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Makinson on Greene & Greene

The Gamble House

magine yourself a keen student of architecture. Eager to assist a visiting professor by bringing him slides for his architectural history class, you approach a large, wooden house on a quiet residential street in an upscale Pasadena neighborhood. No sound save birdsong breaks the late morning silence. Lawns are perfectly cropped, hedges trimmed. No one is about as you set up camera and tripod for a carefully composed shot of the magnificent building. Framed in your viewfinder, the portal is a symphony of oiled teakwood and leaded glass.
Then, just as you are about to click the shutter, the door opens. A gentleman, tall and imposing in a dark suit, steps out. You watch as, unsmiling, he makes he way across the wide, private lawn and asks you to explain yourself.
This is precisely what happened to Randell L. Makinson in 1954 in front of 4 Westmoreland Place. But instead of being sent about his business, Makinson founds himself treated to a tour of the house and garden. Three and a half hourse later, he was seated on the living room floor with Cecil and Louise Gamble, pouring over their home's original blueprints.

Restored interior of Charles Greene's home in Pasadena (1902-1913), showing the use of wood and loving attention to detail that is typical of the Greenes' Pasadena houses. In restoring old houses, Makinson says, there is often much that must be undone, usually the removal of "modernizations" that have compromised the integrity of the original design.

When Cecil Gamble - whose parents David B. and Mary Gamble commissioned in 1908 Greene and Greene -designed home that is now a recognized masterpiece - and his wife Louise opened their home to Randell Makinson that day, it began an association between USC and the Gambles which their son Jim described as "a family friendship." Beyond that, it sparked the beginning of a movememnt in hostoric preservation that would spread from Pasadena into Los Angeles and throughout Southern California.
The meeting also determined Makinson's life work. Now director emeritus of the Gamble House and professor emeritus in the USC School of Architecture (where last year he was named a distinguished alumnus - Class of '56), he is widely acknowledged noth nationally and internationally as the expert on the worl and teachings of Charles and Henry Greene and their relationship to the Arts and Crafts Movement which flourished in Southern California around the turn of the century.
His "rediscovery" of Greene and Greene - at a time when it was more common to tear down than cherish the legacy of the past - provoked in him a passion for the Craftsman Movement which has endured to this day. His fourth book about the Greenes, the lavishly illustrated Greene and Greene: The Passion and The Legacy (Gibbs Smith, $75), is due out Sept. 15; as the title implies, Makinson is still emotionally moved by this architecture, a style that, he says, "flips you up and down and lands you on your feet again; buildings that don't expose all they have to offer at one glance, that tell you how to move from one place to another, naturally, with light or forms that draw you along."

asual in an open-necked shirt and slacks, Makinson welcomes a visitor to his Pasadena home, which he designed and built in 1989. When he slides open glass doors that make up a large part of one wall, the house opens like a box to the sounds and sight of water, a small pool framed by a brown wood pergola softened by the foliage of a climbing rose and antique ferns in pots made by Charles Greene.

The exterior of Charles Greene's home.

The outdoor room becomes part of the living space, which seems larger than its 2,000 square feet. Inside, the colors are muted: gentle grays for the concrete walls and floors and slate-colored details, with here and there a touch of the deep moss so typical of the Arts and Crafts period.
What grabs attention, however, is not the house itself but the artwork it contains. As one might expect, Makinson's home, just off the Arroyo Seco, holds a collection of Arts and Crafts pottery and furniture, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Sickley and Charles and Henry Greene. What is surpirising however, is the unexpected red Itlaian motorcycle above the kitchen window, a gift from his godson.
An unpretentious man with a gregarious personality and a tremendous sense of fun, Makinson is also a man of strong opinions, believing that passion is the necessary element in persuasion. He cites his mentor at USC, landscape architect Emmett Wemple, as stimulating his independence of mind.
The first of his family to attend college, Makinson was born just two blocks from the University Park Campus in the Methodist hospital at Adams and Figueroa. He came to USC and, as he jokes, never left it: “I’m a USC brat, student, faculty member and then administrator.”
His first inkling that architecture was his special interest came in high school, when he finished an entire

The Gamble House (1908), at 4 Westmoreland Place in Pasadena. A chance meeting with Cecil Gamble in 1954 introduced Randell Makinson to the architecture of Charles and Henry Greene and let to his life-long passion for the Arts and Crafts Movement.

year’s work in mechanical drawing in record time and his teacher suggested he move on to architectural drawing. Always interested in spaces as a child, he loved to dig caves, build structures out of leftover junk and create a hideaway under the table with the bedsheets. He would take the long way home from school just to see a particular house that looked like it belonged in Taos, New Mexico, with soft plaster over adobe and rafters made of log poles that stuck out. One day, Makinson noticed that one of these had fallen off. He was disappointed to find that it was not structural but only tacked on. He felt cheated.
This passion for authenticity is what attracted him to the work of those architects he most admires: Greene and Greene, Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. “There’s nothing like the emotional excitement of moving through a sense of sculpture and craftsmanship of a Greene and Greene building,” he says. “And Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Windyhill, looking out over the Scottish countryside, gives me goosebumps!”
He also cites Greene and Greene’s Pratt House in Ojai, which seems part of the rugged terrain, and the James House in Carmel: “It’s just 200 feet off a busy highway, and yet once through the gate and out onto that rocky bluff, all the problems of the day are gone. Throw away your Prozac. You’re in a magical, timeless place.”

The library of the James House. "When I show this house to students," Makinson says, "they respond that it doesn't look like Greene and Greene. But it is typical because it doesn't have the features of the homes in Pasadena. In Carmel, where it is so often foggy, the need was to let in all the light!"

If that sounds a little mystical, it is typical of the effect the Greenes can have on their followers, inciting a fervor that is almost religious. Like the entire Arts and Crafts Movement, theirs is more than a style of house design, it is a design for living.
In the early part of the century, Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman magazine talked about food, diet, raising children and all facets of living. As expressed in the work of Greene and Greene, Stickley’s Arts and Crafts philosophy had an instant appeal to Makinson, for whom the idea of adapting a Normandy chateau for a house in Beverly Hills is far from being architecture.
“When I first heard about the Arts and Crafts Movement,” he says, “I immediately thought of basket-weaving and model trains at the local hobby shop. But it’s much more serious. Its philosophy is that the art comes from the craft and not from history; the form of the building is a function of where it is and the materials and craft available at the time, as architecture should be at any point.”
After seeing the Gamble House, Makinson went on a quest to learn more about the brothers who had designed it. He knocked on doors around Pasadena, finding other homeowners with original Greene and Greene plans. He gathered and documented photographs and blueprints, piecing together a list of the architects’ work.
With a Rehman Fellowship from the National American Institute of Architects, he continued his research after graduation, all the while keeping up his association with the Gambles, who were keenly aware that their home was a very special work of American architecture -- not because of the Gamble connection, not because Ivory Soap made it possible or because of what Makinson calls the “George Washington slept here” kind of reason, but because of its tremendous potential as a teaching vehicle for architects and the public at large. Makinson was instrumental in negotiating the gift of the historic property to the City of Pasadena in a joint agreement with USC; and in 1966, he was appointed its curator. He was named director in 1980, and director emeritus when he retired in 1992.

The James House on its rocky bluff.

Since Makinson began his work with the house, over 70 scholars in residence, a model docent program and a junior docent program that involves over 1,000 children a year have brought an enormous sense of pride in community to Pasadena. People who toured the home were inspired to strip the paint off their own modest bungalows. “We began to see whole neighborhood revitalization and without any federal funding,” he says. “It took only a sense of pride, a little bit of education, people experiencing something that lets them know that they have something to be proud of.” Now much of Southern California looks to Pasadena as an example of how to do historic preservation.
The junior docent program is especially close to Makinson’s heart. “If a child begins to realize he can be proud of the town he lives in, he’s better at home and in the community,” he says. Before the sixth- and seventh-grade docents lead a group of third- and fourth-graders through the building, they bring their own families through. “It’s remarkable,” says Makinson. “Parents say, ‘we don’t quite know what you’ve been doing here, but now everywhere we drive our child is telling us facts about the community that we’d been unaware of before.’ These fragments add up. We’ve seen it.”

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Photograph of Makinson by Peter S. Lopez. All others by Thomas A. Heinz

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