By Charly SHELTON
Sunday, Sept. 25 marks an historic day for the Gamble House in Pasadena. On that day in 1966, the house was officially dedicated and welcomed its first guests to tour the manor. Over the next 50 years, the house has received thousands of visitors from around the world and is a registered National Historic Landmark, a National Historic Place and a California Historical Landmark. It is a crowning jewel of Arts and Crafts design, and it is also very notably known as Doc Brown’s house from the film “Back to the Future.”
The house was designed and built in 1908-09 by architect brothers Charles and Henry Greene. It is a shining example of the Arts and Crafts style of architecture and design in existence today. The house was commissioned by David and Mary Gamble, who gave Greene and Greene some design input and a lot of breathing room over the 10-month construction period while they vacationed in Japan. They lived in the completed house as their winter home until their deaths in 1923 and 1929 respectively.
The house was passed to Mary’s younger sister until her death in 1943, when Cecil Huggins Gamble and his wife Louise took it over and lived there until 1966, when they gifted the house to the City of Pasadena in a joint agreement with the University of Southern California School of Architecture.
“What we’re celebrating is the 50th anniversary of the gift of the house from the Gamble family to the City of Pasadena and the University of Southern California,” said Ted Bosley, director of the Gamble House. “In September of 1966, the preservation movement hadn’t really taken hold in Pasadena and there was a lot of disagreement about whether or not it was reasonable to save houses like this. After all, after the second world war, big houses like this were considered white elephants.”
The house was spared and set up as a museum, preserving this masterpiece of architecture for future generations. Not only was the house donated, Bosley said, but all of the interiors as well. Greene and Greene designed the entire house down to the furnishings and the rugs. Not chosen from a sale, but designed. One story related by the Gamble House staff states that the house rugs were custom woven in Bohemia from watercolor sketches done by Charles Greene. When the rug was finally completed and shipped to Pasadena, one of the colors of yarn wasn’t just right. So Charles hired local artisans to carefully unpick the incorrect colored yarn and weave the correct color into the rug.
“An architect is a builder employing the process of art,” Charles Greene once wrote. And nowhere is that more apparent than the incredible detail and artistry of the Gamble House.
The house, in celebrating its 50th anniversary, has also attracted the attention of Oscar nominated filmmaker Don Hahn. The producer behind “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” has set his sights on The Gamble House to tell its story as a new documentary, coming to PBS hopefully next year.
“It’s the golden age of documentaries we’re living in right now and when you come across a story like this, and people like Ted and the staff of the Gamble House are willing to cooperate and tell you that story, it’s thrilling,” Hahn said.
The house has several anniversary events over the next week including offering 1966 tour prices of $1 on the anniversary day, this Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. For more info, visit gamblehouse.org.