Education and Early Career: A Voyage of Discovery
“A true architect builds for others; not for himself alone.”
Charles Sumner Greene, from his unpublished novel Thais Thayer, ca. 1914
In February 1901, Charles married Alice Gordon White, a young English heiress whose family he had met in Pasadena. Soon, the couple departed on a four-month honeymoon tour that included Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Florence, Venice, Paris, London, and the English countryside. Charles recorded their journey in more than 320 photographs and the occasional watercolor, focusing most often on picturesque ruins and rural landscapes.
He and Alice also made a special trip to Scotland to see Edinburgh and the Glasgow International Exhibition, where they likely encountered the work of architect-designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928). The couple also visited the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on their return trip to the United States, which included a joint exhibit by Gustav Stickley’s United Crafts and the Boston-based Grueby Faience Co. This was perhaps Charles Greene’s first introduction to Stickley’s simple and “honest” oak furniture, examples of which would later appear in several Greene and Greene commissions, including the Culbertson and Gamble houses. The Greenes would later specify Grueby tiles for fireplace surrounds in the Blacker, Irwin, and Cole houses.
Soon after their return to Pasadena, the newlyweds purchased a lot overlooking the Arroyo Seco. Situating their new home near a mature native oak tree, they called it Oakholm in tribute to its surroundings. Charles would expand the one-story, two-bedroom structure over the next thirteen years to accommodate his growing family, creating his personal and architectural utopia. This included the careful planning of brick-and-cobblestone retaining walls, brick sidewalks, and wooden pergolas, elements that integrated house with landscape. In just over six years, he designed houses for ten properties in the Park Place tract along the scenic arroyo. Opportunity and location united, giving free rein to Charles’ creative powers.
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