OUR STORY THROUGH THEIR EYES:
Her “Love at First Sight” Is Still Going Strong
By Chini Johnson-Taylor, Gamble House History Committee
Sue Zanteson first stepped inside the Gamble House doors to attend a lecture hosted by the American Society of Interior Designers. Her first impression was “love at first sight. The neatness and simplicity of the House, with nothing extraneous, was straightforward and well done”—a description that could also perfectly describe Sue.
The experience stuck with her and, a few years later, she took the advice of Jean Smith (Docent Class of 1975 and, at 95, still an Associate Docent) and joined the Docent Council. The Gamble House became a family affair when both of her sisters-in-law, Lois Zanteson (Class of 1982) and Aline Kuhnle (Class of 1985), joined her.
Docent training for the Class of 1976 was very much like it is now, except sessions were on weekdays. Hold onto your hats, folks, the graduation luncheon for the 12 new Docents, prepared by the Hospitality Committee, was held in the Dining Room! Sue explained that James Gamble was very much involved and wanted the House to feel and be treated like a home. “We had many All-Docent Meetings in the Living Room where the early birds got to sit on the couches and the rest on folding chairs. They weren’t heirlooms then,” she explained.
Sue spoke glowingly of fellow Docents Doris Gertmenian, Glenice Hershberger, Betty Ullner, Kay Nishimoto, and Virginia Martens, saying, “We had a lot of fun and made many dear friends.” Together they got the job done. She remembered Randell Makinson, then Curator, announcing at their graduation luncheon: “Don’t join if you want your picture in the society pages—we work here.”
And, Sue said, “that’s the way it was. We would close the House during the month of May, and Docents did housework as well as washed and made curtains and crocheted bedspreads.” She also let us know that runover tours are nothing new. A dollar was collected from each guest at the front door and some found themselves lingering beyond the advertised end time—just like today.
GREETING THE SPIRITS AMONG US
One March evening in 1980, Sue was on hand to watch visitors experience a little more than usually meets the eye…
She was asked to help chaperone a visit by the Psychic Science Investigators, based in Fullerton. A group of 21 spread throughout the House to use their sixth senses to detect past events and spirits. They were not disappointed—read all about it in the accompanying sidebar.
A COMMITMENT TO THE KITCHEN ARTS
We can thank Sue for the transformation of the basement laundry room into a caterer’s kitchen. Long before the Historic Structure Report, the Wednesday Luncheons were prepared in the historic upstairs Kitchen and served at the lower level. While Luncheon Committee Chair in the late 1970s, Sue picked out a stove and dishwasher, and the storage cabinets were installed as well. “The three sinks/laundry were original and their stopping up was original” too, Sue said.
Proud of the culinary talents that abounded—“many of our parties were pot luck with high-end hors d’oeuvres”—Sue saw that they were celebrated in the 1987 Docent cookbook project, which she chaired.
Sue explained that the luncheons, at $3 apiece, were open to Docents and friends, Pasadena city administrators, and faculty from the neighboring Pacific Oaks College. Here’s another hold-your-hat moment: “Ashtrays were placed on the tables during the luncheon. However, that did not last long.” During this part of our conversation, we were joined by then-Curator Anne Mallek, who put the practice in perspective. “The House was being used in a different way, but it was being loved and preserved.”
In closing, Sue expressed thanks for the many opportunities the Docent Council has provided, including knowledge-expanding travel to England (with Dr. Bob Winter on board), to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater outside Pittsburgh, and twice to Chicago to study architecturally important landmarks.
Through it all runs a forthright thread. Her advice to new Docents, offered with a chuckle, is: “Enjoy it—you know more than most guests!”
Sue became a member of the Docent Council in 1976 and served as President in 1981-82. She remains a stalwart member of the Luncheon Committee having served (pun intended) for nearly 40 years. Sue also contributed as a First and Second Vice President, and Parliamentarian; and by leading the Docent Training, Nominations, and Cookbook committees.