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The Clients

Education and Early Career: The Clients

“The perfect bungalow should be designed to fit the needs of a particular owner…. The bungalow architect must study carefully the practical conditions of the problem, and the personality of the owner forms one of the most difficult and at the same time most interesting parts of it.”
~Charles Sumner Greene, in The Architect, December 1915

Charles Greene believed that acceding to an owner’s wishes too early in the design process meant losing a valuable opportunity to improve the work when construction began. Instead he advocated working “in the real spirit of adventure,” constantly changing and improving the design while maintaining a dialog with the client.

Letters and notes survive to document a few of these “adventures” with clients. Mary Gamble and D. L. James peppered their architects with a multitude of questions about details; Adelaide Tichenor insisted that Charles travel to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis for inspiration; Lucretia Garfield moved walls and windows by letter and involved her architect son in the process. When Charles Pratt complained about costs, Charles responded that he was getting not just a house, but a work of art whose value could never be measured in dollars and cents. While working on the Richardson house in Porterville, in the San Joaquin Valley, the conscientious Henry sometimes wrote his client two or three letters a day, solving everything from furnace to sewage system.

By 1915, with most of the firm’s major work behind them, these adventurous collaborations with demanding and artistically inclined clients had produced an outstanding legacy of original and refined dwellings.

Next: The New California Aesthetic


The Robert R. Blacker house garden, Pasadena, ca. 1920. From left to right: Ida Canfield Frost (sister of Nellie and Carrie), Edward Wheeler Frost, Nellie Blacker, Carrie Thorsen, William Thorsen, and Robert Blacker. Greene and Greene Archives, The Gamble House, University of Southern California

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