There have been times in our history when we have marveled at the work of brothers who altered the way we look at things: Orville and Wilbur Wright, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Parker Brothers, The Ringling Brothers and, of course, the Greene brothers! Charles Sumner Greene (1868-1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870-1954) literally changed the course of architecture on the West Coast.
They were born in Brighton, Ohio, which is now a part of Cincinnati, and grew up in St. Louis and West Virginia. Their teenage years in St. Louis afforded them the opportunity to attend the Manual Training School of Washington University (a sort of trade high school), from which they graduated in 1887 and 1888. Following their studies in St. Louis they went to MIT‘s school of architecture for two years and received their ‘certificate for completion of partial course,’ which allowed them to apprentice with an architectural firm. Both brothers did several apprenticeships in Boston, after which they followed their parents to Pasadena, Calif., in 1893. There they established their architectural firm in January of 1894, and would remain a partnership until 1922.
This trip cross-country proved to be very influential. They made a stop in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition, where they were taken by the influence of Japanese art, architecture and design, which would show up in their work after they visited the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.
Their ‘look’ is a very sophisticated prairie style, and at times is included in what we now call the Arts and Crafts movement. Remember that on the East Coast we were still experiencing the Beaux Arts movement, where ‘more is more.’ The Greenes’ most important years were from 1903 to 1909, when most of their projects were built in California. In reality, theirs was a look all its own, with subtle influences from their association with particular mentors and extensive travels. They took complete control of their projects, as many architects did in that time, acting as both architect and designer—and sometimes even as general contractor.
They took great pride in their work and had an obsessive attention to detail, from the feel and patina of handrails to the intricate design and glass selection for stained glass panes. They were known for using rare woods and metals in their designs, taking organic awareness to a new level. Both brothers, but Charles especially, saw themselves more as artists than as architects. Charles was concerned about such details as how the sunlight crossing the beams would create shadows on the exterior of the home during sunny days. This precision is what drew awareness in the wealthier circles that would eventually employ them and give them creative reign.
Their most famous home was built in Pasadena for the Gamble family, of Proctor and Gamble fame. It’s the only home open to the public today. The Greenes’ work went relatively unnoticed until the 1950’s, but now the remaining homes are carefully cared for by their owners, ensuring the legacy that these two brothers left behind.
Bruce Smith, who has authored the definitive book on Greene and Greene, will give a lecture March 4 at 7 p.m. at the Missouri History Museum Lee Auditorium. It is free and open to the public, and is co-sponsored by the History Museum and the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park.
Don’t Miss ‘Elegant Entertaining Made Easy,’ thursday, April 8
Ladue News Design Editor Alan E. Brainerd will be in the Gift Galleries of Neiman Marcus to share home
entertaining tips. Event is free - reservations preferred. Call Jamie Thurston at 994-5022.