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January 16, 2010

Destination Pasadena

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

If your scene is hyper, with-it Los Angeles or New York City, "little old lady" style Pasadena, California might not fit your tastes. The town has been a genteel island in the Southern California frenzy since the San Gabriel Mountains were raised, or something like that.

Consider the college scene. No ultra-lefty Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and that ilk. No jock-focused USC vibes. Just good ol' nose-to-the-computer Cal Tech in this neck of the former lemon and orange groves.

And of course the Old Money. Or archeological evidence thereof, the subject of this post. If you are an architecture buff, those remains might well be worth a Pasadena visit.

Speaking of visit, one architectural gem that can be toured is the Gamble House, the winter get-away-from-Cincinnati residence of Gambles of Proctor & Gamble fame. The house is now jointly owned by the University of Southern California and the City of Pasadena; the house web site is here.

Gamble House

We took the one-hour overview tour, but more detailed tours are also available to suit intensity of specialization of interest (there's one for woodworkers, for instance). The Gamble House is one of the finest achievements of famed Arts & Crafts architects Green and Green.

Many years ago I was in Pasadena for a Rose Bowl game where the University of Washington was playing. On our way from the Rose Parade route to the bowl, we must have passed by the Gamble House (still in Gamble hands then). It failed to register, perhaps because its architecture was not fashionable and probably ignored by my architecture history professor. A block or two farther down the hill to the Arroyo Seco, a house partly hidden by vegetation caught my eye. It was a Frank Lloyd Wright house. One from his Imperial Hotel (Tokyo) - cement-block (Callifornia) period.

Millard House

I immediately recognized it as the Millard House. Earlier this week I tracked it down again, not having seen it in 50 years (literally!). It's still there, the grounds even more overgrown. One of the staff up at the Gamble House said that the Millard was still privately owned, but was up for sale for a lot of money.

Its fate will be determined. In the meanwhile, if you have the address (645 Prospect Crescent) and a street map showing Pasadena, you can inspect it from its street address side just off Prospect Boulevard (up close, but not so interesting) or from the other end of the property through a wire fence on Rosemont Avenue.

Not many towns besides Pasadena can boast such residential architecture treasures in such proximity, though Oak Park, Illinois comes to mind.



posted by Donald at January 16, 2010


I've never been to the Gamble House, but it seems to me that it might be one of those buildings that's been "done in," to a certain degree, by poor photographs, etc. I've run across quite a bit of praise of it, but it took a while for the priase to mean anything. In part, I think it's because I was "always" being shown the same old photos -- perhaps not so enticing to begin with, and in black and white no less. Plus, I think certain buildings are great buildings because living / working in them is wonderful, and that's hard to convey in photographs.

If I remember correctly, an extended discussion of the Gamble House, with diagrams and maybe color photos, in one of architectural historian William Jordy's books did the trick for me. But previous to that I found it a difficult building to really get interested in, despite all the praise that I had heard of it.

I forget the name of it, but there is another highly praised "landmark" residence in Southern California (in the San Diego area?) that I also found difficult to like. It was destroyed a while back, and all that exists of it are the same, very few, black and white photos -- which made it a hard building for me to like.

Along these lines (highly praised but not easy to like, if you haven't been there, Southern California residences), I also think that Richard Neutra's highly praised houses might also have suffered from poor presentation -- again, the same old black and white photos time after time. I say this because I was really impressed by a Richard Neutra home that was profiled (with color photos) in a "New York Times Sunday Magazine" article (I believe). It made me think, "Ah ha, that's what's been missing all along -- color!" (Looking back, I think it was more than just color that was missing. I think floor plans and site plans would also have helped a great deal too.)

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on January 17, 2010 10:19 AM

Here's a musical accompaniment.

Posted by: dearieme on January 17, 2010 1:23 PM

I only recently visited Pasadena for the first time on a business trip and was really impressed. Fantastic little downtown, great variety of classic residential architecture (lots and lots of great 30s/40s bungalows) and situated in some scenic hills. Also, close to my favorite airport, good ol' Bob Hope Airport!

Posted by: JV on January 19, 2010 4:17 PM

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