Made for Forever

Gamble House, Pasadena. Front Entry. September, 2012.

Built to Last
California is unrelentingly young. We have no Anasazi ruins, no medieval castles, no Renaissance cathedrals. But we love our historic treasures all the same. Pasadena is known for her Arts and Crafts bungalows. And the queen of those bungalows is the Gamble House, built in 1907-1908.

This old house, built of wood, copper, and heart, art glass and ingenuity, is fiercely protected. A docent leads our tour, reminding us not to tread on the edges of the original rugs. She lovingly illuminates the details with a tiny flashlight: the tile facing the dining room fireplace was designed to match a beloved Tiffany bowl, still at rest on the table.

Mrs. Gamble brought that bowl with her to California, the docent tells us. We see this throughout the house, a decorative detail from pottery reflected back in carved paneling, in fireplace surrounds, in writing desks.

It stuns me, the prospect of capturing details from a decorative bowl, breathing longevity into the design, fettering it in tile, wood, stone. I suppose Mrs. Gamble’s children were not in the habit of careening about the house, breaking their mother’s Rookwood vases–the ones whose motif were copied in the semiprecious stone inlay decorating the bedroom furniture.

Or maybe, the echo of those motifs, copied from fragile bowl and vase into durable tile and wood, stone and metal, sounded the intention to preserve their beauty beyond the lifespan of an earthen vessel. 

Everywhere, this house holds expectations of permanence. You see it even–especially–in the construction. The craftsmanship on display is phenomenal.

Construction Detail: Roof Over Deck.

Workers hewed wood, then pinned it, then wedged it in place, and a joint resulted. Were these workers proud of their ability, or did it come to them like breath? 
The roof, a convocation of carefully joined joists, beams, posts, overwhelms me. Our docent is telling us that the rafter tails have been restored, as they were beginning to show signs of wear. She displays a “before” photo, and I’m grateful that some people are passionate about, draw inspiration from, old houses. 
Deck Roof and Copper Downspouts. Restored Rafter Tails.

How many joints hold these 8,000 square feet together? This house, we’re told, was designed, built, and furnished in one year. How many people toiled here, blowing breath warm and damp onto chilled fingers on a February morning, pressing on, hewing, pinning, and wedging? Could they imagine that 100 years later, we’d pass through with reverence, trodding gently on the perfectly-laid hardwood floors inside? Did they know that docents would lead us through the curated interior as if we were refugees from plastic and aluminum, and she, a relief worker showing us to the tent where inspiration is rationed? 

The Gamble House. 

We return the next morning, before the building opens. The docent told us the day before: The door faces east. Imagine that art glass, bathed in morning light, filling this entry hall with color.

Front Door in Morning Light. 

We are outside, of course. The door is still locked. I must imagine that light she described. A church’s playground carries the sound of children laughing across the morning air, an exclamation point to the holiness of a Sunday morning.

Image bearers, we are. I think of God breathing life, breathing a soul, into Adam. I imagine workers, breathing warm on chill fingers. I picture children, huffing up the stairs after a day at school. I see Mrs. Gamble, drawing inspiration (breath, yes?) from a pottery bowl.

I stand before the glowing doors of Gamble House, and I breathe. 

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Genesis 2:7 (KJV)

I’m linking with Jennifer Lee today for God-Bumps and God-Incidences.

And with Duane Scott for Unwrapping His Promises.

Please visit.