Makinson says he always intended to donate the items, but that health problems intervened. Makinson was recently in the hospital with pancreatitis. The high cost of medical care caused him to sell the work, he says.
In an interview at his home, Makinson said, "You always want to be a donor or the hero. But I'm not going to put the costs of my health on these kids," pointing at the photos of grand-nieces and nephews on the wall behind him. "I was so focused on Gamble House I did not attend to my own business at home, like getting structured for retirement."
An expert opinion
Makinson is considered a leading authority on Craftsman design and the best-known scholar of Charles and Henry Greene. His books are prominently displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's "Arts and Crafts" show. He's credited by many with persuading the Gamble family to open their home to the public, and in 1966 he became Gamble House's founding curator.
"Randell is a gentleman and a scholar," says Jeffrey Herr, a Craftsman curator and Gamble House associate docent. "Without Randell, the Gamble House might not exist. Before Randell Makinson, there wasn't Greene & Greene as far as public consciousness."
Makinson can still describe the day he, then a USC undergraduate, first knocked on the door of Gamble House in 1954. It resulted in a tour, lasting more than three hours, that showed him the wonders of the Greenes' design style.
"I was fascinated with the way the Greenes put things together," he says. "I didn't set out to make my name: I got fascinated with these architect brothers and just did each day what seemed to be the right thing for that house.
"For decades no one gave a darn about bungalows, Greene & Greene, older houses," he says. Before he helped Gamble House become a historic house, he points out, a potential buyer wanted to paint the Gamble House's teak and mahogany walls white. Later, the block's homeowners nearly sold out to a high-rise developer who wanted to turn it into what Makinson called "Westmoreland Place along the Miami shores."
The house is now a nonprofit historic house -- not technically a museum -- operated under the auspices of the University of Southern California and the city of Pasadena.
Says Makinson: "There were times when the budget was very little, and I would spend my own money to keep something from being thrown out. I would buy it, because I thought there was something I needed to learn from it. So after a thousand years, I had a number of these things around me.
"Any value they might have had," he says of the works he sold for $2.8 million, "is value I have helped develop over the last half century."
At every possibility, he says, he shepherded gifts to the Gamble House or Huntington.
"Maybe we should consider how much Greene and Greene material he SAVED over the years through his scholarship and concern," David Rago, publisher of the magazine Style 1900, said in a recent editorial.
Margery Hill knew Makinson when she owned the Blacker House in Pasadena. The two eventually fell out when Makinson urged Hill to grant an easement on Blacker House that would require the owner to keep the house and its fixtures intact. Hill refused.
When Blacker House itself was sold in 1985 some suspected Makinson -- who publicly denounced the sale in ringing tones -- as having a hand in its sale to Barton English. Years later, English told the New York Times that he purchased the house because "Randy Makinson mentioned at a party in Pasadena that the house was for sale and that anyone who bought it could make a killing on it." Makinson called this "garbage" motivated by English's "attempt to discredit me."
Hill, who sold the house not suspecting it would be stripped, spoke of her sense of betrayal from Northern California.
To Hill and other critics, Makinson is a charismatic figure who used his position and reputation.
"He imposed himself on me from the very moment I took hold of the house. When I first moved there, when I was having some drapes made, one of the sconces was in the way, so he talked me out of it. And I don't remember the details, but he talked me out of the large fountain outside that Henry [Greene] made," Hill said.
Makinson says the fountain was going to be bulldozed; he has "no recollection" of the sconce. Venice art dealer Bryce Bannatyne says Makinson's late business partner -- an antiques dealer -- offered the sconce to him for sale in the late '80s, but he declined.
"It was very easy to like Randell at the beginning," says Hill. "He was a good-looking young man, very personable -- very, very convincing. He knew these owners were so proud of their houses that of course they would be willing to donate the work to Gamble House. We were all vulnerable, and he put on this false charm."
Admirers of Makinson see things differently.