Gamble House Tour Review

The Gamble House in Pasadena, California is an exemplar of Arts and Crafts architecture. A variety of docent-led tours are offered throughout the week, and the relatively low price (as compared to other architectural tours around Los Angeles) coupled with the intriguing style and history of the home make this a popular option for visitors to Southern California. In this post, we’ll share photos from Gamble House, and offer a review of whether touring Gamble House is worth your time and money.

For starters, you might wonder why this house? If you only have limited time in California and want to see iconic architecture, why not a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Los Angeles or Midcentury Modern home in Palm Springs? Fair question, and while there are a variety of iconic homes and styles throughout Southern California, American Craftsman is arguably the most distinctly Californian.

Architects Charles and Henry Greene are the most renowned practitioners of the American Craftsman architectural movement, and were based in Pasadena. Their fingerprints are all over the city, and many of Pasadena’s most iconic landmarks were designed by the firm of Greene & Greene. Of their work, the Gamble House–built in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company–is the most well known. Gamble House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978, and is now owned by the City of Pasadena, with tours being operated by the University of Southern California…

I think Disneyland fans will especially enjoy Gamble House. This is basically Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa in residential form. While that hotel was influenced by a variety of places (including the Ahwahnee Hotel ugh Majestical Yosemite Hotel), it’s pretty easy to see the similarities, and elements of the Grand Californian that were lifted directly from Gamble House.

As far as a review goes, Gamble House is incredibly interesting as far as residential architecture goes, and the docents leading the tours are passionate and knowledgeable about the home. There were two docents offering tours the day we visited, and both had been doing them for decades.

With that said, tours of houses are not going to be for everyone. If you’re not interested in architecture, there’s not going to be any appeal to this for you. The only famous person who has lived here is Doc Brown, the home’s history is entirely derived from its architecture, and the house is not noticeably haunted. Rather, it’s a ‘beauty in the details’ type of place.

There’s absolutely no grandiosity to Gamble House. If you want something ostentatious and lavish, you’ll have to drive north a few hours to Hearst Castle, which is also awesome, but for very different reasons. Gamble House has more in common with your home than it does a place like Versailles. It’s the subtle touches and craftsmanship that make Gamble House an interesting study.

Kids are proactively provided with a scavenger hunt sheet for the tour by the docents before the tour even starts, which should tell you everything you need to know about its appropriateness for small children.

With that said, we absolutely love the Gamble House, and would recommend it without hesitation to those interested in residential architecture, generally, or the Arts & Crafts movement, specifically.

The Gamble House is a popular point of interest for tourists, likely because it’s one of the most approachable, noteworthy homes for touring. While reservations are available, there’s usually plenty of walk-up availability, making it something you can do on a whim. It’s also relatively inexpensive, with tours starting at $8 per person. This puts it right up there with the Hollyhock House as our top recommendations for a place to tour.

This stands in stark contrast with, say, the Stahl House, which has pricing starting at $60/person and sells out months in advance. (No knock on that house–we’ve wanted to tour it for a while, as it looks stunning.)

In terms of tips for touring the Gamble House, I’d probably recommend going on one of the normal hour-long tours that are offered regularly Thursdays through Sundays. This is a good starter tour, and is going to be most appealing for the majority of visitors.

The specialty tours (Behind the Velvet Ropes, Details & Joinery, and Fire & Light) all sound fascinating, the prices are much steeper. I’ve never done any of those, so I cannot speak to their quality, but I’m guessing they’re well-done.

While the ‘Brown Bag Tuesday’ tour is roughly half the price of a normal tour, it’s also less than half the duration, and felt very rushed. You also don’t see the entirety of the house this way–including any of the upstairs rooms. Irrespective of your interest in architecture, the hour-long tour is most definitely not too long.

Go directly to that one without getting your feet wet with the shorter tour. That is, unless your only option is the shorter one due to vacation scheduling or what have you. Seeing the downstairs for twenty minutes is better than seeing nothing at all.

As of late Summer 2017, photography is now allowed inside the Gamble House. We specifically returned to the Gamble House in light of this rule change, and were initially told (along with three other guests who brought theirs) that DSLRs were not allowed. We asked why, since this is not mentioned on the website, and nebulous answers were given.

Ultimately, the docents allowed us to take DSLR photos, but warned that they might be changing the rule back. So, your mileage may vary on that one.

If you do aim to take photos inside the Gamble House, I do recommend a DSLR. The house is dimly-lit, and you’ll want a better sensor and faster lens (f/2.8 or better). An ultra wide angle lens is also ideal, as some of the spaces are fairly small. Phone cameras are getting better and better, but this is not an ideal scenario for their small sensors.

You’ll also need to be quick, as a few of the rooms you enter are cramped spaces, and if you’re not the first person into the room, you’re not going to get any photos of it. Other rooms, such as the one above, are far easier to photograph, as you cannot step beyond the velvet ropes.

My absolute favorite part of the Gamble House was the entryway. Between the beautiful stained glass door and the way light seeped through it to the interlocking wood of the bannister, this area was absolutely enchanting.

The photos don’t even begin to do it justice. Then again, that’s probably true of the entire house. The dim, orange lighting works better on the eyes than it does the camera.

The spacious living room with reading area and fireplace was another highlight. Thanks to large windows opposite the fireplace, this room was not quite as dim as the rest.

Aside from the general recommendation that you do the normal tour and that sampling of photography tips, there’s not a ton to know about the Gamble House to plan your visit. Free parking is available in front of the Gamble House, and on various other side streets in the area. In addition to seeing the Gamble House, I’d recommend driving around the area to see other Greene & Greene houses. A few blocks away, you can also see the Millard House/La Miniatura by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Overall, I’d highly recommend a tour of the Gamble House in Pasadena. It’s one of the best options for seeing landmark historic residential architecture in Southern California, and of a style that proliferated in California. Depending upon where your travels in California take you, Pasadena might seem a bit out of the way, but it’s really not all that inconvenient to Griffith Park. Moreover, Pasadena is an incredibly beautiful and relatively laid-back city, with plenty of other draws, making it worthy of at least a day of your time.

If you’re planning a trip, check out our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles or our California category of posts. For even more things to do, The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas is an exceptional resource, which is written by other locals. If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!

Your Thoughts

Have you toured the Gamble House? If so, what did you think of experience? Any other homes in Southern California that you’d recommend visiting instead? Have you done a walking tour of Pasadena? Any additional tips to add that we didn’t cover? Was Gamble House worth your time and money? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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3 replies
  1. Bob Lata
    Bob Lata says:

    Thanks for the review and photos. As former residents of South Pasadena, the Gamble House was one of our favorite places to take visitors who had interest in architecture and design. So many homes and other structures find their design roots here.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      If you ever have a week or so in California (outside of Disneyland), it’s definitely worth worth a day in Pasadena. Very easy to see the direct influences it had on the Grand Californian, too!

      Reply

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