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Gamble House restoration is finally complete

I hate to reprint stories from other sites in total, but unfortunately the Pasadena Star-News makes all their content inaccessible very quickly, and I can't think of another way to share this with all of you. A photo album accompanies the article.

By Janette Williams, Staff Writer        

PASADENA - After six years of planning, a year of work and a $2.5 million exterior makeover, the Gamble House now looks exactly as it used to.    

Just as it should, said Ted Bosley, curator of Pasadena's iconic 1908 Greene and Greene house, as preparations for its approaching 100-year anniversary, in collaboration with the Huntington Library, get under way.

"It's so funny, my daughter Julia, \ said, `Papa, it doesn't look like you've done anything!"' Bosley said. "But when I thought about it, I decided that was the desired effect, that it didn't look as though we'd used a heavy hand."

The exterior doesn't look exactly as it did when Charles and Henry Greene started work in 1907 on an 8,000-square-foot Craftsman-style "bungalow" for David and Mary Gamble at 4 Westmoreland Place.

A 1930s paint job on the exterior wooden shingles, courtesy of Aunt Julia - Mary Gamble's sister Julia Huggins - forever changed the color. Even the sophisticated techniques used in the present conservation project couldn't reverse the effect, although treatment with sealant slightly deepened the shade for a more authentic contrast to the lightened window frames.    

"It's something we have to live with," Bosley said. "We didn't try to remove the lead-based paint. We used to say, sarcastically `Thanks, Aunt Julia,' but now we say it with some sincerity. It's the kind of paint you can't buy today, awful stuff, but it's been extremely protective of the underlying wood."

The fishpond on the back patio, which was leaking into the house's foundations, has been restored and refilled, windows and roof repaired, and 262 rotting wooden beams and rafters that protrude beyond the roof-line restored, using epoxy blended into the wood with dental tools for a "feathering" effect.

The entire conservation effort was documented by filmmaker Jon Wilkman, who tracked it from day one for USC, joint owners with the city of the house and its furnishings.

"It was intriguing to document all the latest, most sophisticated techniques on this great big work of art," said Wilkman, who "fell in love" with the Gamble House as a young man. "They approached it like restoring a Rembrandt or a Michelangelo statue, and didn't do anything that wasn't the absolute best."

About 90 hours of unused footage shot for the documentary, which has aired on KCET and is available at the Gamble House gift store, has been donated to USC's School of Architecture for future reference, Wilkman said.

Anyone tackling a similar restoration or conservation could learn from the sophisticated approach to the Gamble House project, Wilkman said.

"One of the funniest moments in the film is when the person restoring the screens had taken one of the hinges, rusted and covered in dirt, and shined it up so it looked brand new," Wilkman said. "They said, `That's exactly what we don't want - we want it to look like it aged gracefully."'

Even some of the signs the house was a family home until the 1960s remain: The worn area where a garden hose was always dragged around the corner of the house, holes drilled in the outside window frames to hold string to pull back the bamboo shades.

"People actually lived here, things went on here," Bosley said.    

Visitors, about 30,000 a year, come to the Gamble House from all over the world, and Bosley called it a vital part of Pasadena's patrimony and a symbol of the city.

Almost all the original furnishings, except for a few dining room chairs, were donated by the Gamble family along with the house in 1966, Bosley said, so they are not in the market for acquisitions.

"But sometimes people leave us things - we can't control bequests," Bosley said. And although they were never part of the house, a recent set of "very beautiful" Dirk Van Erp copper pots from the estate of philanthropist David Whitney fit into the kitchen quite well, Bosley said.

The Huntington Library's close relationship with the Gamble House comes from shared roots in early Pasadena and interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement, library spokeswoman Lisa Blackburn said.

The Huntington and the Gamble House opened a joint permanent exhibit of the Greenes' work in 1990, and the Huntington plans a special exhibition and other events next year on the architecture and decorative arts of Charles and Henry Greene.