Blame it on Italy and all the wonders that are around every corner but I was having a hard time being impressed during my recent tour of the Gamble House in Pasadena. Or maybe it was the 98 degrees outside and the lack of air conditioning inside. After all, the imposing house was built in 1908 and to expect to be kept cool as well as entertained was a bit much.
I had always wondered about the beautiful house in the heart of Pasadena, a fine specimen of Craftsman architecture, so I picked one of the hottest days this summer to go see it. Built for David and Mary Gamble (of Gamble and Procter fame) by Charles and Henry Greene, the inside is dark and oppressing as much as the outside seems light and airy.
It’s not hard to admire the precious woods imported from all over the world (teak, ebony, mahogany) and the incredible craftsmanship that went into building the cabinetry, panelling and furniture, not to mention some of the period accessory such as Tiffany lamps and original lighting fixtures. Still, I can’t help associating most of Craftsman style with Puritanism: everything is covered, modest, nothing is on view but needs its hiding place, the atmosphere is oppressive. The glaring sunlight doesn’t make a dent through the multiple windows and white curtains, pushed back by the dark olive walls and the low ceilings. It doesn’t look like the kind of house where fun was had.
At the time it was built, the house was surrounded by 10 acres of mostly orange groves, making the grounds much more serene that they are now and the family no doubt enjoyed the porches that shoot out of every bedroom. But I find it hard to believe that light wasn’t prized in those days and that prominent California feature of letting the outside in was kept at bay.
If you are into Craftsman architecture, it’s worth a visit (maybe in the winter) although the historical value of the tour is minimal, with anecdotes about the family or life at the turn of the last century virtually absent. The Adamson house in Malibu is more intriguing even if at the opposite end of the architectural spectrum.
I couldn’t wait to actually leave the Gamble house which, I am sure, was not the designer’s intention. My visit wasn’t helped by a group of older folks from a retirement home who looked dazed and confused, prodded along by their no-nonsense minder. I felt pity for the poor docent whose orbs popped out when one of the older ladies plopped herself on a period chair and who nearly fainted when another perched herself on a pristine bed, covered in white lace – we had all notice the dark stain on the back of the old lady’s pants and couldn’t understand why she was allowed the indignity of carrying on with the tour while everyone around her was trying to keep breathing distance.
Maybe that’s what happened – an old, dark house on a hot day embodying the prospect of a painful old age. I might want to revisit.
The Gamble House – 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena 91103
Tel: 626 – 793 3334 – www.gamblehouse.org