The Gamble House – Pasadena’s Craftsman Masterpiece

California is renowned for its Craftsman architecture. But, if I’m totally honest, I’m really not the biggest fan of the American Craftsman Movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. That isn’t to say I can’t appreciate it, as it proved to be innovative, and even influential on Mid-Century Modern, but still, I really don’t seek it out. So why then would I voluntarily go to the Gamble House, one of the most iconic Craftsman homes? A little movie called Back to the Future.

Me standing outside of the Gamble House.

Close-up of the house number, which is metal over stained glass.

Me standing outside of the Gamble House.

The front door of the Gamble House, teak wood surrounds a stained glass of a tree.

One of the sleeping porches of the Gamble House, which features planer boxes and plants that hang down.

Standing near the garage of the Gamble House, wearing a pale blue sheer blouse and magenta skirt with white trim, and a brown woven basket purse.

The home was commissioned by David and Mary Gamble, of Proctor & Gamble fame, and designed by brothers, Charles and Henry Greene. Originally from Cincinnati, this was originally designed as the Gamble’s winter home to escape the cold Ohio winters. Designed by Greene and Greene in 1908, the Gambles worked closely with their architects, and the Greene brothers incorporated things like the Gamble family crest, among other details of items the Gambles planned to have in the home. Not only did the Greene brothers design the house, but they also designed the furniture, within to create a cohesive feel.

Interior of the front door - a stained glass tree.

The central staircase, where the rail is also a stair step pattern.

The Gamble family crest, a crane with a rose in its beak, is worked into an interior light fixture.

The fireplace of the living room, all rich warm wood, with a dusty green tile fireplace.

An indirect light fixture of stained glass hangs from the ceiling of the family room.

The desk in the living room, with a Tiffany lamp featuring a month.

The dining room, dark wood walls, with stained glass of leaves in the back.

Julia's writing set, which features a cobweb pattern.

Close up of a stained glass light fixture that feature a flower.

The central staircase, where the rail is also a stair step pattern.

After completion of the house, the Gambles invited Mary’s younger sister, Julia, to live with them. David and Mary Gamble lived within the home until their deaths in 1923 and 1929. Julia continued to live at the house until her death in 1944, when one of David and Mary’s children, Cecil, and his wife, Louise, moved in.

Eventually, Cecil and Louise decided they didn’t need such a large house, and put it on the market. A couple came by the house to look at the house, and the husband lamented about how dark it was inside, and the wife replied that they would just paint everything white. Horrified, Cecil and Louise promptly told them the house was no longer for sale, and continued to live in the home. Thankfully Cecil and Louise were fully aware of their home’s architectural significance and in 1966 they gave the house to the city of Pasadena, but with a joint agreement with USC’s School of Architecture, which is the state in which the house remains today. As a unique part of the USC co-ownership, select students of the School of Architecture may have the honor of staying in the servants’ quarters for one year.

As for the architects themselves, Charles and Henry Greene also hailed from the Cincinnati area, but moved with to St. Louis during their teenage years, eventually going to the Manual Training School of Washington University, studying woodworking, metalworking, and toolmaking. However, their father and grander ideas, and suggested they become architects, which is when the brothers enrolled in the School of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the meantime their parents moved to Pasadena. Even though both brothers had found work at architecture firms, by 1893 their parents requested the boys move to California. The brothers agreed, but stopped at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, a stop that would influence their design for the remainder of their careers, and play a role in California’s design heritage. It was here that the brothers first gazed upon Japanese architecture, and what an impact it made. Upon arriving in Pasadena, the brothers founded their own firm, Greene & Greene, creating fine and artistic examples of Craftsman style architecture, all with heavy influences of Japan. Various elements throughout the Gamble House reflect Japanese architecture and design. As our docent noted the iconic shape of the tsuba, the crossguard of a samurai sword, is seen throughout the home, including the shape of the dining room table, light switch plates, and more.

Standing near the garage of the Gamble House, wearing a pale blue sheer blouse and magenta skirt with white trim, and a brown woven basket purse.

The garage of the Gamble House, now the bookstore.

Standing on the back porch of the Gamble House, wearing a pale blue sheer blouse and magenta skirt with white trim, and a brown woven basket purse.

Me standing outside of the Gamble House.

Standing on the back porch of the Gamble House, wearing a pale blue sheer blouse and magenta skirt with white trim, and a brown woven basket purse.

Walking away from the Gamble House on their trail of stones through the gress.

The garage of the Gamble House, now the bookstore.

Sitting on the back porch of the Gamble House, wearing a pale blue sheer blouse and magenta skirt with white trim, and a brown woven basket purse.

Exterior of the Gamble House, a three story Craftsman style house, with two large sleeping porches, and overhangs.

Me standing outside of the Gamble House.

Now, like I said, I’m not the biggest fan of Craftsman architecture. Give me a Queen Anne, Spanish Revival, or Mid-Century Modern. But I’ve been slowly making pilgrimages to Back to the Future filming locations, and the Gamble House was used as the exterior of Doc Brown’s house.

Screencap from Back to the Future - Marty arrives at Doc Brown's House, the garage in the background, the house on the left.

Screencap from Back to the Future - Marty arrives at Doc Brown's House, which is the Gamble House.

Screencap from Back to the Future - Doc Brown tries to escape Marty by running out from the house.

The Gamble House garage as seen in Back to the Future as Doc runs toward it to escape Marty in 1955.

Now, note I said the exterior. Due to the fragility of the interior of the Gamble house, with many of its original rugs and furnishings, it made filming inside impossible. So, the producers selected another Greene and Greene home, the Blacker House, also in Pasadena. The Blacker House was at the time of filming, and today remains a private residence, and has only been available for tours during Craftsman Weekend.

While Marty arriving on Doc’s doorstep is in fact an exterior shot, it is the door to the Blacker House that he knocks upon and that Doc opens. Since the establishing shots of Doc’s house as the Gamble House were so wide, and the front door slightly obscured, it worked out just fine.

Marty knocking on Doc's door. While this is an exterior shot, it is so close it is easy to obscure the fact it is the Blacker House. Similar stylings of a Japanese influenced design with stained glass.

Screencap from Back to the Future, inside the Blacker House, which was used as the interior of Doc Brown's House. Doc Brown tries to read Marty's mind. Dark wood ceilings, stained glass in the background.

Interior of the Blacker House as seen in Back to the Future - Doc sits by his fireplace contemplating the problem of how to send Marty back to the future. Similar dark wood and Japanese influences.

Interior of the Blacker House as seen in Back to the Future - Doc discusses harnessing the power of lightening.

Interior of the Blacker House as seen in Back to the Future - Doc and Marty discuss how to get Marty back to 1985. Craftsman tile fireplace and dark wood walls.

Meanwhile the garage used in the 1985 sequences was a facade built on location next to the Burger King seen in the film, and built in Burbank. Of course the facade is long gone, but the Burger King is still a Burger King.

A variety of tours are offered to experience the Gamble House, however we just did the standard one-hour tour, which we really didn’t need to do for our Back to the Future pilgrimage, but I still wanted to learn more about the home and compare the actual interior to what is seen of the Blacker Home in Back to the Future. The grounds are free to visit and roam, as is the bookstore located within the garage, which offers a wide selection of books on the American Craftsman movement, postcards, and more.

The Gamble House is located at 4 Westmoreland Place, in Pasadena. For more information, please visit their website.

Outfit
Blouse & Bracelet: ???
Skirt: Buffalo Exchange
Shoes: Re-Mix
Earrings: Gift
Purse: Found by my dad

Sources
Back to the Future Screencaps: Screencaped
Blake, Lindsay. “Doc Brown’s House from Back to the Future.” Los Angeles Magazine.
Boone, Lisa. “Tour bungalows, the famed Blacker House and more at Craftsman Weekend in Pasadena.” Los Angeles Times.
The Ultimate Back to the Future Filming Location Map.” Curbed Los Angeles.
Various pages, The Gamble House

Leave a Comment!

2 comments on “The Gamble House – Pasadena’s Craftsman Masterpiece”