The Gamble House celebrates its 50th anniversary as a public site with family-friendly activities, free tours and a chance to discover some of the revered landmark’s secrets.
BY: Sara Smola
It’s safe to say that every Pasadenan and true architectural buff has heard of the Gamble House. It’s one of the Craftsman treasures—if not the biggest—that put Pasadena on the architectural map. The stunning Craftsman was commissioned by David and Mary Gamble (as in the Procter & Gamble Company), and in 1908, Charles and Henry Greene completed the design drawings for the Craftsman home that would become known as “the most complete and best-preserved example of American Arts and Crafts style architecture.”
While Pasadena is filled with Craftsman style architecture and is known for its premiere Craftsman Weekend event in the fall, according to Bosley, “What really sets the Greenes’ work and the Gamble House apart is the tremendous thought and care that went into the design of every single element.” Nearly everything in the home was customized to the specifications of the Greenes—from the furniture, to carvings in the wall, to secret compartments within the home’s walls.
If not for a fortuitous slip of the tongue that resulted in the Gamble House’s preservation, who can say what would have happened to the historic home. When prospective buyers (a husband and his wife) were touring the Craftsman, the husband commented on the lack of light. His wife reassured him it wouldn’t be a problem since they could easily paint the walls white. Horrified, the Gambles refused to sell on the condition that their beloved wood paneling did not deserve such a fate. Instead, the Gambles recognized the need for preservation which is where the city of Pasadena and the University of Southern California come in. After hashing out the details, a formal agreement was made in January of 1966, by members of the Gamble family, USC and the City of Pasadena. Just half a year later, the Gamble House doors opened to the community at large.
Ironically, though the house is such an acclaimed landmark in the Pasadena community, many locals have yet to take a tour of the interior or have never actually seen the site outside of publicity photos. Gamble House Director Ted Bosley laughs it off good-naturedly, “The interesting thing is that I keep hearing from people who have lived here for years, ‘I lived in Pasadena for 30 years and I’ve never been to the Gamble House. I feel so bad,’ and I say, ‘It’s okay! We’re here, we’re here for you.’ It’s our way of saying if you haven’t thought about it, now is the time to think about it.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary since the Gamble heirs donated Greene and Greene’s architectural treasure to Pasadena and the University of Southern California in 1966. In commemoration of the gift, a series of events are planned to jump start the festivities, including a family-friendly event. The Pasadena community and beyond is invited to celebrate on Sunday, September 25 from 12 p.m.-5 p.m. There will be live music, food trucks and more for families to enjoy, with a special $1 admission for a self-guided tour. “It’s an opportunity for us to reach out to the public and have a free open day,” says Bosley. “We’ll have family activities—activities for the kids (including soap carving and woodworking workshops), refreshments and touring.”
While photographs and magazine articles (including this one) may be informative, there’s no substitution for the real thing: taking a docent-led tour of the Gamble House. The docent-led tours are given throughout the year and are a one of a kind experience, each with an opportunity to discover something new. The docents who give the tours volunteer their time due to their genuine love for the Gamble House and many have their own favorite stories about the Gambles and the Greenes’ architecture to tell. Considering there’s no official script for the docent to memorize, each tour is truly unique and each docent provides a wealth of information. Bosley points out, “If people have been here before, they’ve been exposed, probably fairly briefly, to this tremendous work of architecture that has so much concentrated thought and effort in it. I’ve been working here for 26 years and I still see things I haven’t seen before. The place is still fresh for me. There’s no such thing as having been here and done that completely. You may have taken a tour, but you haven’t seen everything. There’s no way you could possibly appreciate all the details of this house in a one hour tour.”