Pasadena, CA - Webster and Wilson, 1936 - Campbell Residence

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Pasadena, CA - Webster and Wilson, 1936 - Campbell Residence

Postby srk1941 » Fri Feb 11, 2011 1:54 pm



Image ... 992641736/

The 1936 Campbell Residence is now for sale in Pasadena. The location is wonderful. The house is rather intact, though will need restoration. Many of the original built-in cabinets are present and in good condition. These built-in features are important character defining features of the house, and are typical of other projects by Webster and Wilson, with Honor Easton.

Residence of Dr. and Mrs. Ian Campbell, 1936
405 South Bonnie Avenue, Pasadena, California
Erle Webster and Adrian Wilson, Architects
Honor Easton, Interior Designer

The residence of Dr. and Mrs. Ian Campbell, is one of an adjacent group of houses designed for three couples by the architectural firm of Webster and Wilson. The trio of houses was featured on the cover of California Arts and Architecture, and was also awarded a Certificate of Honor by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1938 as a work of “exceptional merit.”

The Campbell residence itself was featured in several design journals of the day, including The Architect and Engineer magazine, and the interior of the Campbell residence was illustrated on the cover of Sunset magazine in February, 1938.

Dr. Ian Campbell (1899-1978) was a professor of Geology at Caltech in Pasadena. His wife Catherine, known as “Kitty” (1905-1996) a professional geologist, was the first woman to receive a PhD in geology at Harvard, and was described as a “wonderful and witty woman.” They had one son, Dugald.

Deeply proud of his Scottish roots, Ian Campbell was also widely admired by his peers and students, who remembered “his warm, unselfish, devoted service to others.” It was said that he could best be described in one word – “active.” Somewhat of a free spirit, as a young man he had travelled by motorcycle alone from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, earning a medal for his efforts from the Harley-Davidson Company.

After earning his PhD from Harvard in 1931, he took a position as assistant professor of geology at Caltech University in Pasadena. Like his wife Kitty, he was known for his sense of fun and humor, and he is said to have “given a young PhD student a sample for identification that turned out to be a kidney stone from his Norwegian elkhound.” During the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, he “ran shouting from his house, not in fear but with excitement over the occurrence of this powerful natural phenomena and its scientific implications.”

The Campbells often played badminton with two other couples from Caltech – the Davieses and the Gilberts, all of whom were thinking of buying houses. Godfrey Davies was a historian at the Huntington Library; Horace N. Gilbert was a professor of economics. Since they all enjoyed one another’s company so much, they found a large property on a cul-de-sac near Caltech, purchased it, and began interviewing architects. They had all agreed that they wanted something modern.

They spoke first to Richard Neutra, but Mrs. Gilbert thought his modernity was too severe. They next contacted Harwell Hamilton Harris, who actually drafted plans for the Campbell house , but the group ultimately went with the firm of Erle Webster and Adrian Wilson. Webster and Wilson designed three houses whose overall designs were harmonious and would work together as an ensemble, but gave each home a character of its own.

Erle Farrington Webster (1898-1971) and Adrian Jennings Wilson (1898-1988) met while working as draftsmen for the Los Angeles architectural firm Dodd and Richards in the 1920’s. After William J. Dodd died in 1930, both men stayed on with William Richards for a few years, before forming their own architectural partnership – Webster and Wilson - in 1932.

The firm of Webster and Wilson completed many projects in Southern California, including the master plan for the New Chinatown; three buildings for Y.C. Hong in Chinatown, the Davidson House (“Ship of the Desert”) in Palm Springs, and several branches of the National Cash Register Company. On many of these projects, they collaborated with interior designer Honor Easton.

Honor Easton (1906-1972) came from a family with strong ties to both the decorative arts and Pasadena architecture. Her maternal uncle was Elbert Hubbard, an early proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement, who founded and ran the Roycroft Studios in East Aurora, New York. The Roycroft Studios was a handicraft community which produced objects and prints of fine quality. Elbert Hubbard and his wife Alice were killed when the Lusitania was sunk in 1915. Honor Easton’s father Louis B. Easton was a self-taught house designer and builder in Pasadena. In the years from 1904-15 he created about twenty-five exceptionally designed and built Arts and Crafts houses.

Honor Easton met Erle Webster in the early 1930’s, when they were both heavily involved in the small but thriving Los Angeles art community. By the middle 1930’s, Honor Easton had begun collaborating with Webster and Wilson on architectural projects, designing the interiors and custom designed furniture. The furniture, generally in solid birch and maple, was produced by Paul R. Williams, a cabinetmaker in Glendale (NOT the architect Paul R. Williams), who also collaborated with architect Richard Neutra. Williams was known for producing furniture of exceptional quality.

The collaboration between Honor Easton and Erle Webster was so successful that they were married in August, 1937.

Webster and Wilson, with Honor Easton, were known for their innovative belief in the collaborative process, which they felt yielded superior results. By early collaboration between client, architect, interior designer, landscape architect, and sometimes even artist or color consultant (artist and muralist Millard Sheets collaborated on some projects), a more satisfying, successful, organic creation would develop. Before the architects began their design process, the client’s needs and preferences had been established, and the arrangement and placement of furniture had been thought out, as well as the relationship between the interiors of the house and the outdoor spaces and functions.

For the Bonnie Avenue ensemble, the design team worked with the three clients to determine both their individual and collective requirements. Webster pointed out that “The use of the rooms and their relation to the outdoors and to one another was given first consideration and a sense of openness between the rooms and to the outside was sought rather than a separation. The placing of all furniture, whether fixed or moveable was considered as a part of the design of the rooms rather than merely a matter of the decoration. The treatment of the exteriors was simply and naturally developed from the plan with a resulting harmonious character that is not without pleasing variety in form and detail.”

The three houses were designed in a simple, modern manner, from the inside out, without any constraints in terms of historicist or period styles. The modernity was rational and functional, yet elegant and stylish.

For the shared backyard, which would contain a joint badminton court, the garages of the houses were moved forward fronting the street, and made a part of the houses, two of the garages sharing a common wall. The strategic grouping of garages and service areas created a barrier on the street side, providing private outdoor dining and living spaces adjacent to each house, with easy access and relationship from inside, and afforded the most spacious communal recreation area behind the three houses.

The houses were situated to take advantage of established planting on two sides of the property, with an old eucalyptus windbreak and a large old oak giving privacy from adjacent properties.
Webster also observed that “in addition to the obvious advantages of coordinated planning to be derived from group housing, there is also a definite economy of construction resulting from the multiple project which makes such a scheme worth careful consideration.”

The houses were designed to coexist in harmony, with design touches which would unify them. For example, all three houses featured corner windows as a modern design detail. But they were also designed so that each had its own unique character. While the Campbell Residence featured wood-framed casement windows, the Davies and Gilbert Homes had steel-framed casement windows.

The houses, designed in May, 1936, were built by contractor J.R. Bennett of Pasadena, and completed in November of 1936.


For the home of Ian and Kitty Campbell, Webster, Wilson and Easton spent much time carefully analyzing the Campbell’s lifestyle and coming up with solutions to their design needs. The placement of all of the furniture, whether moveable or built-in, was considered before the plan for the house took shape. The Campbells were encouraged to participate in the planning process. Kitty Campbell recalled that “we would lie awake nights thinking about what we could build in and how it would work.”

Both Webster and Easton were accomplished artists, and the use of color was carefully planned in all of their projects. At the Campbell House, a Rockwell Kent reproduction above the living room fireplace set the tone for the colors of the main living/dining room.

The parties at the Campbell house were legendary. In addition to numerous PhD dinners, spring petrology garden parties, and wassails (where Porcupine Punch was served – mulled wine with lemons pierced all over with cloves – the porcupines), their most highly anticipated event was the annual Christmas “Adam,” held the night before Christmas “Eve”. The party was held in two parts, with a more subdued gathering in the early afternoon for Caltech staff and faculty, and old friends. Later that evening, another party was held for the students. “One always had the sneaking suspicion that the Campbells enjoyed the student party more. After eating and drinking everything in sight and staying way beyond any reasonable hour, the students departed with a feeling that someone truly cared about them.”


Steven Keylon
Village Green - National Historic Landmark

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