LocalObituaries

Randell Makinson dies at 81; Greene & Greene preservation advocate

ArchitectureArts and CultureHuman InterestForest Lawn Memorial ParkWorld Columbian Exposition (1893)Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyBrad Pitt

Randell Makinson, a forceful advocate for preservation of the rambling Greene & Greene bungalows that came to be seen as graceful emblems of early 20th century California, has died. He was 81.

His death at his Pasadena home on Tuesday was caused by cancer, said officials at USC, where he was a retired member of the architecture faculty.

A USC-trained architect, Makinson was largely responsible for securing public access to Pasadena's Gamble House the only home designed by the brothers Charles and Henry Greene that outsiders regularly can tour. He also helped restore other Greene & Greene homes and never lost his enthusiasm for their elegant Craftsman simplicity, whether it was expressed in what he called "the wooden wonders" of Pasadena or an airy stone house on a Carmel cliff.

"It's just 200 feet off a busy highway and yet, once through the gate and onto that rocky bluff, all the problems of the day are gone," he said of the Carmel house in a 1998 USC publication. "Throw away your Prozac! You're in a magical, timeless place."

His enthusiasm for homes and furnishings designed by the Greenes was contagious, said Gamble House director Ted Bosley.

"People who may never have heard about them would walk away from a conversation with Randell thinking they'd just discovered the next Picasso," he told The Times.

Born in Los Angeles on June 29, 1932, and raised in Glendale, Randell Lee Makinson sensed early in life that he wanted to be an architect. On his way to school, he took note of the houses. He felt duped, he later told interviewers, when he realized that what appeared to be Spanish-style beams poking through a home's stucco were just chunks of dark wood affixed to the exterior.

In 1954, he was a third-year student at USC's architecture school when a visiting professor observed that the school had only one slide photograph of the Greene brothers' work. By then many of their 200 or so California homes had been demolished. An owner or two even opted for a more modern, ranch-style look by shearing off their houses' second stories.

"For decades, no one gave a darn about bungalows, Greene & Greene, (or) older houses," Makinson told a Times reporter in 2005. He said a onetime prospective buyer of the 1908 Gamble House wanted to slap a coat of white on its teak and mahogany walls. At another point, a developer was talking about acquiring the block for a fancy high-rise.

When the young Makinson took his professor's cue and set up a camera tripod outside the Gamble House, a tall, unsmiling man in a dark suit came out and demanded an explanation. An heir to the Procter & Gamble soap fortune, Cecil Gamble was satisfied with what he heard and offered the fledgling architect a guided tour.

"In the next three-and-a-half hours, I saw his garden, his azaleas, his gardenias and his birds," Makinson said. "He showed me the entire house, basement to third floor, and we ended up sitting on the carpet, looking at the blueprint."

For Makinson, it was the start of a lengthy friendship with the Gambles and a lifelong enthusiasm for their home's designers.

Charles Sumner Greene and his younger brother Henry Mather Greene were Midwesterners who graduated from MIT and, in 1893, joined their retiree parents in Pasadena. On the way, they stopped at the Chicago World's Fair, where they were moved by the architectural simplicity of a replica Japanese temple.

While Japanese touches pepper their work — a frieze in the Gamble House shows Mt. Fuji — the Greenes "attempted with an almost religious zeal," to tailor homes to the demands of their surroundings and the tastes of their owners, Makinson wrote in a 1977 book.

In Pasadena and Los Angeles, their "ultimate bungalows," as Makinson called them, were built with dark shingled exteriors, high ceilings, long overhangs, sleeping porches, exposed beams, intricate woodwork, and leaded glass windows. California historian Kevin Starr described them as "poems in wood and light."

Makinson's take on the Greenes' style was more kinetic.

It "flips you up and down and lands you on your feet again," he told USC's Trojan Family magazine. The buildings "tell you how to move from one place to another naturally, with light or forms that draw you along."

Even after the Greenes' homes and the furnishings they designed fell out of vogue, their style reverberated.

"One can honestly say that half a century of small houses in the Western United States would not have been the same had the Greenes never produced their few exquisitely wrought houses for a tiny cultural elite," wrote Reyner Banham a British architectural historian, in his introduction to Makinson's 1977 "Greene & Greene."

In 1966, Makinson persuaded the Gambles to donate their home for use as a public resource. Owned by the city of Pasadena and operated by USC, the house draws some 30,000 visitors annually.

The project became an international model of "how to manage significant architecture and make it publicly accessible," said Robert Harris, a former dean of the USC School of Architecture.

Makinson was the Gamble House's curator when it opened. In 1992, he retired as its director.

With Makinson as an authoritative booster, public consciousness of the Craftsman style skyrocketed. He wrote six books, all on Greene & Greene, and led a five-year effort — "the granddaddy of all restorations," as he called it -- at the Blacker House the Greenes' 12,000-square-foot Pasadena masterwork.

With photographer Thomas A. Heinz, he detailed that restoration in a 2000 book that included a 15-page, black-and-white photo gallery by actor Brad Pitt, a fellow Craftsman-period devotee.

For years, the Blacker House had deteriorated. In 1985, the Texas cattleman who bought it stripped it of its stained glass windows and 53 Greene & Greene-designed lighting fixtures, prompting an outcry among preservationists and a number of local ordinances aimed at keeping such landmarks whole.

In 2006, Makinson had to confront his own controversy. Anonymously, he had sold Greene & Greene desks, sconces, mirrors and other furnishings at an auction that netted $2.8 million. When his identity was later revealed, he came under fire for dealing in items that some preservationists felt he should have protected.

Some of the furnishings were gifts to him from the Gambles and other Greene & Greene owners, he told The Times in 2005. Others were collecting dust in basements or bound for the dump had he not used his own money to buy them.

"Any value they might have had," he said, "is value I have helped develop over the last half-century." he said.

He said medical bills forced him to sell the collection rather than donate it.

Makinson, who never married, is survived by a sister.

The disclosure of his involvement in the sale rankled many but the controversy dimmed.

"We recognized there were differences of opinion and we moved on," said longtime local preservationist Claire Bogaard. "This is Pasadena."

A memorial service is planned for Aug. 24 at 9 a.m. at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Dr., Los Angeles.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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