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At Home With Form and Function

Pasadena Heritage event will spotlight distinctive, Arts and Crafts-style residences

October 10, 2002|JANET EASTMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Strangers knock on Judy Brown's front door all the time. They run their fingers along the clinker bricks jutting from her front wall and press their faces against her ornamental-glass windows. Once, she found someone wandering in her kitchen.

They're confused. They think Brown lives in the Gamble House, the Pasadena manor designed by Charles and Henry Greene that is a destination for devotees of the American Arts and Crafts movement.

But Brown isn't rattled by these uninvited guests. She understands that those poking around her property are just turned around. She directs them across the street to the radiant "winter cottage" built for one of the Procter & Gamble heirs in 1908, and open to the public for the last four decades. Brown listens as the intruders explain that her cedar-shingled California bungalow looks as if it was designed by the famous brothers.

It was. Brown's home, along with other private residences dreamed up by the Greenes and other prominent architects before the burdens of World War I and yearly income taxes, will be open to a limited number of ticket-holders during Pasadena Heritage's Craftsman Weekend, Oct. 18-20. There will also be lectures, a decorative-arts show and docents leading tour groups around some of the neighborhoods where the brothers' work is clustered. More than half of the 137 structures they built at the turn of the last century are still standing.

Greene & Greene homes are distinctive in their use of natural materials and the way the timber, arroyo stone, brick and joints are exposed. Despite the heft of these materials, the homes have a light presence.

Overhanging roofs and extended support beams make the structures seem as if they could be elevated by a strong wind. Wooden railings have few vertical supports, allowing passersby to peek into open-air sleeping terraces.

And banks of vertical windows break up the wood siding and invite breezes in. (Cross-ventilation was important to the brothers, who once lived in the end unit of a block of three-story houses in St. Louis.)

The Greenes, along with other Arts and Crafts architects who embraced the philosophy that everything about a home should be useful and beautiful, considered the total environment in their plans. They wrestled with the way the house was situated on the property.

The Blacker home in the Oak Knoll area was built on a corner of the 5 1/2-acre estate to provide an expansive view of the Japanese-inspired landscape. The brothers also mapped out the "peanut brittle" arrangement of boulders and irregular-shaped clinker brick in garden walls, and designed the artistic furnishings, from the sturdy built-in benches to the graceful glass lanterns.

At 4,000 square feet, Brown's two-story home is a modest Greene & Greene (the Blacker home is triple the size). Its original owner, Mary L. Ranney, was a draftsman in the brothers' firm, and she drew up the blueprints. Materials and labor fees were $6,500 in 1907, when the average custom home in the area--including land and design fees--cost $1,500. Altruistic architects of the time wanted to make handcrafted homes for the everyman, but the price made them unaffordable to most.

In a twist on that shortcoming, Heritage Housing Partners, a branch of the nonprofit Pasadena Heritage preservation group, buys neglected older homes, restores them, then sells them below market value to first-time home buyers.

During the Craftsman Weekend, restoration experts will explain the work completed days earlier on the Merrill House, a one-story bungalow designed by the Greenes in 1910. After two years of replacing the redwood siding, rebuilding the brick fireplace and bringing everything up to code, the home is ready for its new family.

Also during the weekend, more than 60 exhibitors will display antiques, revival furniture, metalwork, pottery, glass, textiles and plein-air paintings at the Pasadena Masonic Temple, 200 S. Euclid Ave. Admission to the decorative-arts show, Oct. 19-20, is $10. Tickets are available at the door, or in advance over the phone and online.

Bus, walking and drive-yourself tours sell out early and cost from $25 to $45. Lectures, which are on Oct. 19 and cost $20, include ones by design consultant Su Bacon on Arts and Crafts interiors, historian Paul Duchscherer on the simplicity of the Eastlake and Shingle styles, and authors Carole Coates and Norman Karlson on tile and pottery of the period.

In addition to the Craftsman Weekend event, Pasadena Heritage offers monthly tours of historic neighborhoods and commercial districts.

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For more information, call (626) 441-6333 or log on to www.pasadenaheritage.org.

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