OUR STORY THROUGH THEIR EYES:
Fueled by a Passion for Preservation and Friendship
By Lynne Mircheff, Gamble House History Committee
“It’s just been so much fun!” exclaimed Betty Ullner as she lovingly reminisced about her nearly half-century involvement with The Gamble House. During that time she has volunteered countless hours as a Docent, served as President of the Docent Council, labored tirelessly for numerous committees, and even worked several years as a Staff Secretary. Through it all she has made many lifelong friends who have kept her coming back to the House year after year.
As a member of the third Docent Class, that of 1969, Betty began her commitment to The Gamble House when her children were still young. In the early days of the public Gamble House, one needed a sponsor to be considered. Betty’s sponsor was her friend and fellow Monterey Park resident, June Thompson. Most of the Docents then had one major thing in common: They were wives of architects and shared a love of great architecture.
Early Docents did almost everything the House needed, including giving tours and cleaning. They worked under the training and guidance of a young Randell Makinson, whom they knew as “Randy.” One or two afternoons a week, the ladies gave informal tours, as one would to a friend, for $1. Randell’s advice was to let people look and ask questions, and to make three points per room. Of course, present-day Docents are familiar with this advice.
Things were very different at The Gamble House then, before many in our country knew or even cared much about preservation. “Of course, none of us knew what we were doing back then,” Betty recalled. Docents could regularly be found cleaning the House and furniture, and the House was closed every August to let the Docents do an in-depth job―all quite different than the conservation-minded cleaning undertaken today.
Betty recalled that around 1970 the Robinson House furniture was donated to The Gamble House. Upon its arrival, she was instructed to take the chairs home in her car and wash them with a mixture of Tide, ammonia, and water. Of course, Betty carried out her instructions with alacrity.
Social events such as dinners were regularly held on the Dining Room table and meetings were in the Living Room. Before each tour, Docents gathered at the Kitchen breakfast table where they also took their lunch.
TAKING THE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE
Betty worked as a Docent until 1973 when she decided to take some time off. In 1980, she returned and took a position as Secretary, serving for three years along with fellow House staffers Randell Makinson, Jane Unruh, and Jean Harris. At that time, Betty also resumed her duties as a Docent, working tirelessly for the House and eventually being elected President of the Docent Council in 1986. The 1986–87 term was a very active year for the council, recalled Betty, whose children were grown by the time. “I survived the challenge and would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity. It is a full-time job but very rewarding.” Betty gratefully recounted the great assistance and cooperation she got from her fellow Docents.
Docent meetings were filled with fun and frivolity. Members of the Rose & Crane Society―former Docent Council Presidents―would sing a song specially composed by Doris Gertmenian or Dordo Byles for the outgoing President. On the occasion of President Diana Vlacich’s departure, Doris wrote custom lyrics to the tune of “Carolina in the Morning,” which all the ex-Presidents enthusiastically sang.
One of the more exciting events in the House’s history took place under Betty’s watch: a medium-sized earthquake. Betty was working at the desk in Mr. Gamble’s Den while Kelly Sutherlin McLeod was in the attic with a group of preservationists and a reporter. The House creaked and moaned, but fortunately no panic ensued. Everyone in the House calmly filed out and on to the front lawn to await the all-clear. The beloved wooden structure had taken the moderate quake in stride.
ESPIRT DE ARTS & CRAFTS CORPS
Possibly Betty’s favorite memory of the House is of numerous lifelong friends and the fun she has had with them. She spoke especially warmly of the inspiration of ex-Presidents Doris Gertmenian (who served three terms) and Virginia Martens, both of whom she said were willing to do anything for the House. Betty also forged a friendship with Randell Makinson that lasted until his death in 2013.
The House continues to be a major focus of Betty’s life. While she retired as a Coordinator a couple of years ago, she remains active with the Luncheon Committee. Betty has been a member of this group since its formation around 1970 and relishes her friendship with other members including Pat Lem and John Azar. Betty also helps with special events such as Octoberfest.
Friendship originally brought Betty Ullner to The Gamble House and lifelong friends made at the House continue to fuel her love and commitment to come back year after year.
A California native, the former Betty Giesbrecht spent her early years in southwest Los Angeles, an area now known as Watts. Later her family moved and she attended Manual Arts High School in Exposition Park near the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. After graduation, Betty began work at Title Insurance & Trust Company in Los Angeles with an intervening four-year stint in the U.S. Navy. In 1947 she met her future husband, Gustav Ullner, an aspiring architect, at a Hollywood Palladium big band dance. They married in 1953 and had two children, Michael and Janet.