The Ellen 5 get Rich in Pasadena…

A short 36 hours ago I set out, along with four friends, on a road trip to the beautiful city of Pasadena.  Our destination was the the historic Gamble House, where we would join others for an architectural tour of historic Pasadena with an emphasis on the works of architect brothers, Charles and Henry Greene.  This wonderful day was hosted by Fresnan Larry Balakian as one of the Parties for the Parkway which benefit the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust.  This hard working non profit organization is dedicated to preserving and restoring the San Joaquin River and to creating and protecting the River Parkway.  The River Parkway Trust offers a variety of services in their three program areas of conservation, education and recreation.

The “parties”, held throughout each year,  offer small group activities and events from frisbee golf and “whodunit” murder mysteries to wine tasting and star-gazing.  For more information about the River Parkway or upcoming parties go to and click on the Parties booklet picture.

Although not strictly a garden gazing road trip I was anticipating seeing many glorious homes in historic Pasadena surrounded by interesting and lush landscaping.  The design aesthetic of the Greene and Greene homes was based on the straight-forword use of simple materials and motifs that represented what drew many Easterners to Southern California—sunshine, the out of doors and and the yearning for a connection of the home to its surrounding natural habitat.  The Gamble House is an outstanding example of the American Arts and Crafts style architecture born of this yearning.


The Gamble House was designed by Greene and Greene in 1908 as a winter home for  David and Mary Gamble of the Proctor & Gamble Company.  The house, designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1978, is owned by the City of Pasadena and operated by the University of Southern California. Although no interior photography is permitted we did tour the inside, viewing not only the stunning architecture but the home’s furnishings–also designed by the architects specifically for this project.

Back Garden elements echo the home’s materials and feel

Proceeding from the Gamble House to the big yellow school bus to continue our tour we found ourselves listed on the tour roll sheet as “Ellen-5” and thus became known as that for the rest of the day.  If you hang with this group for long enough you may see some subtle benefits to anonymity…but that is a story for another day.  We also made the acquaintance of a dashing young Pasadena Realtor named Rich who effectively became one of us for the rest of the day.  I am not sure but I feel he may have felt it was safer not to tell us his last name so he will always be just Rich to us!

In the morning portion of our tour we saw many of Pasadena’s loveliest homes, dating from the Victorian era to modern day but predominantly in the Arts and Crafts/Craftsman and Mediterranean styles.  We learned about the architectural phenomenon known as the Bungalow Court, which was born in Pasadena and we were able to view La Miniatura, an iconic Frank Lloyd Wright designed home dating from 1923.  The residential streets appear as leafy allees by design as each street was assigned a street tree which was to remain consistent from property to property.  Although a few homeowners have fallen off the wagon over the years, it is amazing to see streets many blocks long with both sides bearing beautiful mature trees of the same species.

After a lunch stop at the ArtCenter,  a world renown educational institution for artists and designers, we hopped back on our bus heading toward the Civic Center/Downtown area.  On the way, our guide showed us many homes of architectural note, including one of the Green brothers’ family homes and the neighboring cottages he designed and built for his two spinster sisters-in-law.  Everywhere we turned we saw the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement.  It struck me that our current trend of drought tolerant plantings and uses of boulders, ground covers and bark is very complementary to these almost 100 year old structures.  They are mostly low to the ground with an emphasis on the use of shingle sided exteriors, old brick, stone and dark wood. The more natural landscaping style almost creates the illusion that the  home and the landscape are a single unit.

Our stop at the Pasadena City Hall, completed in 1927, revealed to us a stunning structure in the Spanish Colonial Style.  We had a little time to spend in the building’s courtyard which is used frequently for weddings and civic events.  Work in recent years has brought the structure into compliance with modern earthquake requirements, plumbing and wiring needed for all those things we need to plug in to run a city.  I’d say it’s good for another 90 years!  The courtyard landscaping is formal, structured and restrained.  Of note are four symmetrical, rectangular beds of matched roses.  I wondered if they might be Tournament of Roses roses in a nod to that famous yearly Pasadena event. Our guide wasn’t sure of their identification (of course, we crawled around the bases a bit looking for the silver disc id tags to no avail) but graciously contacted me after we had parted, advising that they were identified to her as David Austin ‘Heritage’.  Neither she nor I are wholly convinced that it correct–anyone out there have a thought?  Check them out below.

All in all, the Ellen 5 plus Rich had a great day!  In the company of a congenial group, shepherded by great guides from Pasadena Heritage, wined and dined by Larry B., we got to see homes and gardens which had graciously aged and been lovingly restored by people who appreciated their history and beauty. What else could be better?





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