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The Greenes' Biography The Greene & Greene Legacy

Charles Sumner and Henry Mather Greene Biography


Charles Sumner Greene was born October 12, 1868 to Lelia Ariana and Thomas Sumner Greene in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fifteen months later, on January 23, 1870, Henry Mather Greene was born. The family later moved to St. Louis where, as teenagers, Charles and Henry attended Calvin Woodward’s Manual Training School of Washington University, which offered a revolutionary curriculum based on

the education of the hand as well as the mind. This early training was the primary source of the brothers’ focus on tools, materials, and craftsmanship. In 1888 the brothers enrolled in the architectural program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. In 1891 both brothers completed their studies with Certificates of Partial Course, the two-year program followed by most MIT architecture students. They then apprenticed with several of the finest architectural firms in Boston, including those whose principals had been associates of the noted Henry Hobson Richardson.

In 1893 the Greene brothers traveled west to Pasadena to visit their parents, who had moved from St. Louis the previous year and in the fall of 1894, they opened their architectural practice.

Henry Mather Greene married Emeline Augusta Dart in 1899, and in a few years, Charles wed Alice Gordon White. Charles and Alice’s four-month honeymoon in England, Scotland and Europe sparked Charles’ interest in the English Arts and Crafts Movement.

Activity in the Greene & Greene office was at its peak during the years 1902-1910, with primary focus on residential design. It was during this period that they created some of their finest work. By 1903, Greene & Greene began to offer integrated design services for their clients, providing design and construction supervision of furniture and other interior appointments. They completed approximately 150 projects during these prolific years.

After 1911 the practice began to decline because Greene & Greene designs demanded higher fees and clients experienced frequent schedule overruns. The situation became unacceptable to most clients and by 1916, the brothers personal interests diverged. Charles moved to Carmel to pursue other creative paths, while Henry continued the firm's work in Pasadena until the dissolution of the firm in 1922. Henry practiced independently after the separation and Charles, too, worked on occasional commissions during the 1940’s, most being additions and renovations for former clients.

The death of Henry’s wife in 1935 affected him so deeply, that he eventually moved to the home of his son and daughter-in-law, where he continued to work on small projects, reuniting with Charles briefly on a commission. Charles managed to remain much more active in architecture during the Depression of the 1930s, but his interests soon shifted to passionate study of Eastern philosophy, spiritualism and creative writing. Henry passed on October 2, 1954, in Pasadena, California and Charles died on June 11, 1957 in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

The Greene & Greene Legacy

Charles and Henry Greene are widely considered to have brought high-art aesthetics and exquisite craftsmanship to the American Arts and Crafts Movement in the early part of the 20th century. Their work continues to be exhibited worldwide and is included in decorative arts collections in museums in the United States and throughout Europe. Greene & Greene designs strongly influenced California’s architectural heritage, their work has had international significance as well, inspiring countless architects and designers around the world through a legacy of extant structures, scholarly books and articles. They were recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1952 for contributing to a "new and native architecture" and are generally credited with fostering a new way of considering buildings and their furnishings as examples of artistic craft.

Popular architecture and design magazines such as The Craftsman, House Beautiful, The International Studio, Country Life in America, House and Garden, Good Housekeeping, and American Home and Garden began featuring articles on Greene & Greene work in 1902, this acclaim helped spread the their designs throughout the country. The rediscovery of their work by the architectural press in the 1950s created a new group of admirers who celebrated their distinctly American interpretation of the Arts and Crafts style as an antidote to the International style, which had gained popularity in Europe and elsewhere.

Today, the current generation of Greene & Greene aficionados tour the Greene & Greene residencies and other buildings in California with reverence, like pilgrims paying homage to honored monuments. The Gamble House, one of their masterpieces, receives 30,000 visitors a year from all over the world. Recently available public tours of the Thorsen and Blacker houses drew thousands of visitors and raised awareness of both Greene & Greene residential architecture and furniture design. Interior, architectural design, and architectural history journals such as Style 1900 and American Bungalow are now full of vendors offering reproductions of their furniture and décor.

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