The final months of the Greene & Greene were reminiscent of preparations for a large family wedding. Deadlines were set and broken as “final” alterations compounded and time calculations protracted. Lists of furnishings and exterior details were trimmed at breakfast, only to be added back at bedtime. In July of 1988, just before we closed up the first floor, we decided to exhibit the house at the NAME National in So. California as a work-in-progress. The excitement generated there convinced us we could deliver by Thanksgiving.
The second story went together relatively quickly. It consisted of a master bedroom, dressing room, closet, bath and sleeping porch—living quarters without the showcase aspect of the main floor.
The sleeping porch was off the master bedroom. The porch deck on the full-size house was covered in a pleasantly worn and slightly moldy floor cloth—a project right up my alley. I made it from muslin stiffened with watered-down Elmer’s white glue and painted it a neutral red-brown. As I had hoped, the colored dried unevenly, looking faded in spots. The thin layer of Washington State mold that formed on the surface added a minor but not insignificant sense of reality to the porch. I spray-fixed it and glued it down.
The unexpected travail was the roofing; there were nine different sections overhanging the first floor, at angles not shown on ordinary protractors. When I gave up and went to bed, Noel stayed up later than usual, arguing aloud with Charles & Henry. It wasn’t so bad when we were both wrestling them, but two against one was a bit much We saw our deadline slipping out from under us and postponed delivery until January.
As the rooflines took shape, we discovered how graceful they were, and, once again, how each design element complemented the whole, helping to bring together all the pieces of the puzzle The second story was a present; just two pieces comprising a simple peaked roof. The oddity was that the roof of the full-size Gamble House was covered in a rather large white gravel presumably to deflect the California heat. I faithfully recreated the look with white bird gravel over tarred muslin. On the original house, the effect was not particularly apparent from ground level, but on the miniature, even after toning-down the white with aging paints, it was more eye-catching than we had hoped. Months later, when we stopped at the Gamble House on our way to delivery, we found it had been re-roofed in a subtler material since our last visit. Charles & Henry hadn’t breathed a word.
A more gratifying exterior element was the landscaping. In Pasadena, creeping fig, a neutral green, small-leafed vine hugs the walls of the Gamble House terrace. Several years before the Greene & Greene, my front garden had evolved into a miniature research plot. One of the more prolific plants was the herb creeping wooly thyme, an excellent miniaturization of creeping fig. It dries well, and its fuzzy, grey-green foliage and woody stems provided the needed color and texture. The green turned out to be another echo of the Greene’s signature aged-green copper rain collectors and downspouts—yet another example of their masterful sense of balance and color.
The excitement of the final weeks was underscored by our not wanting to let go, along with trepidations that this project, this all-consuming love story/ghost story, would never, could never end.
On January 7, 1989, the bride was ready–the house was officially completed, 80 years less one day after the original was finished. We made an 11th hour decision to celebrate by inviting friends to view the house and donate some money to a pet project—the restoration of the local school district’s Steinway grand piano. I began to sense trouble when the newspaper called to verify the date for the Community Events Calendar. I declined, explaining we had a tiny home and this was not a public event. At 4:00 p.m. on a stormy Sunday, two hundred people and a string trio crowded in to see the house and contribute $1200 to the piano project. On January 11 we left for delivery in Tucson, via Pasadena by invitation of the curator of the Gamble House Museum.
We drove quietly from Pasadena to Tucson, nervous about the delivery, but also wondering how we could ever start a new project. We knew this was the peak, the best and most complex house we would ever make, and now our part was done. It was late afternoon when we arrived. To beat the dark, we quickly moved the house to the clients’, Pat & Walter Arnell, then-small museum. They then took us out to eat and relax after the long drive.
Walking back from their car to the house, Walter showed us his English garden, complete with a pond, and swans. An enormous swan wandered our way, causing Walter to chuckle, “Watch out for that one—those wings could break your leg!” We all laughed. Much later, while we were settling in to our guest bedroom, Noel, still a smoker, decided he needed a cigarette–his last pack was in our van, parked across the property by the museum. Off he went into the dark, unsure of the relative geography. Cigarettes in hand, he started back for the almost dark house, walking a little faster when he noted the whereabouts of the swan. The swan noted Noel, and began to charge. Noel ran for the house. Searching frantically for a way in, he grabbed the first doorknob with a light behind it, yanked it open and ran straight in to Pat Arnell’s bedroom. Wish I knew which one screamed louder.
The Greene & Greene epic would not have come into being were it not for the Arnells, the instigators, supporters, and now owners of the house. We are ever grateful for having had the chance to create such a thing, and that it is now housed in a beautiful museum, the Tucson Mini Time Machine. On the way home we stopped for the night at a Mom & Pop motel in the desert, with a small Japanese restaurant across the highway. There was nothing else around. The restaurant was a family affair, with Pop waiting tables, Mom and Grandmom cooking, and the kids doing their homework at an empty table. Over sushi and hot saki Noel said he wanted to start painting again. I said I wanted to write more than miniatures how-to’s. We shook on it–from then on, weekends belonged to painting and writing, weekdays for miniatures. At home, party was over, the bride gone–we felt like the parents after the reception. Not only was the worktable empty, but the ghosts of Charles & Henry were gone, presumably back to the Gamble House library to haunt the architectural students and museum staff.