USC to Relinquish Control of the Gamble House in Pasadena

Published : Thursday, October 17, 2019 | 5:12 AM

The City of Pasadena will soon transfer operations of one of Pasadena’s most famous landmarks – the Gamble House at 4 Westmoreland Place – from the University of Southern California to the newly organized Gamble House Conservancy, a local nonprofit purposely established to protect and preserve the property to “nationally recognized standards of conservation,” and to oversee its operations as a historic site and a house museum.

Last week, the Pasadena City Council voted to approve Mayor Terry Tornek’s recommendation to amend a 1966 agreement between the heirs of the Gamble family, the City, and USC and to allow the Gamble House Conservancy to take over operations of the City-owned crown jewel, which has become an international pilgrimage site for devotees of the Arts and Crafts style in American architecture.

The transfer will require court approval, since the original donors and the signers of the agreement are deceased, according to a staff report Tornek presented before the City Council. Tornek serves on the Gamble House’s board of governors.

For over 50 years, USC has operated the Gamble House, built by Greene and Greene in 1909 and gifted by the Gamble family to the City of Pasadena in 1966, with a stipulation that the university manage its operations.

In 1978, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark.

USC’s School of Architecture ran academic programs related to the Gamble House, including a resident scholar program, which each year allows two USC architecture students to live in the house.

Under USC’s stewardship, the Gamble House became a popular destination for the general public, offering regular tours of the house as well as the surrounding Arroyo Terrace neighborhood, a National Register historic district that’s home to nine Greene and Greene houses and the works of other noted architects.

The house has also been prominently featured in the “Back to the Future” movie series, as well as in “Zathura,” a 2005 science fiction film.

With the transfer of operations, Tornek said USC’s academic programs will continue at the Gamble House, and the university will still have access to its meeting rooms.

“Although operating, preserving, maintaining and repairing the Gamble House is a significant financial commitment that USC was well suited to take on in 1966, circumstances have changed significantly since then such that now there is a significant endowment in place that allows the Gamble House to be self-supporting,” Tornek wrote in the report. “Accordingly, the parties to the original 1966 Agreement (the Gamble Heirs, the City and the University) agree that transferring operations of the Gamble House to a charitable foundation will best serve the Gamble House going forward.”

The City Council’s approval will authorize the City Manager to finalize negotiations about amending the 1966 agreement. Tornek indicated the actual transfer could be finalized by the end of this year.

Once the court approves the amendment, the City will enter into a new operating agreement with the Gamble House Conservancy, granting the Conservancy the right, license and privilege to use the City-owned Gamble House.

The staff report showed the initial term of the license would be 35 years, with additional renewal periods of 10 years each.

The report also said the Conservancy would operate and maintain the Gamble House at its expense.

The City will continue to pay for all utilities, landscaping, property insurance, and certain property maintenance “in a manner consistent with historical practice.”

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