Back To The The Future Day

Back To The Future Day

Today is October 21, 2015.  If, like me, you grew up in the 1980s, you are probably well aware that today's date is also the very day in BACK TO THE FUTURE II that Marty McFly and Doc Brown travelled forward to in time.

2015 also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the first BACK TO THE FUTURE (originally released in the U.S. on July 3, 1985). Because of this, Universal Pictures is sending the trilogy of movies back to theaters tonight to mark the occasion (and, of course, to make a few bucks). Time will tell if the films also return to theaters on November 5 - which would commemorate the day in 1955 that Marty travels back in time to in the first film.

This 21 October 2015, Universal Pictures' Back to the Future trilogy returns to the big screen internationally. Marking the date when Marty and Doc travel forward in time in Back to the Future II, hundreds of cinemas internationally are celebrating this unique anniversary for a special one-day cinema release through Universal and Park Circus.

Although I have not personally visited any of the actual filming locations from the films, my architectural education has made me aware of some of them. Given today's date, I thought it might be fun to re-visit them - in the virtual sense that the internet provides.

Greene & Greene

The brothers Charles Sumner Greene (1868–1957) and Henry Mather Greene (1870–1954) were born in Brighton, Ohio. They spent their formative years in St. Louis, Missouri and on their mother's family farm in West Virginia while their father attended medical school.

In their teenage years, the brothers attended the Manual Training School of Washington University in St. Louis, where they studied metal & woodworking. They graduated in 1887-1888. Their father, a practicing homeopathic physician by this time, instilled in them his belief of the need for sunlight and circulating fresh air. The importance of these elements would eventually become one of the signatures of the brothers' work.

Following their education in St. Louis, the brothers relocated to Boston to attend a special two-year program at MIT's School of Architecture. In 1891, they each received a "certificate for completion of partial course." This enabled them to gain apprenticeships at a series of Boston area architectural firms.

In 1893 their parents, who had moved to Pasadena, requested that their sons relocate as well - to which the brothers agreed. While traveling by train from Boston, they stopped at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. There, they saw several examples of Japanese architecture. This experience made a lasting impression on both of them and they would eventually incorporate the Japanese aesthetic into their work.

In 1894, they opened the architectural firm of Greene & Greene. The town was just starting to grow in popularity as a winter resort and the brothers were perfectly positioned to service this clientele. Within a few years, they gained a reputation for thoroughly designed and detailed projects in the Arts & Crafts style. Many of their projects were idealized forms of the Crafstman Bungalow. Their most monumental works would come to be called ultimate bungalows.

Despite their success, they confined their practice to southern California - and mainly to the Pasadena area. Their most iconic works were created within the years of 1906-1911. In the last decade of the firm's existence, Charles began to withdraw from the firm to pursue other artistic endeavors. The firm of Greene & Greene officially dissolved in 1922, when Charles relocated his family north to to the artists' colony of Carmel.  His younger brother Henry remained in Pasadena. Although they no longer practiced architecture together, they remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

So what is the connection between Greene & Greene and BACK TO THE FUTURE? As it turns out, there is a connection almost right from the start.

The original film opens (in 1985) with ticking clocks in what turns out to be Doc Brown's home/workshop. The camera pans over newspaper clippings proclaiming "Brown Mansion Destroyed" and "Brown Estate Sold To Developers." This opening ends with a shot of Marty leaving what appears to be a small arts & crafts structure in surrounded by modern suburbia. The implication being that Doc Brown sold off everything but his garage - in which he now lives and works. The filmmakers only built a facade of the garage.  This was done, in the Greene & Greene style, in the parking lot of the Burger King at 535 North Victory Blvd. Burbank, CA 91502. The interior of this structure was created as a set on a soundstage.

Later in the film, when Marty travels back in time to 1955, the production travelled to two Greene & Greene homes in Pasadena.

The Gamble House (1909)

The Gamble House served as the exterior of Doc Brown's 1955 era family mansion.  The carriage house (or garage) also makes an appearance in the film and you will notice that the production crew faithfully recreated it (as a distressed façade) back on that Burger King parking lot for the opening of the film. You can see both structures in screengrabs on this BACK TO THE FUTURE fanpage.

The 8,100 s.f. home was originally built in 1909 as the winter residence of David & Mary Gamble. David Gamble was a wealthy second generation member of the Procter & Gamble company. Retired at this point in his life, he and his wife had been spending their winters in Pasadena and eventually decided to build a winter home there. They owned and lived in the home until their deaths in the 1920s. After that, the home passed to a series of their relations. In fact, members of the Gamble family owned and occupied the home throughout its first fifty years.

The Gamble family recognized the artistic importance of the home and sought to protect for future generations. In 1966, it was donated to the city of Pasadena in a joint agreement with the University of Southern California School of Architecture. In 1977, the Gamble House was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Today the house is recognized as one of the finest examples of The Arts and Crafts Movement in American Craftsman style architecture. Conservation treatments were initiated in 2004-5 to correct the effects of nearly one hundred years of weathering and restore the house to its original grandeur.

The Gamble House is located at 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena, California and is open for tours via its official website: Failing a personal visit, you can always experience it photographically.


The Blacker House (1907)

Roughly two and half miles southeast of the Gamble House (as the Delorean flies) is The Blacker House - which served as the interior of the Brown Mansion in the movie after permission was denied to film inside the Gamble House.

At approximately 12,000 s.f., the Blacker House is significantly larger and even more ambitious than the Gamble House. Like the Gambles, the Blackers were wealthy patrons and allowed the Greene brothers to create one their most significant masterworks. In addition to a seemingly limitless budget, the Blacker's connections within the lumber industry (in which they had made their fortune) gave the Greene brothers access to materials they might not have had otherwise.

However, unlike the Gamble House, the Blacker House didn't enjoy the same level of forethought and protection. The Blackers didn't leave the home to heirs when they died. Instead its contents were sold off, its lot was subdivided, and in the mid-80s the home was sold to a new owner who stripped out many of the remaining light fixtures, art glass panels, and built-ins and sold them for a tidy fortune on the secondary art market. Both Wikipedia and the Gamble House website touch on this sad bit of architectural history.

Fortunately, the house later sold again in 1994 and the new owners were determined to bring the home back to its former glory. With assistance from specialists, the house was restored inside and out. Many of the plundered furniture and lighting pieces were painstakingly recreated from photographic references. The new owners even managed to reunite the remaining portions of the subdivided property and outbuildings.

The Blacker House is located at 1177 Hillcrest Ave Pasadena, California.  It remains a private residence and is not open for tours.  Although, according to this fan-site, tours have been given in the past under special circumstances - which actually isn't uncommon for structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Another BTTF fansite has a few small screen captures that show the Blacker house interior. A google image search will yield more images as will some of the titles at the end of this post.


Further Reading

Even though the brothers practiced architecture together for just under 30 years and their greatest works date to a five year period (almost entirely in Pasadena), there is a profound appreciation for architecture of Greene & Greene.  The titles below are a few of the more popular titles devoted to their work.

The Gamble House: Building Paradise in California
By Edward R Bosley, Anne E. Mallek, Ann Scheid, Robert Winter
Rebirth of a Landmark: The Rober R. Blacker House of Greene & Greene
By Edward R.;Makinson, Randell L.;Knell, Harvey and Ellen Bosley