On a trip to Los Angeles, I decided to take a short trip to Pasadena to visit the many homes used there as filming locations. One of those is the Doc Brown House from the Back to the Future film series. It’s a famous house with plenty of architectural panache on its own, without the connection to the blockbuster movies.
“Here’s a red-letter date in the history of science, November 5, 1955. That was the day I invented time travel. I remember it vividly. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a clock, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the edge of the sink. And when I came to I had a revelation, a picture, a picture in my head, a picture of this. This is what makes time travel possible. The flux capacitor.”
Welcome to what is known as the Gamble House. Built in 1909 as a winter residence for David and Mary Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble company.
Designed by the architecture firm Greene & Greene, the craftsman style home is a National Historic Landmark. In 1966 it was made a gift by the Gamble family to the City of Pasadena in a joint agreement with the University of Southern California.
The house’s design reflected the Gambles’ love of nature as flowers and trees were brought to the interior—creating pictures in wood, metal, art glass, and semi-precious stone. The house displays a strong influence of Japanese architecture.
How incredible is this entrance? The custom woodwork and craftsmanship displayed in the glass is beautiful.
The mission of The Gamble House is to inspire the public’s appreciation and understanding of fine historic architecture through the example of The Gamble House, the most complete and best-preserved work of American Arts and Crafts architects Charles and Henry Greene.
And what a work it is. Just roaming the grounds gives you an idea of the genius of Greene and Greene. What amazing detail! They truly don’t make ’em like the used to.
Even this gutter system has style.
Around the back are some lovely gardens with a rustic retaining wall. The light fixture shows the Japanese influence on the design of the home.
Anyway, in the movie, after hearing the nonsense tales of the future from “Futureboy” Marty (“Ronald Reagan is President? Who’s Vice President? Jerry Lewis?!”) Doc runs from the main house to the Garage. Locked outside, Marty convinces Doc he is who he says he is through the wooden door.
In 1985, Doc is living in the garage/carriage house. Marty skateboards past a Burger King and next to the parking lot is Doc’s 1985 home – the garage of the 1955 Brown family mansion. In 1962, Doc’s mansion burned down and he sold the land to developers. In 1985 that land houses a Burger King.
Doc didn’t open when I tried to tell him about the Flux Capacitor.
Knock knock – Doc? Are you there?
The Gamble House served as the Doc Brown House for exterior shots only – the interiors were shot at the nearby Blacker House.
Another Greene and Greene design, the Blacker House was built in 1907. Like the Gamble House, this one is another amazing example of the craftsman style. So amazing, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Blacker House is a private residence and is not open for tours.
An interesting tidbit on the history of the Blacker House is that the owners in the 1950s picked apart the custom made interior furnishings for sale. They bought the home for $1 million, and this yard sale-style sale of the custom chandeliers and lamps made more than that. This breaking up of the custom furnishings prompted the city council to pass an emergency ordinance to prevent this type of thing from happening again.
Many of the homes of Back to the Future’s Hill Valley are in Pasadena. Lovely, tree-lined Bushnell Avenue is home to many, um, homes from the film. In addition to Back to the Future, many other famous filming locations can be found here. I’ll soon cover those in future blog posts.
For instance, you should visit the 1955 Biff Tannen House at 1809 Bushnell Avenue, South Pasadena, CA. Remember, Biff lived with his grandma, Gertrude. I can imagine the bully Biff leaving home and throwing the neighbor kids’ ball onto a nearby porch while Marty communicated with Doc over a walkie-talkie.
“Give us our ball back!”
“What Ball? This ball? You want it back? Go get it! Hahaha”
Lorraine falls in love with George when he dropped from this tree while peeping into her window. After he falls, he was hit by Lorraine’s father’s car. In the original Back to the Future, Marty saves his dad from his grandpa’s car – and becomes the object of Lorraine’s Florence Nightengale-turned-Oedipus affection.
The Gamble House is located at 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena, CA. You’re free to visit the exterior but to see the inside you need to buy tickets. Visit the Gamble House website to book your spot.
Now make like a tree, and get outta here. Sorry, I know that was about as funny as a screen door on a battleship.