Friends of the Gamble House Lecture Series, 2010-2011

For more than five years, I have spearheaded the public relations for the annual Friends of the Gamble House lecture series. These popular series feature well-known experts discussing art, architecture, history, gardening and more. The accompanying tours give the public a sneak peek into rarely-seen homes (Frank Lloyd Wright’s La Miniatura), neighborhoods (Eichler communities in the San Fernando Valley) and backyards (Heather Lenkin’s stunning personal gardens.)

This year, I contributed an article to the Quarterly Magazine about two of the FOGH lectures. Here’s what I wrote:

An Architectural Smorgasbord: The Gamble House Lecture Series Features Australian Bungalows and the Modern Marvels of Joseph Eichler’s Suburban Track Homes

By Brenda Rees

Spanning a wide range of architectural topics and themes, the popular Sidney D. Gamble Lecture Series, sponsored by the Friends of the Gamble House (FoGH), is offering two upcoming spring lectures that will enlighten and entertain architectural lovers of all levels.

First up is an examination of how the simple California bungalow made its way across the Pacific Ocean to reach Australia. “The Transcontinental Bungalow: From Australia to Pasadena” will be examined by Pasadena resident, author and art historian Erika Esau on Saturday, March 12, 2011.

If you travel to the big urban areas of Australia, you will no doubt see homes that have a familiar look to them. Not quite Arts and Crafts, these houses were designed by architects who were greatly influenced by the Craftsmen ideal that was all the rage in Southern California in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“I also saw travel posters promoting  the new Australian town of Canberra; the look and feel of it was like a California fruit box label and I realized that there were more connections than at first thought,” says Esau, a Southern California native, who spent 15 years teaching art history in Australia.

Wanting to understand how this large continent – with ties to England – could be so influenced by America’s West Coast, Esau came back to the States and, at the Huntington Library, started researching the connections between Australia and California, especially the architectural similarities.

Esau discovered that well-known Australian architects – including Sydney resident James Peddle – were very taken by the Bungalow style, which they learned about via the Internet of the day – trade journals, and architectural magazines. Photos from Sunset Magazine, Craftsman and Pacific Engineering depicting the “new Pacific style” were being circulated to a wide global audience; Australians embraced the style because this architecture shared not only a similar climate, but an attitude and “a new way of living on the Pacific Rim that broke from conventional thinking,” she says.

Of course, the Craftsman style was modified went it came to Australia. “There, they don’t have the wood that was readily available here, so you will find many of these ‘California bungalow’ homes made out of brick,” says Esau. Also the bungalow ideal began as a country summer home rather than a permanent urban house, so many of the homes were smaller than a typical California home.

The bungalow scene did spread to urban areas, and flourished in Australia up until the Great Depression. Overall, Esau was captivated by how Southern California, which up until that time was only known for feeding off other architectural styles, would come to be known as the originator of a certain stylistic direction during the 1910-1920s. “This was the beginning of people looking to the West Coast as the source for all things new and lively,” she sums up.

Modern Living in the Valley

The final lecture the Friends of the Gamble House lecture series takes place May 13 when writer David Weinstein presents a “behind the scenes” look at how famed real estate developer Joseph Eichler created quintessential residential subdivisions in the 1950s.

“Joseph Eichler and His Architects: The Men Behind Eichler Homes,” is an overview of the people who worked with Eichler to create the distinctive Mid-Century modern tract housing that became synonymous with the laid-back Californian lifestyle. (A complementary tour of Eichler’s Balboa Highland community in Granada Hills is slated for Saturday, May 14.)

“The focus of the lecture will be on not just the style of these designs, but the personalities that created them,” adds Weinstein, a regular contributor to CA Modern, a magazine published by the Eichler Network.

A real estate developer active between 1950 and 1974, Eichler oversaw the construction of more than 11,000 homes in California along with 3 homes in Chestnut Ridge, NY. Many of these homes are grouped in communities; in Southern California, Eichler communities can be found in Orange, Thousand Oaks and Granada Hills.

As a social progressive of his day, Eichler wanted to create planned inclusive communities that would feature open spaces, parks and community centers; neighborhoods that would welcome anyone regardless of race or religion – a view that set Eichler apart from some of his contemporaries.

Eichler hired the famed architect Bob Anshen and partner Steven Allen to design the first prototype homes in 1949. These men, according to Weinstein, had strong personalities that influenced their work and working relationships which would, eventually lead to a break with Eichler, but not before they created an amazing body of architectural designs.

“Anshen was a short man and even though he wasn’t handsome, he lit up a room whenever he walked in,” says Weinstein. Conversely, Allen was tall and quiet – just the right temperament to work with the charismatic Anshen.

Eichler also employed other well-known architects to work on his residential developments – the San Francisco firm of Claude Oakland and the L.A. firm of Jones & Emmons. Eichler continued working on his dream of utopian-esque communities until his death in 1974.

Today, Eichler homes are seeing a revival of interest from many generations that embraces the simple beauty, clean lines and clever openness that these Mid Century modern homes offer.

“They really are works of art,” contends Weinstein about Eichlers. “It’s the subtle touches that make them so special,” he says. “Especially the colors of the wood which can light up room with a cool look. These homes were not pretentious or showy and there was no wasted space. They were elegant, thoughtful living.”


The Friends of the Gamble House Lecture Series at a Glance

  • The Transcontinental Bungalow: From Pasadena to Australia

4 p.m., March 12, 2011 at the Art Center College of Design, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena. Free to FOGH members, $12 public.

  •  Joseph Eichler and His Architects: The Men Behind Eichler Homes ~

7:30 p.m., Friday, May 13, 2011 at the Art Center College of Design, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena. Free to FOGH members, $12 public.

A complementary tour of Eichler homes in Balboa Highlands in Granada Hills is offered from 10 a.m. – 4p.m on Saturday, May 14, 2011. Tickets are $35 FOGH members and $45 public.

Reservations are required for all lectures and tour: (626) 793-3334, ext. 52.