Arts & Crafts in Pasadena

In a brief time at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, Pasadena was inspired to become more like a European village on the outskirts of Paris or Vienna, than a city in Southern California.  Pasadena today has more examples of Arts & Crafts architecture than anywhere else in the U.S.

The earliest European settlers to this fertile valley beneath the San Gabriel Mountains and a few miles above Los Angeles, established vineyards, orchards, and ranches.  However, by 1884, Pasadena began to attract the attention of railroad magnates, steel barons, and industrialists.

The Santa Fe Railway was brought in, there was a real estate boom, and great hotels such as Mansard Victorian and Wentworth were built, modeled after the magnificent country hotels of Europe, with spas, swimming pools, and riding trails.  By 1900, Easterners were arriving in large numbers, seeking relief from harsh winters, looking for sunlight and leisure.  The wealthiest hired famous architects such as Charles and Henry Greene, to design and build grand homes along the sycamore-lined boulevards.

By 1908, Pasadena had become a showcase for the Arts & Crafts Movement (American Craftsman Style).  Arts & Crafts, which began in England in response to mass-produced furniture, clothing, and jewelry, emphasized handmade artisanship, authentic materials, and meticulous detail.

Architects, captivated by the natural beauty of Pasadena, created an astonishing collection of timeless designs, houses, churches, winding cobblestone walkways, gardens, stonework arcades –using materials in harmony with the natural surroundings, ancient native trees, creek beds, and hilltops.

Design, material, and construction, were envisioned as intrinsic units of nature –gabled roofs, ornate doorways, carved stone facades, sleeping porches in the shadows of oak trees, cantilevered floors, tapered beam ends, rough cut woods in original color palettes, stained-glass windows and glass lanterns, cloisters, fountains, balconies, and idiosyncratic metalwork, were a continuous series of things that blended into each other.

Interior décor was the sacred art of color and texture –Persian rugs, textiles, transparent silks, laces, luxuriant velvets, tapestries, batik hangings, glass art, ironwork, mosaic tiles, Chinese porcelain, hand-rubbed hardwoods, stonework, 18th century French sculpture, drawings of wild flowers, crystal inkwells, Japanese woodblock prints, Mary Cassatt paintings, rare manuscripts, and books –which gives life to three-dimensional space.  This was design in its mythical-ancestral aspect, the purity and coherence of an archetypal image –not as something added as an afterthought.

The finest example of Arts & Crafts –simplicity of design, revival of handmade techniques, and harmony between construction and nature –is the Gamble House.  Built in 1908, the house and its furnishings were the magnum opus of Greene & Greene’s California bungalow design.  A varied sequence of contrasting wood grains such as oak, cedar, and maple, overlapping colors, art glass windows, natural textiles, and spaces opened to light and shade, create a sense of depth.

The revelation of the Gamble House design is simple –nature has no beginning and no end, there is nothing better than following nature, and anything else is nonsense.  Inside and out, graceful lines invite abandonment to dream, to the possibility of creation and new beginnings.  The interior blends seamlessly onto the outside, into garden, nature, trees, stones, sky, colors, and shapes –a design that lasts forever.