What are the Pasadena links to Ivory Soap and the movie “Back to the Future”? They are both intimately tied to an amazing house on Westmoreland Place built 100 years ago by brothers Greene & Greene, architects of the Arts and Crafts movement and longtime Pasadena residents. From 1907-1909, David Gamble (of Ivory’s makers Procter and Gamble) commissioned the Greene brothers, Charles and Henry, to build a house on Westmoreland Place. That house, the Gamble House, is celebrating its centennial. There is a fascinating exhibit about Greene & Greene at the Huntington Library. The curators of the Gamble House, now owned by USC, collaborated with the Huntington to present “A ‘New and Native’ Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene”. This exhibition will be available to view in San Marino until January 26, 2009—after which time it will travel to the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. (March 13-June 7, 2009) and then on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (July 14-October 18, 2009). It is housed in the Mary Lou and George Boone Gallery at the Huntington.
The Gamble House is located at 4 Westmoreland Place in Pasadena. It has an amazing and interesting history and is currently a National Historic Landmark that is open for public tours Thursday to Sunday from 12:00-3:00 p.m. It is the only surviving “fully coordinated” house of Greene & Greene in the Pasadena area, and displays a unique partnership between David Gamble, Charles Greene and his brother and partner Henry Greene.
David Gamble was the son of one of the two founders of Procter and Gamble. William Procter, a candle maker, and James Gamble, a soap maker married sisters and became partners in 1837. David and his wife lived in the Midwest, but wanted a “winter residence” in Pasadena. The Greenes and the Gambles had roots in Cincinnati—all had been born there. The Greenes had moved out west to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Their parents had settled in Pasadena in the 1890s. At that time Pasadena was a new Southern California community with a population of about 10,000 people. In 1893, the brothers arrived in Pasadena after attending MIT and serving apprenticeships in Boston architecture firms. They opened up an architecture firm and built many homes and some other buildings. In 1907, they started work on the Gamble House and it was completed in 1909. Gamble stayed in Pasadena during the winter months until his death in 1923. His wife lived there until her death in 1929, and then her sister lived there until her death in 1943. The house remained in the Gamble family until 1966, and then was deeded to the City of Pasadena in a joint agreement with the USC School of Architecture. Currently, two USC architecture students reside in the house—different students each year. Luckily, the family realized the house’s artistic importance—the Greenes not only built the house but oversaw coordinated furnishings and lighting. The Gamble House was much better preserved than another Greene & Greene house in Pasadena—the Blacker House at 1177 Hillcrest Ave. While the house is still there, and currently a private residence, the home was subdivided and furniture was sold at a yard sale after Mrs. Blacker’s death in 1948. Needless to say, Pasadena Heritage was outraged. The current owners are working hard to restore it to its original glory.
The exhibit at the Huntington includes representative objects from 30 of the brothers’ commissions, including some 140 objects, some privately lent. Many of these items have never before been seen by the public. While the Huntington Library normally charges admission, there is a monthly “free day”. While this is normally the first Thursday of the month and one needs to call ahead for the tickets, the “free day” in January will be observed on Thursday, January 8th because of New Year’s Day falling on the first Thursday. Also, if one attends on a “free day”, one can purchase an annual pass (good for two admissions on each visit—the cardholder and a guest) for $20 off the $120 normal price if purchased on “free day”.
While the Gamble House is well-known because of its public tours, there are many other Greene & Greene houses in Pasadena, and several other Greene & Greene related exhibitions celebrating in this centennial year. The book Greene & Greene: Masterworks lists extant Greene & Greene houses with addresses. Of note are the Greene House (Charles Sumner Greene, 368 Arroyo Terrace, Pasadena), the Garfield House (President Garfield’s widow’s house, 1001 Buena Vista Street, South Pasadena), the Blacker House (1177 Hillcrest Avenue, Pasadena), and Henry W. Longfellow Elementary School (1065 E. Washington Street, Pasadena—with alterations). There are related exhibitions. At the Huntington Library in the Dorothy Collins Brown Wing of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art is a permanent installation of the Greene’s artistic genius. “Living Beautifully: Greene & Greene in Pasadena” is at the Pasadena Museum of History through January 4, 2009, and “Seeing Greene & Greene: Architecture in Photographs” is at the Pasadena Museum of California Art through January 4, 2009.
Finally, two pieces of trivia. Procter and Gamble originally funded “soap operas”—hence the soap reference and the Gamble House figured prominently in the movie “Back to the Future”. Official word is that the movie “Zathura” was not actually filmed there, although the set designs have a similar feel to the Gamble House.
Enjoy an amazing historical journey by visiting some of these exhibitions and locations that preserve and inform about Pasadena’s rich Craftsman architecture.
By Ruth Morse