A Splash of Art

A Front Yard in Pasadena

It was eight years ago. My friend Bill Korn told me about a house he had discovered during one of his long walks. The front yard of this Pasadena property was a triumphant statement of a home-grown artist. I made the mistake of not noting the address, and I wonder if what we saw then is still there.

The art reminds me of the Watts Towers created by Simon Rodia out of various found objects. In this case, most of the objects were multicolored ceramics, toys, and other small items which were carefully cemented together by the owner of the house.

Broken Ceramics Cemented Together

I guess the front yard structures can be classified as a kind of gonzo art. Yet the effect is curiously pleasing. I’m sure that hundreds of hours went into creating these effects.

Some of the Trees and Succulents in the Yard

When we are able to travel once again and get together with friends and dine inside at a restaurant, I will have to find this place. It really struck a nerve with me.

The Fenyes Estate

The Fenyes Estate on Pasadena’s “Millionaires Row” with Back Yard Gardens

Yesterday Martine and I toured the Fenyes (Hungarian for “Bright,” pronounced FEN-yesh) Estate on Pasadena’s Orange Grove Boulevard. We had wanted to go a couple weeks earlier, but there was an intervening event that closed the tours for that day. Fortunately, the docent couple who gave the tour knew their subject cold, so we had a great time. It is always interesting to visit a millionaire’s mansion built over a hundred years ago. One obtains a view of what life was like not only for the family of the owner, but also the servants. The Fenyes Estate is only a few hundred feet of the more famous Gamble House, built by the Gambles of the Procter & Gamble fortune.

The Parlor of the Fenyes Mansion

In the photo of the parlor above, several of the chairs have little footstools. They were an aid to modesty so that the long dresses would cover every inch of bare skin on the women’s legs, er, I mean, limbs. Eve Fenyes, wife of Dr Adalbert Fenyes was a noted painter in her own right, and specialized in plein aire subjects. In addition to the usual portraits, which are of high quality because of Eve’s talents.

Dr Fenyes had his own talents besides medicine. He was the first to use X-Rays in his practice. In addition, he was a noted entomologist (whose collection now sits in a San Francisco museum) and an expert gardener. The grounds on which the house sits are beautifully landscaped.

The Music Room of the Estate

In addition to the piano and early Victrola shown in the above photo, notice the elegant stairway to a mezzanine-level for singers. There is no door to the right on this level. There is also a trap door set in the floor for entrances by actors engaged in various entertainments put on by the family.

Even though there are only two houses of this sort on Orange Grove Boulevard that one can tour, it is clearly worth visiting them to understand how we all got where we are today.


Greene with Envy

Front Entrance to the Gamble House

Yesterday, Martine and I drove to Pasadena to visit the Gamble House. No, it’s not a casino. It was the home of the Gambles of the Procter & Gamble fame. Situated on Orange Grove near where the Tournament of Roses Parade makes the turn onto Colorado, the area is a turn of the century (19th to 20th, that is) millionaires’ row. We had visited the house before, years ago, but it’s a good thing to renew one’s acquaintance with great works of art from time to time.

the house is the work of the architectural firm of Greene & Greene. While their works are usually characterized as “arts and crafts bungalows,” what we have here is a sizeable mansion.

Gamble House Exterior

There is something infinitely pleasing and subtle about the works of Greene & Greene when they are at the top of their game, and the Gamble house was definitely at the top of their game. The architects decided not only the exterior feature of the building, the room layouts, and the grounds—but even the furniture in many cases. In one room, everything is made to resemble a vase on the dresser.

Although the architects had never been to the Orient, they did stop at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago on their way to California, where they saw a number of examples of Japanese architecture. That glimpse was sufficient to get them thinking about how to use wood not only for weight-bearing, but also for decorative purposes.

Gamble House Sample Interior

Note the way all the features in the above room blend in with one another. The pottery, the lighting fixture, the table and chairs seem all of a piece. At one point where the servants would injure their hip by banging into a sharp counter corner, the architects made the counter trapezoidal, eliminating the sharp corner. At another point, the very short Aunt Julia Gamble had a special chair made for her to work with the fastenings on her high-button shoes. (Also note Aunt Julia’s little step stool in the above photo for her comfort.) In the boys’ bedroom, there is a low, wide drawer for storing their shoes. In the kitchen, there is a super-wide drawer for storing tablecloths without wrinkling them along the folds.

Everything is on a human scale. And strikingly beautiful.


Freezing for the Roses

Camping Out Overnight for the Rose Parade

Camping Out Overnight for the Rose Parade

The temperature overnight in Pasadena is expected to dip down to 46° Fahrenheit (that’s 8° Celsius). When Martine and I were there about an hour ago, it was already near that level. Additionally, there is now a 50% chance of rain before morning.

And what is tomorrow morning? Why, it’s the Tournament of Roses parade, which is how Southern California proselytizes Easterners that we don’t have to shovel ice and snow off our sidewalks, and that it (almost) never rains in L.A.

Colorado Boulevard was so crowded with people camping in the streets in order to get a front seat for the parade that Bill, Kathy, Martine and I had to find a different restaurant: The local Persian restaurant, Heidar Baba, was a total mob scene—both from the point of view of parking and prone bodies to step over. Fortunately we found a place a scant two blocks from the parade route that was almost empty.

I never understood why so many people were interested in the Tournament of Roses Parade. And as for camping in the streets along with all the gang members and drug deals, that was never an option for me and never will be. If I wanted to see the parade (which I don’t), TV is good enough, even with the corny announcers oohing and aahing over the 30 million Himalayan Stinkflowers lining the North Korean Friendship Float.

My guess is that many of the campers are Penn State fans in town for the Rose Bowl confrontation with USC. Many will return to their frozen hells convinced that Southern California is the place to be—not to mention the millions viewing it on television from the Keystone State and adjacent polar regions. We don’t really need or want another influx of people escaping the snows of winter only to find that neither housing nor jobs are easy to find here. Oh, well, so it goes.