architectural devices which it then used without understanding.
In its stead rose a new style, first based on a romantic, florid view of nature and her mysteries. It evolved, especially in Scotland, Finland, Austria and the United States, and eventually Germany, into a much more hardheaded (and hard-seated) style. It was most successful where it was the most regional.
In Finland, for example, Eliel Saarinen used national folklore principles based on the needs of that far north land and decorated with motifs from its myths.
In California (as did Frank Lloyd Wright in the Midwest), the Greene Brothers looked across the seas to the Orient to learn the secrets of indigenous architecture. One of Charles and Henry Greene's masterpieces, built in 1908 for the Gamble family was honored this month by the National Trust for Histroic Preservation (see story below). The award marks a new understanding of the importance of regional architecture, built for a particular climate and culture.
From the decadence of the floral styles, the Arts and Crafts movement (in the U.S. sometimes called Mission style) evolved a high-minded philosophy based on healthy, economical houses for the common man. Of course, the common man couldn't afford it, but he could copy it.
In this period, the craftsman gained equal rights with the artist to produce not only beautiful but sturdy and practical houses and furnishings. The Arts and Crafts movement, the prairie and bungalow houses, the craftsman patterns for homemade furniture had a profound effect on the vernacular architecture of the country from 1900 up through the 1950s. Indeed, what we today call '50s Contemporary is but a refinement or a development of that style. The California bungalow style, of which this house is the prime example, originated in the hill country of Bengal.
India, in the small houses designed as a hot weather escape from the lowlands. (Its use of wood, wide eaves, porches and strong horizontal members are also strongly influenced by Japanese and Chinese design, as filtered through the Art Nouveau style.)
The bungalow style was widely copied, all over the country, in many more modest dwellings, because the style was economical, easy to build, and comfortable to live in.
The Washington area, especially in Takoma Park and Silver Spring, Md., has many bungalows. They are characterized by their generous porches, front and back, often with A-frame roofs.
The Gamble house has many lessons for today's architects and homeowners.
"Even today, we really don't need air conditioning in the house," said Randell Makinson, director of the Gamble house for the University of Southern California School of Architecture, in a telephone interview. "The heavy layers of shingles help insulate the house. The house is oriented to catch all the breezes. The attic is designed with an airwash. Every bedroom has its sleeping porch for very hot weather. But the ceilings are low, less than eight feet, as a reaction to the Victorian high, hard-to-heat houses."
The house is sheltered by huge boxwoods and palms in terra-cotta pots. Wide steps lead to a splendid entry terrace dominated by triple front doors whose stained-glass panels make a tree. The scond floor is cantilevered to make a protected overhang. The terrace itself is tiled. Pots, designed of terra cotta by Charles Greene, hold flowers.
The reception hall is as big as any of the rooms. It leads into a living room enlarged by four alcoves or niches, including an inglenook by the fire. The floors are oak, covered with Oriental rugs and five original designs of the Greenes. The living room paneling is dark Burma teakwood, sometimes carved. The dining room is Honduras mahogany. Other rooms, including the study, are paneled in Douglas fir and Port Orford cedar. A wooden rail around the wall supports pictures. The woodwork is exquisitely crafted. It sometimes looks more like a Chinese boat for an emperor than a house.
Like other architects of the period, the Greene brothers were responsible for the complete design, making of the house a single work of art.
The magnificent floral windows were made of glass from the Tiffany studies, but were designed by the Greenes and made by Emile Lang, a local craftsman who had once worked with Tiffany. All the lighting fixtures were also of stained glass, especially made for the house.
The furniture keeps the uprightness and sturdy craftsmen qualities first promoted by William Morris in England, and taken up in the United States by the Stickley Brothers and Frank Lloyd Wright. The Greenes' furniture manages to be sturdy and yet delicate, marvelously carved, joined and finished. It lacks that rough, loving-hands-at-home look of some other arts and drafts furniture. Today, great interest is growing in arts and crafts furniture, of which the Greene pieces are supreme.
Upstairs in the house are six bedrooms. The master bedroom is a suite with a sitting room and sleeping porch. The sons' dormitory has a sleeping porch larger than the room. Mary Gamble's sister had her own suite, with of course, the standard sleeping porch. There was also a bedroom upstairs for relatives and another guest suite on the first floor for non-relative guests. The top floor was a game or billiard room. Bedrooms were also provided for the housekeeper and the cook inside. Rooms over the garage served the chauffeur and perhaps the gardener.
David and Mary Gamble commissioned the house. He was the son of the founder of Procter and Gamble. Like many other Easterners, they were winter residents who built large homes in Pasadena at the turn of the century.
Charles and Henry Greene, the architects, had also come to Pasadena from elsewhere. They were reared in West Virginia, moved to St. Louis where in high school they trained in wood and metal craftsmanship. "They were good craftsmen," said Makinson, "and they remembered those lessons all their lives."
The Greenes studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and apprenticed themselves to Boston architects. Their greatgrandfather had been an architect, and their father (a doctor) had encouraged them to go into the profession. They had already built 130 houses before the Gamble house.
David and Mary Gamble's son, Cecil, and his wife Louise gave the title of the house to the city of Pasadena and responsibility for its restoration and maintenance to the University of Southern California. The house and its landscaping, including the wonderful brick driveway, have India, in the small houses designed as a hot weather escape from the lowlands. (Its use of wood, wide eaves, porches and strong horizontal members are also strongly influenced by Japanese and Chinese design, as filtered through the Art Nauveau style.)
The house is now open as a museum, with an architectural library concerning the Greenes, and active cultural programs.